The Best. Expo. Ever.

If it was fresh, original, different, exceptional, singular or extraordinary—one could find it in action at the industry’s No. 1 trade show.

More than 11,000 distributors packed the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas in January for the promotional products industry's longest-running trade show.

More than 11,000 distributors packed the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas in January for the promotional products industry's longest-running trade show.

This year’s PPAI Expo had a lot on the line. Not only did the nearly one million-square-foot show floor seamlessly relocate from two levels to a single level in sync with the Mandalay Bay Convention Center’s $66 million expansion late last year but this was the first Expo to require all participating exhibitors, advertisers and sponsors to be Product Safety Aware. That meant that every one of the 1,282 exhibiting companies designated a roster employee who completed a minimum of four hours of product safety education as the company’s Product Safety Ambassador before the deadline. And that’s not all. From the very first marketing pieces, this show was promoted as the best Expo ever. High standards? You bet! But sometimes it works best to start with the end in mind.

Building layer upon layer of successful Expos every year—and making each one better than the last—is a challenging assignment, but one that PPAI’s Expositions team and the rest of the PPAI staff are up for again and again. This was the show’s 14th year in Las Vegas, yet it was an opportunity to create an entirely new experience for show exhibitors and attendees alike.

“The PPAI Expo had a renewed energy like I have never seen before,” says Tom Goos, MAS, president of Image Source, Inc. and PPAI chair of the board. “Having all the suppliers and distributors on the same floor created a special buzz throughout the show. I had a lot more collisions with great suppliers and distributor friends than I have had in the past. The 2016 PPAI Expo was definitely the best Expo I have ever attended and this is my 18th consecutive Expo.”

The Product Pavilions featured hundreds of products to view--and capture--in four categories: New Products, Green Products, Made In The USA and Express Ship.

The Product Pavilions featured hundreds of products to view--and capture--in four categories: New Products, Green Products, Made In The USA and Express Ship.

More than 11,000 distributors descended on the three-day trade show, which opened January 12, preceded by a day of committee meetings and volunteer recognition, and a full day of educational programming that featured a twist on the traditional keynote session. In the new concept, three powerful speakers shared snippets of their forthcoming topics, and attendees selected one for the second half of the session.

The PPAI Expo is not only big business for the promotional products industry--the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates the overall non-gaming economic impact of the show on the city at about $19.4 million.

The PPAI Expo is not only big business for the promotional products industry--the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates the overall non-gaming economic impact of the show on the city at about $19.4 million.

The excitement continued to build on day two as PPAI opened the new section of the show floor early, offering distributors an advance look at the Product Pavilions followed by early access to the brand. pavilion with its premium products and corporate gift ideas. For those who came early for the grand opening, there was live music, refreshments and drawings every few minutes for top-dollar items like a Weber grill and American Airlines tickets. Thirty-two lucky winners won door prizes during the grand opening.

While the show floor was humming downstairs, social media master Seth Godin was warming up the crowd in the ballroom upstairs with personal stories, fascinating statistics and unforgettable images in his keynote session, From Invisible To Remarkable: Dancing On The Edge Of A Revolution. In his animated style, he kept listeners in his sold-out session spellbound for nearly an hour as he detailed the giant shift that’s happening in marketing and how today’s marketers should be responding to it.

Throughout the show, there were numerous opportunities for attendees to network and learn, including more than 100 education programs, the promo equipment show DECORATE with live demonstrations, the brand. experience with interactive presentations and its adjacent beer garden, and the SAGE conference, skucon, the Recognition Professionals International Summit and other meetings co-located with Expo this year.

Thousands of showgoers get ready to hear the keynote speaker, including Karie Cowden, MAS, president of Connect The Dots Promotions, LLC and Bruce Perryman, MAS+, CEO of Embroidery Unlimited, Inc.

Mike McDermott at Footprints USA (right) shows off some of the company's newest styles in flip flops.

“Our members make a significant investment in time, money and staff resources to attend the show and our goal is to ensure The PPAI Expo consistently exceeds their expectations,” says PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE. “To that end, we work hard to build on the show’s success year over year.” He cites two of the key drivers of those improvements this year as the relocation of the show floor to a single level—which added visibility for exhibitors and efficiency for distributors—and supporting safe products by requiring every exhibiting company to acquire its Product Safety Aware status in advance of the show. “The third piece of the show’s success I noted this year is the ‘big tent’ environment it provides for related meetings and conferences to run concurrently within our show. It’s another way the Expo serves to draw our industry together for shared success.”

