Consider what it would be like to move into a new 320,000 sq.-ft. facility, unpack and erect a host of material handling equipment and display material over a 5-day period, fill the space with inventory and people, and then, a few days later, tear it all down, repack everything and ship it all out.
That's the logistics and material handling challenge that will unfold behind the scenes at the Material Handling Industry Association's (MHIA) upcoming tradeshow and conference, NA2006, March 27-30, in Cleveland. As much as material handling technology and equipment has advanced, what exhibitors go through to get their stuff to the exhibition hall and set up doesn't vary much from year to year.
"The logistics of it haven't really changed that much. The paperwork you have to fill out is essentially the same," says Ella Kraft from Schaefer Systems International, Inc. (Charlotte), a material handling equipment manufacturer and systems integrator. She estimates that she's been coordinating tradeshow appearances for some 30 years. The size and configuration of a booth and equipment may create some new challenges, she admits. And union labor in some locations can be easier to work with than in others. But the show mechanics haven't really changed much.
What has changed, says Kraft, are the costs. In particular the drayage costs of moving machinery and display material a thousand yards or so from the receiving dock of an exhibition center to the booth. "We bring in a mezzanine or shelving or big exhibit crates, and you pay so much per hundred pounds, and it's exhorbitant," says Kraft. She gets no argument from Don Heemstra, who coordinates tradeshow appearances for rack supplier Steel King.
"I can get my stuff from Stevens Point, Wis. to Cleveland, Ohio, cheaper than I can get it from the dock at the show to my booth. It's unfathomable what they charge," says Heemstra.
One lesson, which should be familiar to any logistician, is to make sure all paperwork-is in order. It has to reflect the billing practices of the hall. For example, for the previous show in Cleveland Heemstra shipped in 19 bundles of palletized and crated material. Because the bill of lading itemized everything, he was billed at the uncrated and unpalletized rate. He had to argue to have the bill reflect what they actuallyshipped and what exhibition hall workers actually had to handle. (At NA2006 the shipping and material handling rate for uncrated and unpalletized display material is $69.90 per cwt., which compares to $50.60 per cwt. for crated and shipped material.)
"Shipping to shows is a piece of cake. Once it gets to the show door that's generally where the surprises start. Every show that we've been to we've had to reevaluate the drayage and material handling costs because that's where the halls try to make their money," says Heemstra. He's also learned to address billing problems as soon as he receives the preliminary bill at the end of the show.
"If you're there at the facility, and you're challenging it, your success rate is much better than if you wait until you get home and try to challenge it," he adds.
For its part, because the association wants exhibitors to bring in as much machinery as possible, MHIA does what it can to communicate these costs, and help exhibitors avoid unnecessary charges. Such costs were one reason why MHIA moved the show from Detroit in 2002 to Cleveland in 2004.
"In Cleveland, there's only one union. Whereas in Detroit you've got five or six the last time I looked," says Tom Meinert, who manages the event for MHIA. That can make a difference when setting up a booth that involves screwing together a wall and assembling some ironwork. The same guy can do both things. "In Chicago and Detroit you need a carpenter to do the wood stuff, and you need a rigger to do the metal stuff," he explains.
Another difference from a lot of show locations is that exhibitor employees can carry exhibit material into the hall directly from their cars. In Detroit, Meinert recalls, if they tried to make more than one trip, exhibitors would be redirected to the loading dock where they would have to pay a Teamster to move their stuff to the booth. In Cleveland exhibitors can also set up their own booths, working every day, all day, as long as they don't use any power tools that have to be plugged in. Aside from being reasonable, such rules save costs, especially for smaller exhibitors.
"Just to carry a box in at most places, you're talking $50-$75," says Meinert. "And to carry it back out, that'll be another $50-$75. All of those little things add up."
Just as more and more automakers have been scheduling tight delivery windows from suppliers, for recent shows MHIA has been assigning exhibitors certain days when their show material needs to arrive. They are even penalized if it arrives outside of the designated window. This streamlines the process of getting display material and equipment from the loading docks to the 400-plus booth spaces, and helps to minimize the amount of overtime charged to exhibitors.
This year Meinert says they've made an effort to better communicate what work exhibitors can do themselves, and how they should package and bundle there shipments so they don't spend any more money than they have to. Other than that, they haven't made any major process changes because things have been running relatively smoothly of late.
"They're not lined up outside the door wanting to talk to me because something's going wrong as much as they were 20 years ago. We're doing something right," says Meinert.
As with any logistics challenge, one solution for dealing with the coordination and resource issues is to outsource. That's what Interlake has done, reports Vinny DePaola. Over the past six years or so the Naperville, Ill.-based rack manufacturer has contracted with exhibit experts MG Design ( Pleasant Prairie, Wis.) to help design their interactive booth and handle all of the details of getting it shipped to the show and set up. The outside firm has a strong marketing orientation and works hard to support Interlake's relatively small inhouse marketing staff, including training the employees who will be manning the booth.
"It costs a little bit more of course, but the return is worth it with regard to setting ourselves apart at the show," says De-Paola. Setting themselves apart, for Interlake and all of the exhibitors at NA2006, is what the tradeshow is all about.
NA 2006: Make Reservations Now
When: March 27 - March 30, 2006
Sponsored by The Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA)
By The Numbers
As of late January total exhibit space at NA2006 was running ahead of the previous show in Cleveland in 2004. Here's a summary of the material handled and the total effort required to set up and tear down the previous show: