There was more than one "magic kingdom" in Orlando the week of April 1-5. There was the one Walt Disney built that we all know and love. Then there was the one that SPI built at the Orlando Convention Center. I don’t think people could have been happier about the change in venue.
In my varied travels to visit with companies around the show floor, I’d stop and just ask people at random how their company felt about the new show venue. It was unanimous: Everyone loved it! It was so different to Chicago. How was it different? Let me recount the ways.
The number-one comment I got was “ease of set-up.” This might not mean so much if you have a 10x10 booth with a fold-up backdrop and some literature for your table. However, it you’re a Milacron, Husky, CBW Automation, Toshiba or any of the other numerous machinery and equipment manufacturers that literally set up a plant on the show floor, “ease of set-up” means a lot.
What made it so easy? First and foremost, the answer was not having to deal with union workers. Companies could bring their own set-up technicians, electricians, and others to do the work, so set-up for most of these companies took less time. No waiting for a union electrician to show up three hours after requesting him. No fines, or at the least "dirty looks," from the union people if they saw you plugging in your own lights or performing some other simple task that anyone could do on his own to save time and speed up booth construction.
One person commented that he liked not having to carry around several thousand dollars in twenty-dollar bills to “grease the skids” of the union people to get work done in a timely manner. This cash-under-the-table is well known, and for many of the companies that I asked it was just what you had to do to get things done. Another person noted that for their booth—a large machinery booth—having to deal with unions typically cost them upwards of an additional $50,000.
Not only was set-up easier, but the people on hand to help out were very friendly. That was the second most-frequent comment I got. “The people here would just come around and asked if you needed any help,” said one surprised, but pleased company owner. “If you said yes, they’d have several people rounded up in no time to give you a hand.”
Another thing that was noticed was the friendliness of everyone from the staff at the OCCC to the shuttle bus drivers to the people stationed at the various shuttle bus stops to offer friendly assistance and helpful information. Most of the ones I talked to were retired people who love working the conventions. Many of the bus drivers had just worked at one of the major golf tournaments in the area and were still talking about their encounters with Phil Mickleson, Tiger Woods, and the many celebrities they met. This type of thing isn’t just a job for these people—it’s the way they have fun, get out and meet people and have something to do in retirement.
There were a lot of comments about the less expensive hotel rates, the less expensive and wider variety of restaurants where you didn’t have to spend $35 for a sandwich.
All in all, the entire atmosphere was different. Yes, most companies have had one good year or so under their belts and the prospects of yet another good year in 2012. And the sunshine was also good for people from the upper Midwest or Northeast. Attendance was good and that provided enough leads to keep the sales guys busy for the next months with follow-up.
Everyone seemed very happy. And when exhibitors are happy and attendees are happy, then everyone is happy. I would say that SPI hit a home run with this NPE. And few missed Chicago. As one guy said, “I don’t miss Chicago—and I’m from Chicago.”