Trade Show Shipping Cases: How to Loose the Weight, and Still Survive the Exhibit Hall War Zone

Supposedly, everyone driving a forklift truck at an exhibit hall loading dock has some sort of professional certification. It seems like this school must also teach demolition derby tactics. A plywood case panel is no match for a dockworker in a hurry. Still though, heavy wood crates, and wood ATA cases, are the standard in the trade show shipping industry.

Back in the old days, it was “no harm, no foul”, shipping costs were reasonable (at least when compared to today), and you just had your case repaired when it came back from the road. So, what has changed?

For one thing, those nasty fuel surcharges that now significantly add to your freight costs. The penalty for bigger and heavier cases is now at an historic high since dimensional size and total weight affect not only the base shipping price, but also the surcharge. The other factor is the number of shows that professionals are now exhibiting in. Many of the larger companies have trade show marketing departments that remain always on the road. Instead of just going to one or two big shows a year, these companies are now going to an increased number of smaller regional shows. This means that shipping cases are on the road longer, and being worked harder. If one breaks, there may not be time to repair it in time for the next show. So what can be done?

The answer lies in both the case construction, and in the case interior design. New, lighter weight panel are now available that actually increase durability and penetration protection. These materials started in the billboard construction industry and have been modified with laminates that give the protection needed in commercial shipping. These materials can reduce the weight of a large case by up to 30% without any compromises, and some added benefits such as no splintering.

The case interior construction has traditionally been an afterthought at best. Most professionals purchase cases that are either foam or carpet lined, and use bubble warp and scrap foam to cushion the case contents. The secret here is that a properly engineered case interior can not only provide better protection for the contents, but can also reduce the case size needed. This obviously saves cost in freight, but also in hidden costs such as item breakage and repair cost.

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