We are back from ABC Kids 2011 in Louisville, KY. This was our 5th year exhibiting at the ABC Kids Expo. I don’t know what the official attendance numbers were, but anecdotally there seemed to be fewer overall buyers at the show. However, our traffic seemed as good or better than years past. I know that a lot of people were skeptical (ok, angry) about the show moving from Las Vegas to Louisville. I have been defending the move for the past year and a half after attending the ABC Spring Educational Conference that was held in Louisville in May 2010–whose purpose was partly to get people psyched about Louisville. At that conference they pretty much kept you fed and glued to the other participants from sunrise to (past) sunset, which is good for networking of course. If you are staring at the same people from the time you get up until you collapse into bed, you’re bound to have at least a few beneficial conversations at some point during the day. But that show was on such a smaller scale, the question was how would they be able to convince everyone that the much larger annual fall Expo would be great in Louisville? Unfortunately, there were several glitches that fueled the fires of those more than ready to believe that moving to Louisville was a disaster. There certainly was no shortage of hospitality on the part of the local people and business owners. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and a lot of local restaurants were clearly happy to welcome such a large convention, and it’s always nice to feel wanted. But there were several disappointing aspects (none of which can’t be fixed–but why weren’t they anticipated and planned for?), namely the food situation (or, “I have to walk HOW FAR for a piece of passable frozen pizza and when I get to the front of the line you have the audacity to tell me you don’t accept credit cards?” or “I just paid $12 for the worst nachos ever.”) and the logistics of getting around town when the convention center is located 5 miles from the downtown area. I don’t know what the heck happened with regard to food vendors in the convention center. Suffice it to say there weren’t enough of them–meaning epic lines, the quality of the food was not so great, many were cash only (particularly annoying to international attendees who don’t want to carry a lot of American cash), and on the first day of the convention THEY RAN OUT OF COFFEE AT 9:15 AM. AND THE SHOW STARTED AT 9:00 AM. No Starbucks there. I had fond daydreams of the LVCC Starbucks with it’s lines 25 people deep each morning, where you could get a misto and some oatmeal or a scone. As an exhibitor from a small company where we don’t have a whole fleet there, I have to say it’s essential to have food vendors where you can get lunch or snacks quickly, that credit cards are always welcome, and there are options that accommodate one’s desire to eat something not breaded and fried for 3 meals each day. Another key need for exhibitors is that at the end of a long day on the show floor we have the opportunity to SIT DOWN AND RELAX. At the industry reception, which we’ve attended each year we’ve done the show, we walked in along with everyone else coming directly from the show and there were no tables available; the few tables with seating that were there had clearly filled up with the first group of people in the door, leaving probably 80% of the attendees to stand. Eating while standing is a pet peeve of mine anyway, but doing it after standing for the better part of the previous 9 hours made me want to cry. The announcement at 6:50 (after the start of the reception just after the show closed at 6:00 pm) that the bar would become a cash bar at 7:00 pm and we’d be kicked out of that room and forced to go into the concert hall to hear KC and the Sunshine Band made actual tears well up in my eyes. The reception has never had a cash bar, ever! I don’t consider myself a cheapskate, but ask any news media CEO: getting someone to pay for something that you have been giving away for free for years is a really hard sell. Also, if I am going to pay for my drinks, I do want a white wine that is not a Chardonnay, a red wine that is not a Merlot, and a bartender who uses an actual cocktail shaker to make mixed drinks, rather than pouring liquor into 16 oz. glasses full of ice and giving it a swirl. Also, no offense to KC or the Sunshine Band (or the Unexpected Boys, who very expectedly took the stage at 7 pm), but I was hoping to continue to mingle, have a drink and relax and if music was playing in the same room but I could still have a conversation over it, great; but this was set up like an actual concert, in a concert hall, a huge one at that, and separate from all the food and drink (well, except that aforementioned cash bar). So I ask KC’s forgiveness, but we bailed at that point and found a place where we could 1. sit down, 2. eat more than the amount of food that would fit on an appetizer plate, and 3. hear ourselves think.
Being from Chicago, we drove to Louisville knowing that once there we’d really need a car to get around anyway. Shuttle buses were provided from downtown to the convention center. I honestly thought we’d use them to get from the hotel to the convention center each day and night, but it was just more convenient to drive and park (although only because we were offered a $24 4-day parking pass with in-and-out privileges, normally would have cost $32 for the same amount of time without being allowed to go in and out). Unfortunately, though, Louisville is not the type of town that has cabs anywhere and everywhere you go and those people we know who relied on them had a few experiences of calling cabs and then waiting for up to 1-2 hours for one to come. So luckily with our car we did not have to rely on hailing a taxi and were also able to give some friends and colleagues a ride each day to various places.
The show itself was, as usual, exhausting, exhilarating, and informative. You get there and you’re sort of on non-stop adrenaline for 6 days or more, getting little sleep and constantly talking (so much I get a little hoarse usually). It’s always nice to see friends within the industry that you may not have seen for months or even since last year and seeing the other exhibitors helps you keep yourself informed about what’s going on in the industry. For the babywearing industry, we had the first annual meeting of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (formed July 2010) and made a lot of progress towards growing and strengthening the organization and the industry. I know many of our retailers also attended the Real Diaper Industry Assocation’s (RDIA) meetings the day after the show closed, as well. But I also noted there were a few companies that you always see at ABC who did not exhibit this year. And I heard a few people wondering whether it was worth it for them to attend in 2012. I still think it’s worth attending and for our company, it’s the most important trade show for us to attend. But I sincerely and truly hope that the problems that made the 2011 show a bit of a letdown for some people will be addressed and that next year’s show in Louisville will leave me feeling the enthusiasm for ABC in Louisville that I felt after attending that spring conference in 2010.