The familiar sights and sounds of trade show set-up is creating a buzz of anticipation across the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas today as The PPAI Expo prepares for its first in-person trade show since January 2020. More than 700 companies will be exhibiting this year at the trade show, which opens at 9 am on Tuesday and runs through 2 pm on Thursday. Early-bird attendees can visit the product pavilions—New, Green, Made In The USA, Healthpitality and 1st-Time Exhibitor—starting at 8 am on Tuesday.

Opening The PPAI Expo in a “normal” year requires countless hours of planning and execution not only by PPAI show organizers but also by exhibiting companies as well. But planning for a show the magnitude of The PPAI Expo during a prolonged and unpredictable global pandemic has been a herculean effort on all fronts. While vaccines, facility upgrades and other improvements made many show exhibitors and attendees hopeful to return, the onset of the Omicron variant last fall caused some companies to rethink their show plans. As a result, several large suppliers made the difficult decision to cancel their participation at The PPAI Expo, some as recently as late last week.

Even still, more than 700 exhibiting companies will be set up and ready to do business when the hall opens tomorrow morning, and the excitement to be back at The PPAI Expo for an in-person show is palpable.

Despite all the variables, for many, their reasons for making the decision to move forward with exhibiting at the show came down to how they want to serve their customers.

“In this unique and critical time, distributors need confidence that suppliers are in a position to properly support them,” says Michael Reisbaum, vice president at Long Island City, New York-based Blue Generation, in booth 3243. “Our goal is to build confidence that the supply chain is efficient and productive—it’s not as efficient as prior to COVID by any means—but we are filling the gap and working to be more efficient over the next 24 months.”

Los Angeles-based exhibitor BELLA+CANVAS, in booths 3213 and 3313, is another exhibitor that is committed to being at The PPAI Expo. “We understand our industry has gone back and forth about trade-show attendance and many companies have made the difficult decision to pull out of the January shows. We have not,” says Megan Spire, vice president of sales. “We believe these shows are a cornerstone of our industry—a time of year for the community to get together, learn and collaborate. We know that by showing up, we are doing our part in keeping our customers’ businesses alive and thriving, not to mention, our industry is event-driven, of which promotional products are a vital component. We look forward to having an engaging 2022 show season and seeing customers live in Las Vegas.”

For Rick Phillips, vice president of marketing for Trevose, Pennsylvania-based exhibitor alphabroder/Prime Line, in booth 4525, being at The PPAI Expo is vital to reconnecting with customers, in person, which he believes is important. “We have all adapted pretty well to a virtual world, but there is no replacement for the human connection of an in-person meeting. Success looks like engaging, productive and safe conversations with customers about their business and how we can help support them.”

Over the past two years, many suppliers were not able to see their key distributors in person, and Rick Cesere, executive vice-president at exhibitor Edwards Garment, in booth 2417, thinks that’s far too long. “We believe it is very important for our products and our success in 2022 to attend The PPAI Expo. In addition, we had just acquired Bishop Custom Apparel, now EdwardsX, around the time of The PPAI Expo 2020. Seeing some of our designs and hearing our success stories in-person is much more compelling than the other mediums we have been using to connect with distributors since March 2020. At The PPAI Expo 2022, we want customers to see the whole picture of what they are bringing to a customer when they partner with Edwards.”

He adds that 2021 was an excellent year for the Kalamazoo, Michigan, supplier for several reasons. “We made some sourcing and planning decisions throughout 2021 that led us to being in a good inventory position,” he says, adding that with many events sidelined for 2021 and into 2022, some distributors turned to uniform programs, a sales channel in which Edwards excels. “We’ve seen an increase in health care, assisted living, security, hospitality, gaming, auto manufacturing and theme parks … and we want to be there to partner with distributors the entire way. We believe attending The PPAI Expo 2022 will allow us to get that message out effectively.”

Boulder, Colorado-based exhibitor Hexa/Custom in booth 3954 is at the show this week to reintroduce the company’s line of custom-designed outerwear. “We launched our brand at The PPAI Expo 2020, and since then, we have had very few opportunities to engage with distributors in a meaningful way,” says CEO Sue Timbok. “The PPAI Expo 2022 offers a great environment for us to introduce ourselves to new distributors and connect with those that have supported us over the past two years. We are looking forward to helping distributors experience our products and technology firsthand.” She says the company is focused on quality distributor interactions for this show. “Our goal is to have the opportunity to not only showcase our fully-customizable premium outerwear offering, but also to share with distributors the innovative ways that we can work together to elevate the gifting experience,” she says.

For most show exhibitors, The PPAI Expo is the year’s signature kickoff event, and in 2022, that objective is even more important. “To us, The PPAI Expo is always a great way to start the new year,” says Megan Schmit, marketing communications specialist at exhibitor Charles River Apparel in booth 2033, which is adding to its collection of eco-friendly designs in 100-percent recycled polyester. “We look forward to connecting personally with our friends and partners at the show and are excited to highlight all of our new styles and initiatives our crew is working on.” In terms of measuring the show’s success, she adds, “We are ultimately focused on meeting with our distributors, connecting with others across our wonderful industry, and feeling inspired by everything that’s coming in 2022.”