The driver never showed up at the marshalling yard, and the shipping company had no idea where he was. Our driver and exhibitry had vanished like the Statue
of Liberty in the hands of David Copperfield.
Trade shows can certainly be downright stressful. And while the majority of that tension usually falls upon exhibit managers and the exhibit houses that support them, sometimes that stress even trickles down to the truck drivers that haul the shipments. This was made evident a few years ago when my company crafted a custom booth for a client exhibiting at the American Academy of Neurology Show held in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
We shipped the client's exhibit from our Massachusetts office to the venue in plenty of time for our crew to complete a two-day setup schedule. However, at 7 a.m. Saturday, the first day of setup, our on-site supervisor called our main office to inform us that our truck was AWOL.
Apparently the truck driver hauling the shipment had called the previous night to report that he was two hours out from the show and would be spending the night in the marshalling yard – which was perfect timing for an early morning call to the docks. The problem was, however, that the driver never showed up at the marshalling yard, and the shipping company had no idea where he'd gone. In effect, our driver and every stitch of exhibitry had vanished into thin air, like the Statue of Liberty in the hands of David Copperfield. With the show opening on Monday at 3:30, we needed to either find that exhibit pronto or scrounge up a Plan B to fill its place.
Back at our home office, we immediately rallied the troops via a conference call. We started with a brainstorming session to conjure possible scenarios that might have caused our shipment and driver to vanish – hoping that by identifying the source of the problem, we might also find a solution. We checked weather and road-condition reports, thinking maybe he'd gone off the road somewhere and was unable to call for help. We even contemplated a scenario where he was hijacked and held for ransom. But the weather and roads were fine all along the route, no accidents involving his truck had been reported, and no calls came in from random extortionists.
Our logistics manager and general manager then called the trucking firm again to see if there'd been any news. The rep informed us that the firm had notified the authorities, who'd put out an APB for the missing truck and driver.
Several hours had passed by this point, and there was no sign of our shipment. So we decided it was time to turn our attention to securing some type of replacement exhibit. Thus, the on-site supervisor contacted show-service providers to see what exhibitry, if any, was available to rent. And as it turned out there were several system components made of aluminum extrusion and hard panels in various sizes. This material certainly wouldn't mirror the custom exhibitry we had planned, but it was better than nothing.
With the architecture in place, we turned our attention to the graphics and redesigned them to fit the new frame dimensions. While our design team prepared the electronic files, we located a print house in Vancouver that agreed to print the graphics on Sunday, working through the night if necessary, to have them ready by the show opening on Monday.
As all of this was going on, we also procured four iPads to replace those in the missing shipment and preloaded them with the lead-capture software and product information reps would need at the show. Time being of the essence, we arranged to send them via air to Seattle where a hired driver would pick up and deliver them to the on-site supervisor's hotel in Vancouver.
As Saturday rolled into early Sunday morning and our back-office plans continued, things were taking shape in our booth space. The electric went in, the carpet went down, and the new rental components were installed with roughly 24 hours left until the show opened. We were about to give the green light to print the new graphics when we got word that the Canadian police had located the truck. Or rather, they found the trailer on the side of the road somewhere deep in the middle of the Canadian Coastal Mountains, literally a 10-hour drive from the show. The location of the tractor and driver, however, remained a concerning mystery.
Not long after we received the call from the police, the shipping company phoned to inform us that it had sent an emergency driver to retrieve the trailer, and that barring any other crazy circumstances, the trailer would arrive at the Vancouver Convention Centre by 10 p.m., giving us roughly 17 hours to set up the exhibit before the show's 3:30 opening. This was fantastic news indeed, as our custom exhibit would certainly present a much better "face" for our client than the thrown-together replacement. However, this meant we had to scratch our Plan B and revert back to Plan A, which would also take some decisive action.
As we waited for the truck, our on-site team tore down the rented exhibitry and pulled the carpet. Then they relaid the electrical to match the original plan diagrams and replaced the carpet atop it. And as luck would have it, the tractor-trailer carrying our exhibit pulled into the loading docks right on schedule. Our team worked through the night to erect the original 20-by-30-foot booth and managed to complete the project just a few hours before the show opened, allowing the client to do a final – and thankfully pothole free – walk-through right before the show's doors flung wide.
Miraculously, the first day of the show went as planned; however, we all wondered what had happened to the driver, not to mention the tractor. Late Tuesday, we finally had some answers, delivered via a call from our shipping company. As it turned out, the driver was safe (thank goodness), but not particularly sound. It seems he suffered some kind of emotional break as a result of personal problems. Rather than call in to notify someone, he'd simply dropped the trailer on the side of the road and took off for home without a single word to us, the venue, or his employer.
Granted, the driver certainly left us in a lurch, and if it weren't for the police and the quick actions of our shipping company, our client would have had quite a different presence at the show. However, we all know how stressful the industry can be, and if we admit it to ourselves, we've probably all been nose to nose with our breaking point a time or two. In the end, we were thankful the driver was OK and proud of how we all kept our wits together and our emotions in check instead of melting down – and hightailing it for the hills – when faced with our own crisis.
— Walter Runne, account director, Blue Hive Strategic Environments, Worchester, MA