Friday, October 23, 2009

Marketing: Shipping is more important than you know

So I'm way behind on my posts - my apologies to everyone. I've decided to go back and look at all the components of the event for my upcoming blogs. The first of these is shipping for events. I know that seems like a no brainer but you would be amazed at the things that can go wrong. Here are a few of my - sadly- real life stories.

At one show our shipment worked perfectly, sadly none of the sales team that were supposed to staff the booth showed up at the show. I won't even try to tell you the sorry excuses they gave me. Suddenly I was in a panic. We had a booth space filled with a sad pile of boxes in Portland Oregon while I was sitting in my office in Milpitas. All those items had to be relabeled and redirected home. Thank goodness for our shipper. He got in touch with someone on site or I would have had to fly to Portland just to bring everything back.

I heard about one show company that went out of business in 2007 but didn't tell exhibitors at their upcoming European show in time for people to stop their shipments. Someone from each company had to go to Amsterdam just to hunt down and ship back their shipments. Sounds silly? Not when your systems can cost upwards of $50-100K.

When I started my current job the worst shipping disaster took place - the shipment didn't arrive. It went to Chicago, which I'm sure was fun for all the signage - sadly we were all in Orlando. That shipper is no longer with the company.

One shipper I actually terminated during a show. The driver had shown up and violated the processes of the show by cutting in line- with an 18 wheeler no less. So he was punished by being the last truck unloaded at the show. Since we had an enormous booth we had to pay all our workers overtime so we'd be ready when the show opened. He had also taken some cash under the table and added another company's load on top of our load - breaking some of our booth components. He also lost several of our items. With all that info in hand I set out into the bowels of the convention center in Los Vegas and located and negotiated for a new shipping company. Then I came back and fired the wayward shipper.

My favorite shipping story is one where everything went according to plan - not that my CEO didn't do his darnedest. Picture this - we're in Barcelona Spain in a tiny 10x10 trade show booth at GSM Congress - the largest wireless show in the world with hundreds of exhibitors and over 60,000 attendees. 1/3 of the booth is taken up with our media server. A media server is not a single item but one that has to sit inside a rack that can hold all the various components. We had shipped the server to Spain at the insistence of my CEO who always likes to show customers what the equipment looks like. I had not let the workers at the show take away our huge crate that the server shipped in. Instead I had draped it with sheets I procured from our hotel (best not to think about that too much) and used it to hold literature and the copious number of briefcases and coats our staffers insisted on carrying to the show every day. It also simplified our move out from the show. The guys all worked together and lifted the server in its rack into the crate and helped me secure it. It was tightly packed ( I crammed all our leftover collateral and giveaways in amongst the components), I put a shipping label on it, returned all our rented equipment and off we walked.

Two hours later I was standing on the Ramblas in Barcelona in front of the Hard Rock Cafe waiting for my team to decide where we would eat dinner. Then my phone rang. It was our CEO who had an idea - instead of shipping the server back to the US we would send it to our sales VP's house in Amsterdam. "No," I said. He argued further, outlining all the benefits of this plan, how it would help them all to have the server. "No," I said. He continued the argument. I thought of the million reasons this would not work - one was that I was not with the server but about to have dinner, the second was the complexity of international shipping and customs forms, the third was that the server was not actually fully functional because we hadn't fully loaded all the hardware and 4th - it had all the stuff I needed back in the states packed around it. Instead I very simply explained, "Did you ever see Raiders of the Lost Ark?" He said yes. "Remember the scene at the end when the Ark was sent into the giant warehouse?" He said yes.
"That's where the server is." There was a long pause. "Oh, never mind." He hung up and I went off to eat.

So lessons learned - a lot can go wrong with shipping so it makes sense to work with high quality firms that deliver what they promise.

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