Shipping is one of those areas that isn’t a problem until the items you shipped don’t arrive. Then, the scrambling begins. In this best practices article, I’d like to cover the three areas of shipping: general information, shipping domestically and overseas. Since most of you are familiar with FedEx and UPS, I’ll avoid the obvious shipping methods and focus on the essential information I believe every meeting/event planner should know about the process.
General shipping information
When shipping anything, be sure to ask your contact on the receiving end their specific “ship to” address. Don’t make assumptions. Addresses posted on websites may not be where shipments are received — that is why it is always important to ask. In addition to filling out a shipping label, I always print vital information on a separate piece of colored paper and tape it to my box or crate. This allows the shipper to contact me, even if my shipping label falls off or there is a question regarding the delivery address. The items you should always include (and here I am going to state the obvious for anyone who is new to the industry):
- Name of recipient
- Date of arrival or booth number
- Name of event
- E-mail address
- Cell phone number
Print this information big and bold, both on your shipping label and on that extra piece of paper you affix to the package.
- To make an inventory of the items being shipped in each box.
- To keep tracking numbers so you can watch shipping progress.
- To call the receiving department or business center at the receiving facility to introduce yourself. Let them know how many boxes or crates have been shipped, what their tracking numbers are and when you expect items to arrive. People rarely do this, but is very helpful — receiving agents appreciate the advance notice and are excellent about contacting you once items are received.
- To do yourself a favor and include the return slips along with plenty of packing tape in the boxes you are sending. When it comes time to pack up and ship things back after the event ends, you will appreciate having these items in hand.
Many times people use FedEx or UPS, because they can just follow the instructions on the form and contact the shipping company with any questions.
The most important thing is to leave plenty of time to ship internationally. Research which country you are sending to or call your shipping company to find out time estimates. Don’t forget to budget appropriately for customs! Once your shipment goes, you have no control over when items will clear.
Do not think because you are with a major corporation that your item(s) will clear faster. One of my client who are a major Olympic sponsor never got their company samples released in Beijing during the 2008 Games because customs decided not to clear them. It was out of their control.
Also investigate the possibility of purchasing or fabricating items in the city where you are hosting your event. Many times it will be cheaper to get your items made overseas than ship them internationally.
Crates can be transported two ways: air cargo or in a container via ship. As a point of reference, know that shipping in a container takes approximately two months to get to or from Europe so, if you go this route, leave plenty of time. It is also important to let your exhibit builder know when your crates are being constructed, if they are going overseas. The reason why is because the crate has to be constructed out of wood that has been treated for pesticides, or it won’t clear foreign customs.
Packing overseas shipments
The key to getting your items in a timely manner is to properly fill out the required paperwork well in advance and communicate this to your shipping company. This is where many people go wrong, so do yourself a favor and hire a reputable shipping company. I use Project Resources. Roger Murray has over 30 years’ experience shipping freight all over the world and knows the ins and outs of getting shipments where they need to go and — most importantly — through customs.
Let’s review the paperwork required to get your shipment from point A to point B. Your shipping company will give this to you to fill out along with dates of shipment and the estimated time of arrival. Regardless of the shipping company, you will need to provide dimensions of boxes of crates, weight, items in each container and financial value. Do mention if the item is not coming back to America. (For example, a giveaway or sales brochures.) No item is too small to itemize on the customs form. I even write 50 paperclips valued at $1.50 USD. Once the paperwork is submitted, your shipping company will take care of the rest and you will see your shipment safe and sound on the other end.
My closing piece of advice is keep in contact with your shipping company during shipment. Tell them you want to be notified when your shipment arrives at the destination, when it is in customs, when it clears customs, and when you can expect it on show site. Use the knowledge of your shipping company to expand your horizons on this critical part of your job. When it is time to ship back to the States, just do the reverse.
This is my story for now and I am sticking to it.