Drayage....even if you haven't heard the word before, it seems a bit ominous by it's sound.
Drayage, or material handling, is the cost the general contractor of a trade show charges exhibitors to move goods from the dock to the exhibit space on the show floor. Charged by the hundred weight (CWT), it is a fee that grows as the weight and size of your exhibit grows.
To calculate CWT, take the total weight of your shipment and divide by 100. Multiply that number by the rate. For example, 4,200 pounds of a shipment equals 42 CWT. At a rate of $40/CWT, that works out to $1,680. Be aware that there are minimums, so that even the smallest FedEx box dropped at your booth counts as a shipment and will be charged. Note that there are different rates for show-site deliveries versus advanced warehouse shipments and crated versus skidded shipments.
If you are a company growing from a small, in-line portable exhibit (say, in a 10x10) to a 20x20 or larger, you need to be aware of these charges. If you are handling it for your company, be sure you understand the material handling form in your show packet and can describe your incoming shipments on those forms.
If your exhibit company is handling this for you, be sure and have them disclose the cost to you prior to the show, so that there are no surprises when the final bill comes and/or you can plan your pre-show budget appropriately.
Even better, if you are new to using a custom exhibit, have your exhibit company do a "total cost of program" estimate for all of your shows for the year so that you realize what the increased expense will be. Be sure and go through this exercise when you are building a new booth as it may impact how many and at what size you do shows.
Lesson learned: be wary and aware of the Drayage Monster.