If you've ever done a trade show before, perhaps you can identify with the following. If you've never exhibited previously, beware - it's not always a pretty picture.
Monday - Setup
The day before the show is the first day we were allowed in the center. The doors opened at 8 AM. To arrive at 9 AM, it only took... nine months to pick the booth size, pick the location, pick the carpet, opt for the padding, design a booth, redesign a booth, design another booth... design the graphics, redesign the graphics, design new graphics... tweak the website, retweak the website, tweak the website again... test the computers, retest the computers, test the computers again... and on and on and on...
We arrived in traffic-choked downtown Tampa and found our way in without incident. Knowing that we'd pay big bucks to move our stuff through the loading docks, we packed everything we needed into rolling suitcases and walked them in the front door. We had opted to have the booth supplied and erected by a local company and that proved to work out well (though there was a minor offset in one of the graphics). Who knew they didn't turn on the A/C until the next day? We didn't. We were soaked with perspiration by the time we were finished setting up, and that was without having to assemble a booth. I wonder if they leave the heat off in Alaska until the first day of the convention? It'd be a bear to fold tri-folds with those giant mittens they wear.
The activity on the floor moved at a frenetic pace. Forklifts were everywhere, both inside and out. Carpet was laid and taped down in the aisles. Crates were unpacked, the sound of screw guns echoed as displays were erected, lights blinked into place around the floor, workers bustled everywhere... and we ignored it all as we wrestled our electronics into submission. The DSL line, so critically necessary to display our website came at a steep price, but jacks were to be pre-installed in each of three locations in our booth so all we'd have to do is plug and play... NOT. Instead we found a ball of telephone wire terminated with a standard phone clip. We retrieved from the tech office a DSL router and 1 network cable.
Fortunately, we had brought enough equipment of our own to wire the bottom 4 floors of our hotel. An hour, two quarts of sweat and some discrete slits in the carpet later, we were online. (To keep this from delving into tech-speak that would daze or bore all but the most nerdish among you, suffice it to say that thirty minutes worth of tech stuff happened during which we received helpful assistance from center IT personnel to enable everything to work - technically speaking... we were in business). Except for being 1 mouse short. And 2 mousepads, since the opticals didn't agree with the countertops. And a USB extension cable for our webcam... which didn't get used at all during our first day because we were so busy we never got it set back up despite testing it successfully the first day. Did I say the pace was frenetic on setup day? It didn't change at all on day one of the convention, but I'm getting ahead of myself. If we do get the live webcam up on Day 2 or 3, you'll find it at www.metalbuilding.com/webcam.
We wrapped up around 12:30 and took the short walk to our hotel for lunch and more unpacking in our rooms. All exhibitors were to vacate by 5 PM, and the hotel lobby/bar and lounge filled with networking exhibitors and attendees, ebbing and flowing until after midnight. It's a toss-up as to where the most deals get done - on the convention floor during the day or afterwards in the various hotel bars and lobbies. We found similar activity at the end of day 2 at the Hyatt, but not at the Radisson, where the layout of the restaurant/bar seemed more constrictive.
Tuesday, Metalcon Day 1
We located the necessary mouse, pads and cables and had them installed... 10 minutes before the doors opened. We would neither eat, sit nor take a break for the next five hours. We didn't get a chance to walk the floor and see the other exhibits. We barely had time to go to the bathroom. I haven't checked on the attendance figures, but it sure seemed like there was a solid turnout - or maybe that's just because I was on the other side of the table this time. I think we were the last ones to leave the floor, as we went into overtime hooking up a new Metworker Pro subscriber at our booth from the Dominican Republic with a request that had just come in for a 32,000 SF metal roof... in the Dominican Republic. What are the odds of that? Where else but MetalBuilding.com?
The evening after the show the hotel echoed as the night before - but even busier. While the ebb and flow continued through the evening, it peaked around 5-6 PM after the convention floor closed and again around 11 PM as the dinner crowd returned. The sports bar at the Marriott looked like Super Bowl Sunday. Now I know why the floor doesn't open until noon. An 8 AM start time would upset the natural balance.
With aching feet, sore back and a buzz of contacts in my head, I'll probably doze off to visions of Dr. Scholl's gelled shoe inserts. It's late and I'm tired and there are 2 more days of this. This convention business is a young man's game. Next year, I go into training 3 months ahead of time...
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