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April 1, 2002

3 Min Read
Editorial: Reading NPE Tea Leaves


Jeff Sloan

For most of you, the next National Plastics Exposition (NPE) doesn't start until June 16, 2003 at 9 a.m. when the bagpipers, as dictated by tradition, march down the aisles of McCormick Place in Chicago to launch what has become this country's largest plastics industry trade show.

But if you're an exhibitor at this triennial show, NPE 2003 actually started on March 5, 2002. That was the day the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), the organizer of NPE, started the drawing for booth space at next year's big show. In a ballroom at the Chicago Hilton & Towers (see photo, below), exhibitors took turns (based on NPE seniority) marching up to a stage and selected on large show floor maps the booth space they wanted to reserve. Each company's selection was announced to the assembled crowd; exhibitors yet to pick marked on their own maps what space was taken, prioritizing and reprioritizing locations as booths were slowly consumed.

The drawing is always very interesting for a lot of reasons. Aspects of psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and group dynamics are all factors. The current (now ending?) economic downturn and apprehension about what next year might bring made this year's drawing particularly intriguing.

This is especially true if you consider an NPE exhibitor's dilemma as March 5 neared: even before 9/11, 2001 was, for almost all suppliers, the worst sales year in at least a decade; terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC fostered greater instability and have led us to military action in the Middle East; and the 2002 economy, although off to a promising start, is still fragile and could easily be compromised by more attacks, should they come.

It's with all of this baggage that NPE exhibitors had to decide, 15 months in advance, how much he or she wanted to spend on a booth at NPE. I attended the drawing curious as to how the industry would respond. I reasoned that strong demand for booth space would indicate that a robust and prospering plastics industry is expected. Conversely, weak demand would indicate that we're not yet out of the economic woods. Would pessimism prevail with a dramatic reduction in total booth space selected, or would suppliers take the "glass-is-half-full" approach to 2003?

I have good news: It appears that exhibitors have high hopes for the coming year. Comparing booth space for individual companies from NPE 2000 with what was selected during the two days of drawing in March, it appears most major exhibitors took space equal to or greater than what they had three years ago. Overall, 906 companies snapped up 965,100 sq ft of booth space. This is a little shy of the 2000 drawing total of 1,039,300 sq ft, yet still bodes well for the industry. In fact, and after all exhibitors have selected booth space in the coming months, SPI officials say they expect NPE 2003 will exceed the record-setting numbers posted in 2000.

Here's hoping that this apparent optimism prevails in the coming months—and don't forget to look for IMM at the show. We'll be in the South Hall, booth 2670.




The NPE 2003 booth drawing in Chicago. Heady optimism won the day.

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