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Puppies, Bacon and Ice Cream...

There were many high points to the 2019 PPAI Expo, but who knew that one of the most talked about things was puppies and bacon. The tagline for the Expo was Experience Extraordinary.

And many experienced Extraordinary at Vegas Expo Week.

PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone shared with me that they are always looking for ways to enhance the show and create traffic in various areas. The idea of pop-ups on the show floor were new this year and very much worked to create interest. People loved the puppies… of course who doesn’t love puppies? (Well…maybe cat lovers don’t.) For many, high-quality bacon, including chocolate covered bacon was a win. The "Rolled Ice Cream" was also a hit, as was the gourmet coffee.

These things were a fun addition and did not distract from the business people were there to accomplish. They only enhanced it and added a fun dimension to our industry’s premier trade show. The Expo, of course, is more than a trade show it IS the promotional products gathering place.

As always, Expo week is packed with a variety of education and networking opportunities. I started the week Sunday at skucon. This is an invigorating event packed with inspirational content from a remarkable line up of leaders sharing thought-provoking content put together by the fine folks at commonsku.

PromoKitchen continues to have a positive impact on our industry. I would encourage everyone to check out what’s cooking in the Kitchen. You won’t gain weight. They share a variety of relevant content and their mentoring program is vital to our industry. They host a lively networking event at the Expo, and a few PromoKitchen “Chefs” taught some outstanding education sessions.

This year, we wanted to do something to support the Promotional Products Disaster Relief Foundation, affectionally dubbed PPDRF (try to pronounce that.) With everything that is happening around the country, it’s a blessing that PPAI along with the Regional Associations have created this fund to help industry member businesses get through these tragedies. You can donate any amount you like to PPDRF here.

A few of us created a step challenge to raise money and awareness for the fund. Special thanks to those who helped make this happen: Dana Zezzo - American Solutions for Business, Megan Zezzo – S&S Activewear, Brian Stidham – EMT, Laura Brewer – Ariel Premium Supply, David Hawes – Geiger, Dan Livengood – 2020 Brand Solutions, and PromoCorner.

In my annual Expo wrap up video with Paul we were joined by PPAI’s Director of Regional Relations, Dana Geiger. We talk a bit about funds we raised for PPDRF and reflections on Expo Week. Many of you may find this interview worth watching.

It’s easy for me to share the things that make the “Expo Extraordinary,” but it seems best to let attendees share their thoughts. Dan Webb, from Webb Company and I bought drinks for the people in the always long Starbucks line in route to the convention center. Dan and I asked them to share their thoughts. People from first timers to one 40-year veteran were happy to talk about the Expo. We share their comments in these three videos:

I could rave more about how great the PPAI Expo is, but I want to close with a personal "real world" reflection on the trade show environment. We are blessed to have our trade organization run an event like this. Here is an example of why we are so fortunate.

As an apparel decorator, I used to always attend a large regional apparel show that followed the Expo. In recent years, it’s been on the weekend right after the Expo so I’ve not attended. I need to recover from Expo Week and spend time with the family. This year I chose to go for a few reasons. My good friend Scott Fresener, a screen printing industry icon, was teaching a class and I had some other apparel needs that I couldn’t get to in Vegas.

Another key reason I went was that I wanted to take a closer look at InkSoft, an innovative software program that creates new sales opportunities. If you are looking for a way to generate business in the school, team, and event market, take a look at this program. It also features a design component enabling you to compete with a giant like Custom Ink, who nurtured the online t-shirt sales business and have expanded into promotional products.

This apparel trade show features equipment that takes up a significant amount of space, filling the convention center and spilling out in an adjoining event arena. The aisles are packed. At one point I was struggling to find aisle 2500 where a company I wanted to connect with was located. As a trade show veteran, I know how to find a booth, however, aisle 2500 appeared to be elusive. The row numbers seemed to stop at 2400.

Here’s where I appreciate PPAI. At a PPAI trade show, you can always easily find a purple-shirted person who can help. This apparel show, produced by an exposition company, didn’t have people around to assist. It’s a business, and the people will come whether they provide a high level of customers service, or not. It’s just trade show, so why invest in a great experience?

Stumped trying to find this booth, I had to head to the Show Office for help. The text on the show floor map directory was so tiny it was almost impossible to read. The helpful receptionist at the Show Office resorted to using a magnifying glass, which may become a new trade show essential for this event. (Sorry, I just HAD to take this picture!)

Neither of us could find the booth using the magnifying glass, so someone from the back office brought out a large map of the show floor on an easel. We did discover where the short, elusive aisle 2500 was located. Mission accomplished, but it seemed like too much work to find a vendors booth.

Our industry is fortunate to have the PPAI Expo run by our trade association that cares about members and creating a positive, productive, fun experience. I'm ready to make plans to head to Vegas January 12th – 16th 2020 for next year’s (Puppies and Bacon) Expo trade show. Let’s hope they don’t do Cats and Bacon. That’s just not the same.

© 2019 Jeff Solomon, MAS


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