Spicing up the marriage

Feb. 18, 2002

Many tie the knot in Las Vegas. Those involved with ConExpo-Con/Agg have made sure to keep theirs a little loose over the years. Along with successful mergers, the show adds a few new rides with every go-round.

However, this year’s industry gathering comes in the wake of one unexpected event—Sept. 11. The tragedy and a sagging economy add tension, but most are looking at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2002 for relief.

Many tie the knot in Las Vegas. Those involved with ConExpo-Con/Agg have made sure to keep theirs a little loose over the years. Along with successful mergers, the show adds a few new rides with every go-round.

However, this year’s industry gathering comes in the wake of one unexpected event—Sept. 11. The tragedy and a sagging economy add tension, but most are looking at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2002 for relief.

A new South Hall, IFPE 2002 and a fresh slate of educational sessions are just a few show expansions. Roads & Bridges had a chance to cover the highlights with ConExpo-Con/Agg Show Managing Directors Peter Vlahos and Dennis Slater.

I’m a ConExpo-Con/Agg newcomer. Aside from registration, what is the first area I should hit?

Peter Vlahos: If you have pre-registered (all pre-registrants receive their credentials in the mail in advance) you don’t even need to stop by the registration area . . . you are free to enjoy the ConExpo-Con/Agg experience. 

What industry sector are you interested in? Look at the ConExpo-Con/Agg directory, computerized product locators and/or the closest “You-Are-Here” map and go to the product concentration area that you are interested in.

Before you maximize your time at the show by meeting with the leading industry manufacturers and service providers, look around you . . . both indoors and outdoors. If you ever had a question of the impact of this industry to our society, it’s all around you! It is an impressive sight for both newcomers and veterans. 

Dennis Slater: If you’re an international newcomer you’ll probably want to go to the International Business Center because that’s where we have organized all the services for the international attendee. It’s something that a lot of shows don’t offer, but at our show they can find out there which exhibitors are looking for export opportunities. They also can take advantage of matchmaking services and make contact directly with exhibitors.

That’s the international side of it. If I were on the attendee side of it for domestic the first thing I would look at would be the product concentration area. The show is huge and you want to break it down into the areas you want to go into. The product locators become very important to isolate what products you’re looking for and to get maps right away of what areas to go into.

I’m a ConExpo-Con/Agg veteran. What is the first area I should hit?

Vlahos: Tough question. You have been there before so get a cup of coffee from one of the more than 30 restaurant concessions at the show and look around you. The show is even bigger than it was in 1999.

Go to the newest addition to the Las Vegas Convention Center—The South Hall, a 1.3 million-sq-ft, two-story building. The South Hall is the centerpiece for:

                Concrete Central—the product concentration area for anything concrete;

                The IT Pavilion;

                The IFPE 2002 Show;

                The engines and components product concentration area;

                The IFPE Technical Conference—the pre-eminent education source for the power transmission industry;

                Concrete certification courses;

                SAE Off-Highway Congress sessions; and

                The Decorative Concrete Field Training program.

Slater: As a veteran you’re probably looking for the same information (as the first-timer) so the product locators become very important. But after that I think there are some areas here . . . the IFPE Show is very important, something they wouldn’t have seen before . . . the IT Pavilion is another area they probably want to check out if they want to go to any of the education sessions because they’re retooled after each show.

How has the economy affected this year’s show in terms of attendance and exhibit space?

Vlahos: Our current trends (you must realize that the last 45 days drive our advance registration figures) show that attendance will be comparable to our 1999 show. Our registrations show a strong commitment by top decision makers/buyers. 

Also, the economy is not the sole factor that has impacted the show. The events of Sept. 11 also made an impact. By looking at our registration, housing and website activity it was evident that our nation was deeply affected. Many of us started to question travel and meetings. 

Since late November, we have seen comparable activity to our 1999 show. We are back and ready to do business.

