Relax, here is everything you need to know.
First off, what's a pallet (aka, a skid)? (alright listen, if you don't know what a pallet is, you are really new at this, but that's ok, I won't tell anyone and I will even show you a photo of one)...here you go. Most standard pallets in the USA and Canada are 48" x 40". If you need one at the end of the show at the Javit's Center, you can usually ask one of the guys out back on the docks and you will be able to get one, do NOT expect this to be as easy on the Piers in NYC or other shows necessarily, so be organized. If you are looking to find one in your area, you can call shipping companies or even ask a local business in your area that ships alot or receives alot and they should be able to point you in the right direction. They are not feather light, most good sturdy pallets weigh around 30 to 40 lbs, so expect to pay for this extra weight when/if you are shipping your goods.
want more pallet info and the complete history of pallets? (not sure why you would? but heck, I'm thorough, here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallet .
Another little detail at this point, shrink wrap!
Basically, with good quality shrink wrap and a bad case of dizzy when the job is done, one can pretty much securely attach anything to a pallet. Just pull tight and start circling your pallet with the wrap, and make sure that you also circle the actual sides of the pallet, this will keep your stuff attached to it, a kind of important detail...you will be amazed at how secure you can get stuff on there!
In an ideal pack job universe, everything that you will need to set up, exhibit, write orders and pack up at the end of your show, will be shrink wrapped to this pallet, perfectly packed in perfectly fitting boxes that all line up and make a perfect cube...perfectly up to about 4 ft in height...but let's face it, nothing is perfect! (well, except my daughter...but we won't go there right now).
Here is an excellent step by step guide to how to shrink wrap, http://www.wikihow.com/Shrink-Wrap-a-Pallet .
You would be amazed at what my pallet looks like and what I can get on it. (I will take photos of it the minute I am reunited with it in NYC in August, promise!) But long story a little bit shorter, I can get ALL of my product samples, 6 ikea display tables (which I am really just lugging around and not even using at this point), 1 round wooden table with heavy legs, tools, sign, a step ladder, a fabulous silver trunk, booth chairs and catalogs onto 1 single skid! To save on time and space, I found that packing all my product samples into large plastic bins with some layers of bubble wrap to keep things safe has really cut down on packing/ unpacking time, breakage during transport and stacking ease and uniformity on the pallet. Where can you buy shrink wrap? any packaging store or supplier like http://www.uline.com/ or even your local http://www.staples.com/ or http://www.officedepot.com/ store...wondering if the rolls you see with the cardboard handles are worth buying? YES! they definitely are!
For those of you who are going big, you might want to look into a crate or custom packing system on wheels. You will definitely increase your shipping expenses, but it might be worth it depending on your products or needs. I am not going to go into detail about this sort of thing, because I am really geared at helping the companies that want to do this trade show thing as painlessly and inexpensively as possible. But here is a photo of what a crate would look like.
Where is my pallet when it's not in my booth?...
ah, the question of the day...
IN NEW JERSEY!
I know right?, my warehouse is out in California, I live on the east coast and my pallet is stored in New Jersey...wtf? right?...well, actually, it's quite simple.
There's this guy... Stuart Stockelberg...and he takes care of all of it for me! (love him!)
He works with a company called http://www.servicebyair.com/ and they have changed my packing and shipping and moving to and from trade show procedures from complicated and tiresome to simple and affordable.
Since most of my shows are (were) on the east coast, I decided that I was tired of moving my stuff around, these guys pick it up right out of my booth after the NY shows, and bring it in (or ship it) to the next show. They are connected with a storage warehouse and the one pallet costs me roughly $35 / month to store in NJ, so in between any shows, I simply leave it there and pay the storage. The in and out of the show shipping usually runs about $125 each way, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how heavy it is. I have also used them to ship my pallet to other shows, sometimes they quote better than anyone else, sometimes they don't, you have to check, but the service is fantastic and these guys KNOW trade shows, so you don't have to worry about hidden charges or delivery into convention center prices. There will be no surprises and I highly recommend them.
Of course I encourage you to shop around, as there are other companies offering these services, likely even at the Javits Center or connected to your show, they might work out swimmingly, or not, just do your homework and ask exhibitors who have used the company you are considering hiring.