Darel Cook, director of expositions, says some of the key themes he heard from attendees and exhibitors was that the new floor plan made the show easier to work and education offerings were creative and refreshing. “It was like going to the Expo for the very first time—everything was new!” he says. For someone who was unable to attend, he says he’d describe it this way: “Imagine being at the Super Bowl of the promotional products industry, hanging out with 20,000 of your closest friends, seeing over one million products and all the while enjoying the best educational and networking opportunities.” That’s The PPAI Expo.

In a joint session and individual breakouts, Wednesday's General Session speakers (from left) Josh Tickell, Melinda Doolittle and Casey Gerald provided solid take-away value on reaching goals, solving life's big problems and understanding Millennials.

In a joint session and individual breakouts, Wednesday's General Session speakers (from left) Josh Tickell, Melinda Doolittle and Casey Gerald provided solid take-away value on reaching goals, solving life's big problems and understanding Millennials.

Expo Photo 6

Thousands of showgoers get ready to hear the keynote speaker, including Karie Cowden, MAS, president of Connect The Dots Promotions, LLC and Bruce Perryman, MAS+, CEO of Embroidery Unlimited, Inc.

Expo Photo 7

It was a night for winners as PPAI honored dozens of individuals and companies with its annual awards in five categories at Tuesday evening's Awards Presentation & Reception.

Expo photo 8

There were plenty of new products to see...

Expo photo 9

and new twists on popular and classic items in nearly 3,000 exhibit booths across the show floor.

See More In The Expo Daily And The Expo 2016 Highlights Video

In a show as winning as Expo, there were many individual and company winners too—and two events were needed to recognize them all. See who took home the honors for individual and company awards, read more about the speakers and events and view dozens of photos in the official show publication, Expo Daily. For the Expo 2016 Highlights video, click here.

A Distributor’s View Of Expo

Trade Show Ideas Designed To Get Attention

Phil Peden

by Phil Peden, HALO Branded Solutions

We’re back from The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas, and with one million square feet of exhibitor space there was quite a bit to see and do. This year we picked up new promotional products, educational insights, observations of what happens at a show of this scale and how it relates to your customers, and tips for your company’s next show exhibit.

With a show of this size, there were many amazing, well-designed exhibits that got our attention and had extremely helpful, friendly staff. If we tried to list them all, this would be a never-ending article. So, the examples we have chosen are those that were doing something completely different from their neighbors, and the ideas could be scaled to fit any size show.

You have only a few seconds to engage show attendees before they pass you by and talk to your competition. Standing out in the crowd is key, and interesting graphics, text, lighting and textures can make a huge difference in getting those potential customers to stop and take a closer look. Here are a few examples of those exhibitors that made us take a second look.

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1. Go up. We noticed this Prime Line display across the showroom floor.

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2. Incorporate a cohesive design theme, like this exhibitor, Artifi Labs, right down to the ice cream sandwiches they were giving away.

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3. Showcase color with your entire product display as in the Numo booth.

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4. Unique lighting complemented the welcoming feel of the Origaudio booth.

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5. Unique textures enhanced the brand image at the Visions/AwardCraft booth.

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6. Attention-getting text on this Signs2Trade lobby sign required a second look.

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7. Go down. These floor graphics invited you to follow them to Prime Line.

Invite Attendees To Stop

Now that you have their attention, it’s time to convince attendees to actually stop and interact with your staff. Games, mascots, photo-ops and interactive product spaces are good ways to give attendees just enough of a push to have a look around.

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8. Live tweeting in the DistributorCentral booth got the crowd involved in the display.

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9. No walls and multiple product interaction spaces of the Tomax booth provided easy navigation and a more comfortable setting.

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10. The open retail space of the River’s End Trading Company booth encouraged us to browse products.

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11. A living mannequin at the River’s End Trading Company booth showed off the product and got our attention.

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12. This cut-out at the VP Brand booth got us to stop and snap a picture.

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13. Oversized products in the Dacasso Limited booth made for fun photos.

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14. An over-the-top display featuring the authentic 1966 Batmobile encouraged us to enter RMK Worldwide’s booth.

