Beyond Borders: Are there ways to decrease shipping and customs expenses?

Paul Griggs: Look at three things: The size of the shipment, the distance it's traveling, and how quickly it needs to get there. Decrease any one of these things and the price goes down. With regard to shipment size, think about what you can produce or purchase in the host city rather than bringing it from home. To reduce the distance, investigate shipping from a neighboring city or country rather than from North America. As for speed, shipping overnight is always expensive. Ocean carriers for large global moves and trucks for North American moves are the more cost-effective options.

In terms of customs, there are generally two aspects of costs. The first is the fee the customs broker charges to facilitate the importing of your goods. This varies among suppliers and often will be tied to the type of entry and the type of commodity. In some cases you can negotiate these fees. The second is the duty or tax — commonly called Value Added Tax or VAT — that the government will charge for bringing goods into their country. Brokers often can reduce or eliminate these charges, but in cases where they can't, it is prudent for planners to understand what these charges will be. Generally these taxes are a percentage of the total value of the goods. For high-value goods, the VAT adds up quickly. The way to reduce what you pay in VAT is to research VAT rates during your site selection process.

Finally, have an open conversation with your suppliers about shipping and customs costs. They are the experts. Talk to them about supporting your organization — offering discounts, sponsorship, or some services at cost. Find out what needs they have and you might be surprised at the discounts they are willing to give you if they find value in being involved with your event. Most suppliers look at ways to tie themselves in with events for the long term. They may find value in working with you in areas that you may not have considered.

BB: Are we at the point yet where planners can begin comparing shipping suppliers in terms of their “green” practices?

Griggs: I would suggest that we are at the point where planners should be asking suppliers about their environmental platforms. The shipping and transportation industry is a major consumer of petroleum products and is linked to increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The industry is doing extensive research and beginning to change. As a freight forwarder, we are more likely to select carriers with a better environmental plan over similar carriers with a less-developed plan. While pricing and service remain strong determinants to carrier selection, I think you will see more carriers and freight forwarders pushing their services based on their commitment to green practices.

BB: What recourse do I have if materials are lost or damaged during shipment?

Griggs: Meeting planners often learn about the limits of liability only when faced with a problem. My advice is to understand and plan for it in advance. All carriers will limit their liability for loss or damage. Read the specific policies before you ship. Only then can you decide if you are comfortable with entering into an agreement with your carrier. Once you have engaged a carrier, you are in most cases agreeing to their terms and conditions, not yours. But you can take action to be certain that you are adequately insured. You may find, for example, that your display or office materials are covered in your office commercial liability insurance. If not, some carriers can offer full-value cargo insurance for a fee. If being fully covered in case of loss or damage is important to you, you may need to make alternate arrangements for purchasing cargo insurance, or select a carrier that can meet these needs for you.

BB: Are there ways to ship materials far in advance of my meeting as further insurance that everything will be there when I need it??

Griggs: Absolutely. Shipping in advance of your meeting means that you can ship using a more economical service. The shipping industry relies heavily on warehouses to load, unload, transfer, and hold shipments as they enter and exit regions and cities. There is a terrific opportunity to contract with a carrier to use their warehouse and have all your materials arrive days or weeks in advance of your event. As most of us know, hotels and convention centers often don't have the capacity to handle shipments too far in advance of a meeting. Warehouses, however, do. Contracting with a carrier to handle your advance warehousing means that you can use any courier or carrier to pick up your freight, provide customs clearance, and drop it at the warehouse Monday through Friday, between 9 and 5.

Your warehouse will generally charge you for receiving and delivering the freight to your hotel or convention center. If you select a carrier that can provide all of your shipping, customs, and warehousing, you can negotiate better rates (sometimes even no charge) for the advance warehousing.

Remember that there are thousands of carriers throughout the United States but only a handful that specialize in the meetings and conventions industry. When you find one of these carriers, you know you have a partner and someone who can further expand your knowledge on shipping successfully to your upcoming meeting.

Paul Griggs is the founder of Events on the Move, a customs brokerage and international freight forwarding company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and dedicated to the meetings, conventions, and exhibitions industry.