You can’t avoid it. If you’re exhibiting at a trade show, you will be presented with a material handling (or drayage) bill at the end of a show.

But what exactly is “drayage?” The exhibitors we work with often name drayage – or the movement of materials to an assigned booth space – the most infuriating and inflated trade show expense. While there’s no avoiding these material handling fees, check out the infographic below to get a better understanding of how your drayage fees will be calculated and steps you can take to avoid receiving an astounding drayage bill at the end of a show.


As stated above, drayage is the movement of your exhibit to and from your assigned booth space. This service is provided by the show’s General Contractor (i.e. Freeman or GES). With over 24 material handling categories – ranging from the well-known “Advanced Warehouse” and “Direct-to-Show” categories, to the more elusive “Advanced Warehouse Overtime” and “Direct-to-Show Special Handling” categories – it’s important for exhibitors to understand shipping deadlines, drayage categories and how material handling is calculated.

Drayage rates are based on CTW (weight per 100 lbs), with a 200 lbs. minimum. In drayage’s simplest form, you take the CTW of your shipment and multiply it by the established material handling rate. Viola! – you have a ballpark idea of what your drayage bill will be. In the infographic above, we’ve listed average drayage rates across the United States, but note that rates vary in every city and at every show.

In a recent drayage case study by the Exhibit & Event Marketers Association (E2MA), two different trade shows were examined. The shows occurred at the same venue and took place six months apart. Guess what? E2MA found a 21% difference in drayage rates! As seen in this case study, drayage rates can vary drastically because every show organizer negotiates different rates with the show’s General Contractor.

Don’t forget that drayage is billed by the show’s General Contractor – NOT your exhibit provider. With that in mind, it’s crucial for your exhibit provider to let you know how your exhibit is packed, the number of crates in your shipment and the weight of your crates. Your exhibit provider should also be able to provide you with move-in labor rates and let you know if shipping “advanced” or “direct” is more cost effective. With this information, you’ll be able to produce a more accurate budget forecast and avoid being overcharged on drayage, thus optimizing your overall trade show spending.

To talk to one of our Exhibit Specialists about material handling fees, please email To read more blogs like this, click here.