The Best Trade Show Display Cases for Shipping

Exhibits Northwest | Trade Show Travel | Trade Show Trenches
May 19, 2023

The expression, “This case is going to be a tough nut to crack,” is an all too familiar saying on police and detective shows. The same expression should apply to trade show display cases. All too often, exhibition cases and crates are taken for granted. Exhibitors assume the builder or manufacturer knows how to design, build, and jig a quality case/crate. Most do… but some do a much better job than others in protecting your beautiful (and expensive) display. 

If you’ve been waiting at the end of a trade show for your cases or crates to arrive, you know how frustrating it can be. No one wants to linger on the show floor any longer than needed after the show ends. Once it arrives, it’s time to pack the booth, and a well-designed case or crate can transform a tedious chore into a logical and stress-free experience. It’s never fun, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Asking the right questions about cases and crates when you purchase an exhibit will ensure your display lasts for years. And choosing an experienced partner is key, Exhibits NW has been in the business for over twenty years and we can help with anything from custom booth design, display cases, and even trade show exhibit storage!

Reasons to Invest in Trade Show Display Cases for Shipping

If you’ve shopped for a new trade show exhibit, you know they can be expensive. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a basic 10 ft. portable display or a 40 x 50  custom island. In most cases (pun intended), your display will ship from Point A to Point B multiple times and be handled by multiple shippers, dock workers, and trade show labor. Not everyone will treat your investment with kid gloves, so the case/crate along with the packaging must be designed to handle abuse. 

When it comes to display cases, most buyers only consider these two options: portable cases or wood crates. Portable cases typically ship via UPS or FedEx. Wood crates ship via LTL freight carriers. Case vs. crate is an important decision, but it shouldn’t be the only decision when reviewing your options. 

Very few buyers ask about the packaging when buying a display. A HUGE MISTAKE!

Poor packaging contributes to lost parts, damaged components, dirty graphics, assembly frustration, and overall long-term satisfaction with a display. 

Packaging Options for Portable Displays

The vast majority of portable displays are shipped using temporary internal packaging like shrink-wrap, paper, disposable foam, and tape. These are all tossed away at the first show. Three days later when it’s time to repack, the temporary packaging material is already in the landfill, and the exhibitor has few options. 

Good portable systems use reusable packaging, like foam inserts, nylon bags, and heavy-duty corrugated boxes. Everything has a spot and every item is protected during shipping. This ensures that the display looks new for much longer and makes it easier to assemble since the components are organized and protected.  

Packaging Options for Custom/Modular Exhibits

Custom exhibits typically ship in wood crates. And while every wood crate may look similar, they’re not. Every exhibit builder has a “tried and true” system for building crates. Some are basic. Others are much more elaborate and include internal jigging, padding, and in some cases, fabric lining. Poorly designed crates won’t protect the exhibit components over time. They’re also more likely to require periodic maintenance, which can be costly. 

The crate should also be designed to maximize the available space while minimizing the assembly time. There should be a logical order to the packaging, meaning the first components required to assemble the booth shouldn’t be buried deep in the crate. Having to unload all the components is both inefficient and often impossible given the available space on the trade show floor. 

Finally, most damage occurs not during assembly or disassembly but in shipping. Poorly packed shipping cases and crates not designed to handle the routine abuse by carriers can cost an exhibitor thousands of dollars. Always ask about your case/crate options and insist on reusable packaging and design-specific jigging for all components. 

Types of Trade Show Shipping Cases

  • Fiber Cases w/ or w/o Wheels:  Smaller displays, like tabletops or basic portable displays, often ship in fiber cases. These are ideal for local shows since they are small and lightweight. When shipped via UPS or FedEx, fiber cases should be packed in durable corrugated boxes since the exterior walls of the cases are thin and flexible. 
  • Roto-molded Cases with Wheels: Rotationally-molded cases are more durable than fiber cases and are designed for shipping. While they are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, they are designed to conform to the size limitation requirements of UPS and FedEx. Most have wheels. Once fully packed, they can weigh between 50-110 lbs. The exhibitor who thinks they can ship a roto-molded case with their airline luggage, load it into a taxi, and then wheel it into a convention center is often dripping sweat by the time they reach their booth space. Ship it to the show. 
  • Roto-molded Tubs: Once a very popular alternative to portable cases or wood crates, roto-molded tubs have all but disappeared. Their fixed size makes them inconvenient except for smaller modular wall systems. Shippers will often stack other boxes on them when in transport (even when labeled “Do Not Stack”) causing damage that isn’t discovered until the tub is opened. 
  • Custom Wood Crates: Wood Shipping Crates are the standard for larger inline and island exhibits. They can be designed to open from the top or the side (or both). Built to any reasonable size and jigged to protect the contents. However, they are heavy, which impacts the overall material handling fees charged by General Service Contractors. For anyone who has ever gotten a “surprise” drayage bill at a trade show, you know the amount can be shocking. That said, it’s almost always the best option for larger exhibits. 
  • Sustainable Wood Crates: Identical to Custom Wood Crates except the wood comes from sustainable forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

Shipping Case and Crate Packaging for Trade Show Displays

5 More Trade Show Shipping Tips

  1. Jigging. Everything should have a specific home in a case or crate. Nothing should be loose, and the instructions should be detailed about the placement and layering. Heavier items should be on the bottom. Lighter items on the top. And if possible, the first components necessary to start assembly should be readily accessible as soon as you open the case or crate. 
  2. Reusable Packaging. Non-reusable packaging should be non-negotiable. Imagine repacking an IKEA table in the original carton. It’s nearly impossible and definitely won’t keep the item safe during transit. Insist on die-cut foam, nylon bags, corrugated boxes, and jigged layering. Shrinkwrap, foam sheets, or sealed plastic bags will be tossed after the first use. 
  3. Inspection. Even the most carefully packed trade show exhibit can be damaged during shipping. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. No one will ever care about your exhibit as much as you do. Inspect the case and crate and note any damage with the carrier or general show contractor.  If there’s internal damage, document it and file a claim immediately. Time is not on your side when it comes to filing claims. 
  4. Labels. Labels won’t prevent every mishap. At best, they serve as a guide to the shipper, and at worse, they are a minimal warning. Examples:  Do Not Stack, Caution – Heavy Case, Do Not Drop, Do Not Forklift, Do Not Cut with Sharp Objects. 
  5. Trade Show Freight Specialists. Most LTL carriers have minimal experience with trade show freight, including loading, transit, and delivery. It’s not uncommon for a driver to have a 4-8 hour wait at a convention center to unload during a busy show. Fortunately, there are carriers that specialize in trade show freight. If possible, choose a specialist rather than a general carrier, even if it’s a bit more expensive. In the long run, it will almost always be cheaper. 

Protect Your Exhibit with Trade Show Display Cases from Exhibits NW!

You can’t know everything about trade shows. Fortunately, the professionals at Exhibits NW have over twenty years of experience designing, building, shipping, and storing trade show displays. We’ll guide you through the nuances of the best trade show display case or crate for your exhibit. You want your new exhibit to last and choosing the right packaging will ensure it survives show after show, year after year. Contact the team at Exhibits NW.

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If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form and we’ll contact you shortly.