No Snow Days for the Trade Show Industry

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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New York, NY – The trade show industry has weathered an epic Winter on the East Coast, thanks to some long hours and aggressive strategies for move-ins that have been honed by years of experience with foul weather.  “We’re good at this,” said Mike O’Neil, executive vice president and COO, eastern region, for Freeman. “We have been through plenty of storms over the years, including a few hurricanes. Winter is getting more unpredictable in the Northeast, but we have a seasoned staff and there isn’t much we haven’t managed our way through.”

New York City dodged the worst of the first big storm in late January when it veered slightly to the East at the last minute. But that last-minute eastward shift caused the heart of the blizzard to plow head-on into Boston and kick off a record-setting Winter for the city.

The storm covered Boston and many of its suburbs with more than two feet of snow, triggering travel restrictions on the roads and huge delays in the air. At the same time, Freeman was in the midst of the move-in for the January 28-February 1 Yankee Dental Congress at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The big blizzard was followed just days later by a second wintery punch, which added another foot to Boston’s already impressive snow banks on the day before the move-in for the February 14-22 New England Boat Show. The storm cancelled about 70% of the flights into Logan International Airport and broke the 30-day snowfall record of 58 inches set in 1978.

But Freeman is an old hand at facing challenges from Mother Nature and had a plan in place and the experience to execute it. “If you already have two feet of snow on the ground, what’s three feet?” O’Neil told Trade Show Executive (TSE).

Suburbs Hunker Down
The Boston area is home to a number of show organizing companies and consultants. Most had to close their offices when the first storm moved in, but key executives and managers simply moved their operations into their home office for a few days.

“Questex closed its New York and Boston offices on Tuesday because the governors of both states had travel bans in effect, but we were open for business on Wednesday,” said Tom Caridi, executive vice president and CFO of Questex Media. “We have an emergency website and text messaging system to keep our employees advised. Most of our staff is also able to work remotely, whether they are traveling or simply working from home during blizzards.”

Reed Exhibitions in Norwalk, CT closed early as the storm approached to give staff a chance to beat the snow home. Reed also uses a website and telephone hotline to keep employees informed about the status of the office.  While there is no official policy for snow days, staff members were urged to take home whatever they needed to work from a remote office and coordinate with supervisors as to when they should return to their desks.

High Gear
Holing up with a mug of hot cocoa was not an option for some show managers, service contractors and venue staff who saw their timetables thrown into overdrive as the storm loomed.

“Snow is not new to us and we never planned on closing the doors with the exception of a state mandate,” Trish McCormick, show manager for The Pool & Spa Show held at the Atlantic City Convention Center, told TSE. “Most of our key people made the sacrifice to stay on-site Monday and make sure we were up and running on Tuesday.”

The show indeed opened on time, and was even able to run shuttle buses to its opening night reception as the storm took its turn to the east.

The course change also largely spared New York City where move-in for NY Now was taking place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center at the same time the New York Boat Show was weighing anchor and moving out.

“We worked closely with the contractors and event managers to coordinate the move-out of the boat show and the move-in of NY NOW, which was opening that weekend,” said Alan Steel, president and CEO of the Javits Center.

Get the Show to the Center before the Snow
Freeman’s strategy in New York and Boston was based on getting freight and people as close to the show site as possible before the roads closed. While venue staff are quite capable of keeping sidewalks and loading docks plowed, their efforts can be trumped by road closures.

“Travel restrictions were our biggest concern,” O’Neil told TSE. “For us, it’s how many people can we get to within walking distance of the convention center before the storm, because walking is the only way to get around if there are restrictions in place.”

Because there isn’t much in the planning for a show floor that can be cut, the goal was to speed up the pace of move-in as much as possible. O’Neil praised the union workers for either checking into downtown hotels before the storm, or shoveling out their driveways and making the morning call on the day after.

The result was some happy dentists and vendors at the Yankee Dental Congress. Attendance totaled 26,858 despite the challenges for local drive-in attendees.

“Parking lots were cleared in time for the opening and people gave themselves extra time to get in, knowing the condition of the roads,” said Maryellen Geurtsen, director, Yankee operations for the Massachusetts Dental Society. “We really dodged a bullet, although our attendance was not record-breaking, it was a fabulous show with minimal issues. We had very few exhibitors and even fewer speakers cancel.”

More to Come?
Blockbuster blizzards will always be a fact of life for the industry, but if show organizers, service contractors and building personnel work together and communicate, the ability to respond to dire weather conditions becomes less daunting. “Our customers were very hands-on and accommodating and so were the building managers and the unions,” O’Neil said. “You can’t overcome three feet of snow during move-in without everyone working together.”

Reach Mike O’Neil at (201) 299-7400 or mike.o’neil@freemanco.com; Tom Caridi; or tcaridi@questex.com; Alan Steel at (212) 216-2000 or asteel@javitscenter.com; Maryellen Geurtsen at (508) 449-6002 or mgeurtsen@massdental.org; Trish McCormick at (609) 689-9111, or pmccormick@nespapool.org