Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Navigating a Candy Expo
Just in case you’ve never been to a trade show, this is kinda what my days were like:
I’d get up in the morning about 90 minutes before I was due at the convention center, get showered and dressed and check my internet thingies.
Then I’d walk over to the hotel nearby where the free shuttle would take me to the convention center. I was kinda cheap (it was my dime, after all) and got a nice hotel near the Hilton and saved myself about $45 a night. And by being close enough to the shuttle to walk, I saved myself some taxi fares too. (I did take a taxi on Tuesday morning because it was too early for a shuttle. It cost me $8 with tip.)
Once at the convention center, the first day I had to register. Registration is usually a large ordeal, kind of like checking in at the airport without the metal detectors. Because I was press I had a separate process that meant that I reported to the press room and showed them something to prove that I really was press (a print-out of a blog page with my name on it and a business card I had made).
After I was credentialed, I got a name badge. Mine was green, which meant press. The pink ones meant exhibitor ... white was buyers. I can’t remember the other versions, but some people had “flair” on their badges depending on sponsorships and associations. The green badge was not all access. I could get onto the show floor, the seminars and the shuttles. I wasn’t allowed on the “Very Important Buyers” boat, which was a catered boat that was moored at the edge of the convention center were buyers could go and get sated.
First thing in the morning I usually attended a seminar, usually at 8 AM. They had continental breakfast! Each seminar was sponsored, and to remind you who sponsored them, there’d be a bowl of candy at each table in the small ballroom where they held the lectures that had their candy in it. I picked up some bags of Coffee Rio this way and ate some yummy snack-sized Take 5 another day.
Then there was the show floor. It was huge, as you can imagine. You can see a map of it here. The main exhibit hall is 300,000 square feet. Just walking the perimeter of that space is more than a third of a mile ... now imagine that there are ten rows ... seeing everything is a lot of work. Over 400 exhibitors and two and a half days to do it all.
Next year I’ll wear a pedometer!
After my seminar I’d visit the press room to check my email and blog if I could. There were internet kiosks out on the show floor, but they didn’t have chairs. They also didn’t have free coffee and water.
Out on the floor it was a little overwhelming the first day or so. There were a lot of booths and a lot of stuff being promoted. Things didn’t look like I imagined them and things that were heralded in press releases weren’t always displayed front and center.
The first day I didn’t have a list, per se, of things I wanted to see. I just took it all in. I did have a list of people to connect with though, as this is the most popular day of the show, so I made a point of hooking up with them.
Out on the show floor you’re not supposed to bring your own bags, so they issue you a small gift bag to pack your samples and literature in. I tried to be conservative in actually eating out on the floor, only sampling things that didn’t have take-away samples, and of course taking advantage of any nuts offered for more lasting energy. My bag, however, was usually stuffed to the gills within the first two hours.
Grabbing a bite to eat at the convention center, if you’re not a buyer entitled to the catered boat, was a little tricky. There were a few vendors on site in the “food court” out on the main patio section by Lake Michigan. There were other places to eat, but walking was an issue after a while. Just walking up and down the aisles, to and from the press room and of course to and from the hotel shuttle meant I was probably clocking about 6-8 miles a day.
So I skipped most meals. I did bring along some Lara Bars, which are basically a compressed bar of dates and almonds, which is a pretty good meal replacement for me.
I really didn’t eat that much candy while at the Expo, which is kind of surprising. I was always saving my calories for something better, and then when I’d find something I was really interested in, I’d put it in my bag to bring home.
After the Expo floor closed at 5PM each day, I’d head back to my hotel. The shuttles were absolutely fabulous. Nice busses equipped with little buckets of candy. The Hilton was really close to McCormick, so it was usually about 15 minutes from door to door. What was also great was talking to folks on the bus. Everyone was so friendly and happy to discuss whatever they were there for, it was a great way to make contacts. I got to talk to both brokers and marketing people. I don’t know if I would have made any inroads with Just Born without having a fab chat on the bus with one of their Chicago-based staff.
Back at the hotel I’d put my feet up and do a little blogging and answer some emails and make phone calls. The wireless internet at the hotel made it easy for me to sit on the bed with my laptop and write or sit at the spacious desk with real desk chair (it’s important!). Every night had a different event, most starting after 7PM. Monday was a reception at the Hyatt by the river, Tuesday was the party hosted by Ferrara Pan at Fulton’s and Wednesday was the House of Blues thing. I’d usually have someone to hook up with at those things, which is good because I am kinda shy when I’m solo. I’d try to grab something resembling dinner at these things, but never really succeeded at any of them.
When the festivities ended, I’d walk back to my hotel. Usually not more than a mile and half and because of the time difference between Chicago and Los Angeles, it was a chance to talk to my husband about our respective days.
Each evening meant that I’d have a new set of contacts to catch up with on the floor the next day or follow up on email when I got home.
If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s to travel light on the show floor (which I did, and I’m grateful for) and wear sensible shoes (which I did, for the most part). The one thing I can improve is my sleep. I was really, really tired. Next time I’ll try coming in a day early to get my bearings. And I probably needed to eat more regularly. Well, that’s the constant struggle in my life!
Next year’s Expo will be a little different. They’ve pushed it to September 2007 and it will be larger than ever, this time incorporating snack foods (chips, savory nuts, jerky). They’re still calling it All Candy Expo.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.