Engage With The Audience

Once attendees stop in your booth, it is time for your event staff to take action. A well-organized, easy-to-spot and educated staff can turn casual booth visitors into long-time customers. Be sure your space is adequately staffed. Getting attendees’ attention and causing them to stop doesn’t help if they don’t learn about your products or services.

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15. Prime Line’s exhibit had plenty of easy-to-spot, coordinated right-down-to-the-shoes staff.

Philip Peden is a marketing specialist at HALO Branded Solutions by day and a self-proclaimed art nerd by night. He’s armed with 10 years of promotional experience, a mountain of marketing knowledge and award-winning design skills. You can find Peden and his fellow HALO contributors writing about promotional marketing, branding and strategies at www.halo.com/blog.

An Exhibitor’s View Of Expo

Seeing the long game through the short game (or, why Expo pays off in the long run)

By David Schultz, DistributorCentral

David SchultzEach year our team and more than 10,000 other industry professionals touch down in Las Vegas, steeped in anticipation of another great week at The PPAI Expo. Inevitably, either prior to or just after the show, someone at many of these companies (usually a well-meaning CFO or controller) will ask the question, “Is it worth it?”

Evaluating whether there is a direct financial return on the rather large investment of time and money required for a supplier or service provider to exhibit at a trade show is certainly an important part of building an effective marketing budget. However, given the difficulties in accurately assessing the direct and indirect ROI from trade shows, these numbers should be used cautiously as the primary factor when deciding whether or not to exhibit.

At DistributorCentral (UPIC: DC), we spread a portion of our marketing budget over a mix of large trade shows (The PPAI Expo being our primary show of the year), smaller trade shows, regional association events, supplier factory visits, distributor office visits and other events we support as a general sponsor or education partner. We invest our money (and quite a bit of time) in each of these events with the understanding that yes, we are there to increase sales in the short term, but more importantly we’re there to create and foster relationships that may not result in sales until much later (or occasionally, not at all). In other words, we may not see the full return on our investment until weeks, months, or even years after we return from Expo.

A discussion with a new customer at our Pro Party during Expo this year exemplified this idea: “We are amazed and grateful that your team has spent the past year talking with us when we haven’t yet made any financial investment in your company. During that time, you’ve helped us understand what we need in terms of a technical solution, what services your company provides, and how your platform can help us engage more customers and run our business more efficiently.”

As of this week, after a full year of talking to this customer at multiple industry events, visiting their offices halfway across the country, and spending time with them again at Expo this year, I’m happy to report that they are now a (happily) paying customer.

This example is certainly not unique to us, and others in the industry who take a long-game approach to sales and marketing will be familiar with these types of successful relationship-building outcomes. Expo is a unique event in the industry and I can honestly say the relationships we’ve built with customers, colleagues and even competitors at this event over the years have had a lasting positive effect on our development and growth as a company.

Whether it’s talking to customers in the booth, attending education sessions or committee meetings, discussing technical initiatives with industry leaders, partners and competitors or talking to people at networking events such as the SuccessFit 5K run, the PromoKitchen mixer, the Awards Gala, the Power of Two Party or the nightly ad hoc late-night networking sessions in the bar, the week is chock full of opportunities to meet new people and foster relationships with old friends and business partners. These events, and the associated conversations and relationships found therein, make it easier for us to focus on the long game during Expo week rather than focus on our financial investment and its direct (and immediate) return.

Don’t get me wrong. I still get irritated when I can’t refill my water bottle on the show floor because there are not any water fountains or I have to pay $5 for a banana (that costs $0.19 at my local grocery store … yes folks, that’s a 2,500 percent markup). Likewise, I’m still thrilled when we come out of Expo with a high number of new (or growing) accounts in place immediately that can be directly attributed to our investment and efforts at the show.

But in the end I’m even more excited that our experience over the years has left us in a position to more easily view the long game through the short game when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness and return of these events. As a company, we’re happy to be in a position to focus on the long game and grow with our customers as we look forward to 2016 and beyond.

David Shultz is vice president of operations at industry service-provider DistributorCentral, LLC. In addition to being part of the team behind DistirbutorCentral’s technology platform, he works with key supplier and distributor clients to help them evaluate and implement technology tools in their businesses.

filed under march-2016 | ppb
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Comments (1)
Gill Thorpe FCIPS
February 25, 2016

Fabulous on all counts and so delighted to see your true commitment to product safety - brilliant show and amazing speakers!

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