Slater: There’s been a slowdown to a degree. It’s not only the economy but also the Sept. 11 events. They kind of put a damper on the show. From the space side of it the show is still up about 80,000 sq ft from 1999, and that’s not even counting IFPE so we’re in really good shape there. Attendance right now is looking good. I don’t know if we’ll hit our record number of the last time so I think you have a little bit of the effect of the downturn there.

But I think because it’s a three-year show it’s a little more resilient to the ups and downs of the economy and other events. We’ve been very, very lucky there.

With what happened on Sept. 11 still fresh in our minds, will show security be any tighter than in year’s past?

Vlahos: Security has always been a concern. Sept. 11 has heightened everyone’s awareness to this important function.

Without getting into the specifics of our security plan, we are reviewing the way we handle security from the move-in to registration to the show grounds. 

The days are long gone when someone could walk up to a registration desk and say their name and be handed a badge which would allow him/her access to the show floor. 

Slater: During the move-in, especially for the exhibitors, we’re going to tighten our controls because people are able to roam a little more freely than you would like. We’re looking at better ways to tighten down what kind of badging is allowed in during that time and be more vigilant then.

During the show itself as an attendee you will see a bigger security presence. We’ll be asking for I.D.s when you receive your badge, but most of it I would say is things that, probably in trade shows, are practiced but not en-forced enough.

What would you like exhibitors/attendees to take from this event?

Vlahos: Our customers should be able to walk away with one thought . . . I did what I wanted to accomplish: see exhibitors . . . learn at the seminars . . . network with my industry colleagues. All these are possible because ConExpo-Con/Agg, unlike any other event, is the construction and construction materials industries’ gathering place. 

Slater: From the exhibitor’s side of it, they’re there to get customers and sales leads. I think our show, more than any other show, delivers attendees that they, the exhibitor, aren’t going to see at any other trade show. In our last survey, 60% of the attendees of ConExpo-Con/Agg 1999 only went to that show. It’s really a great event to meet not only your established customers, but new customers.

On the attendee side, I think because of the size of the show and the completeness of it you’re going to see the latest in equipment and technology. But in addition to that, the conventions that are being held there and the meetings, it has really turned the event into a gathering place for the industry.

How has ConExpo-Con/Agg evolved into what it is today?

Vlahos: Over the past three shows, we have worked to expand and refine our product concentration concept. We have opened our arms to many partnerships (IFPE is an example) and we have worked with our association partners to make that one week every three years the place and time to come together.

Slater: I think it has evolved into what our goal was, and that was to make it a gathering place for these industries. You go there for nine different conventions, you go there to see new equipment . . . over 300 industry meetings are going on. You can get a lot done in a very short period of time.

When the shows (ConExpo and Con/Agg) were separate they both had their own markets. In 1994 when we merged them together, we realized one of the best ways to have a good experience was to look at the conventions and bring that built-in audience there for the exhibitor.

This trade show has grown from when the partnership was started and barely over a million feet to bordering on 2 million ft, and attendance under a hundred thousand to into 120,000 in an industry that people say is really consolidating. It’s bucking a trend, but at the same time what it’s doing is gathering up other events that really need to be together.

I understand one of the new educational sessions is a forum on industry trends. Was this in response to the current state of the economy? What will this session provide attendees?

Vlahos: I believe you are referring to the Industry Summit concept that we are unveiling in 2002. The concept as we initially planned did not materialize.

Actually, the original thought was to bring all the key ConExpo-Con/Agg stakeholders, exhibitors/manufacturers, buyers/contractors and producers to meet on issues of common interest (image of our industry, future work force issues, legislative and regulatory issues). 

As the concept advanced, it changed . . . part of every project evolution. The Industry Summit program is now comprised of numerous sessions representing key issues that each of our partner associations wants to communicate to their stakeholders . . . topics from environmental management systems for the aggregates industry to promoting concrete parking lots to future work force.

