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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Trade Show Operators Tread Toward Recovery

17 March 2004

LAS VEGAS -- With the U.S. economy crawling back from the doldrums, those in the nation's trade show and exhibition industry this week expressed renewed confidence their recently moribund sector is on its way to a strong recovery beginning this year and continuing in 2005.

"Things are definitely picking back up," Jim Milanowski, vice president with Chicago-based Czarnowski Exhibit Service Specialists, said Tuesday in Las Vegas. "When things go bad, trade show spending is usually one of the first things companies will eliminate. A lot of smaller companies in our industry almost went out of business in the past few years, but we're starting to see companies open up their spending by (exhibiting) in more trade shows, booking more dates."

Milanowski's comments were echoed by Charles Pappas, whose Exhibitor Magazine Group is sponsoring this week's Exhibitor Show -- a trade show for those in the trade show industry -- at Mandalay Bay.

"I think this shows 9-11 is over," Pappas said, citing increased attendance at this year's event, as well as an abundance of new ideas and products not seen in recent years. "Over the past three years, companies were less willing to fly people out to trade shows because they had tightened their budgets.

"Our industry has almost always acted as a harbinger of the nation's economy, so if companies are confident to reinvest in trade shows, that shows they're confident in the direction (of the economy)."

Over the past few years, Las Vegas has steadily built upon its status as the nation's top trade show and convention destination, a designation it's held for nine years running, according to Tradeshow Week magazine.

Despite strong signs of the industry's local health being routinely demonstrated at venues such as the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sands Expo and Convention Center and Mandalay Bay's newly expanded convention center, this city's recent success has largely belied what's been an industrywide downturn that began with the dot-com crash of late 1990s and was exacerbated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

David Ross, vice president of sales for Roselle, Ill.-based Exhibitgroup/Giltspur, said Tuesday he believes the nation's business climate is on the rebound, a factor that bodes well for Las Vegas and other leading convention and trade show destinations.

Still, he cautioned the effects of recent economic improvements may not be totally realized until next year.

"Unfortunately many companies set their trade show budgets (for this year) in 2003, so there are still some legacy issues we're dealing with," said Ross, whose company designs and builds exhibits for more than 3,000 clients. "But if the economy stays strong this year, I'd expect 2005 is going to be a banner year for our industry."

Milanowski, Czarnowski President Mark Nagle and Sam Panice, who oversees the company's 205,000-square-foot Las Vegas operation, each said large corporate clients such as Reebok and Philips Electronics are now much more interested in getting more for their trade show dollar. To that end, larger fixed displays have lost ground to those using lightweight materials such as aluminum poles and custom-painted fabric signs, which are both less expensive to produce and more easily moved and stored, Milanowski said.

Plasma television screens, lighting and other techniques can also give exhibitors a professional display at less cost that in the past, they added. Nagle said companies spend an average of $150 to $180 per square foot to build and rent space at trade shows, with some large corporate clients dropping more than $200 million per year on convention-related expenses.

This is the 16th year Rochester, Minn.-based Exhibitor Magazine Group has staged its annual Exhibitor Show in Las Vegas. The five-day conference and exhibition, which is closed to the public, runs through Thursday.