Slater: The biggest issue with the In-dustry Summit is we have educational sessions now, and those really show the attendee what’s the latest and greatest in technical and general education management issues for the industry.

With the Summit, we went to various associations and said, “Are there issues out there that you want to get your message out to this huge audience, but not necessarily something they would pay for education?” That’s the idea of the whole Summit and the forums of that Summit. It’s to deliver messages about our industry that they need to know but wouldn’t necessarily be going out there and paying to get that.

What improvements have been made to the Information Technology Pavilion and how will it benefit users?

Vlahos: There’s a more comprehensive selection of information technology companies than in 1999. A number of these companies were tentative at the last show because of their perception that it was exclusively “big iron.” But they realized that the buyers were hungry for that opportunity to investigate the latest technology and services for their companies.

Everyone is more keenly aware today that technology and “big iron” can co-exist on the show floor and are important in the success of contractor and producer companies.

Slater: I think the key there is bringing AGC (the Associated General Contractors of America) into that. Because of the customer, AGC serves the contractor, information technology is part of their everyday business. Bringing them in has allowed us to increase the size and quality of the exhibitors in that pavilion.

What can you tell me about the Live Auction, which is new to ConExpo-Con/Agg?

Vlahos: The Live Auction will not be held at the show after all. As I stated earlier, we have always been committed to adding new products and services to the show. The eligible exhibitors for the Live Auction program were not as excited with the program as we originally anticipated.

Slater: We were excited about it. It’s funny because when you first put it out there . . . in a trade show like this your goal is to have many different ideas brought forward and because it’s so big many of them fall by the wayside.

So when it didn’t evolve I wasn’t really upset with it. I was like, “Okay, we offered something to the exhibitors to see if they wanted it.” And in the end they said that they didn’t want it. I think the key point was it wasn’t so much a lack of interest, but they didn’t want to do it under the terms of an unrestricted auction. Putting out machinery there at a trade show . . . you’re working with your dealer networks and everyone else there . . . and now you go with an unrestricted auction with a brand new piece. You could be setting a bad precedent. It really wasn’t the angle they wanted to go with.

How has IFPE strengthened ConExpo-Con/Agg?

Vlahos: We are very pleased with the co-location of IFPE 2002. The show is doing very well with over 100,000 net sq ft. It reinforces our message that together we are the single marketplace for any product for the construction and construction materials industries.

Slater: IFPE has definitely strengthened our event because what it has done is added an element to our show. We’ve had some of those exhibitors in the past, but now we really have that whole industry for power transmission there and it allows us to really attract an engineer audience, which has come out of our exhibitor base for attendance. Now your exhibitor is going there not only as an exhibitor, but also as an attendee so they’re doubling their value.

For the IFPE exhibitor instead of the audience of 8,000 or 9,000 people they now have 100,000 plus people walking through the door, many of which may not have gone to IFPE by itself.

The convention center has been expanded since the last show. How will ConExpo-Con/Agg ’02 benefit from this?

Vlahos: Even though the temporary structure was a success in 1999 all of us applauded the news of the LVCC expansion. Now that we can walk through and touch the concrete floors of the new South Hall, we just can’t imagine our show without this new $170 million building.

The expansion has added more options, including the further refinement of product concentration areas (for example, in past shows we grouped together the aggregates processing with the concrete product concentration area . . . in 2002, we have allowed the concrete area to become Concrete Central which will occupy most of the first level of the South Hall building) and made possible our partnership with IFPE. The additional meeting space in the South Hall allows us to bring more industry meetings to the show. There are well over 250 meetings planned already. 

We should not forget that Las Vegas has continued to grow along with the show. Since the 1999 show, new ho-tels create a renewed excitement about the city.

Slater: It’s huge. This show has grown with the convention center. The South Hall expansion allowed us to give the space needed to all the growing areas of the show and the product areas.

In addition to that it allowed us to bring IFPE in. Without the expansion there wouldn’t be an IFPE there, or an IT Pavilion.

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