ABC Kids Expo Post Mortem: Smoking Marketing Crack (Also Blowing Smoke)
I usually try to keep my opinions to myself. As I’ve said before, I can’t always say what I want to say. But after the first communication from ABC Expo after the flop that was the 2011 Louisville ABC Expo, I just can’t help myself… (I’m just going to apologize for this extremely long and cranky post upfront.) Also, I started this post 2 months ago. Sometimes it just takes a couple months to get it all down.
We attended a recent trade show, one that used to be the largest in the juvenile industry, All Baby & Children Kids Expo. The trip didn’t get started off on the right foot. I don’t blame the trade show for that. My stupid ticket didn’t help. Other not-so-fun stuff happened… Upon unloading our trade show stuff from the trailer, after we got the cart loaded with 400 lbs of stands, product, and marketing collateral, the caster on one of the wheels broke in half. How did this happen??? Just our Kentucky luck I guess.
My list of complaints is long, especially when it comes to Fern, the company hired by ABC to be in charge of setting up everything from carpets to electricity to food services. They had to be one of the worst companies I’ve ever had to deal with.
- They left everything a mess after they set up and didn’t clean up after themselves. They didn’t bother to vacuum any of the carpeting they laid down.Our poor neighbors had the whole border of their flooring torn up because the Fern staff felt they couldn’t possibly lift it up out of their way, but instead threw pieces of it all over the booth.
- Their idea of an apology for leaving a mess all over our booth, as well as many others, was to tell us that we didn’t ask them to clean up after themselves. If we wanted them to do that, we would have to pay $200 extra…per day! I have a hard time believing that it would take that long to vacuum a 20×10 carpet that was 30% covered in furniture. But hey, they’re better than the GES staff we had to deal with in Vegas, right? WRONG!!! The guy in charge said that since I was so unhappy about the mess they left, they would vacuum our booth every morning of the show free of charge. And then they didn’t do it. You all know how I feel about poor customer service.
- They didn’t offer empty bin service (this is for empty boxes to be saved and repacked after the show) without outrageous storage fees. So much for Fern being cost effective because they are non-union.
- The carpets didn’t match. We counted 5 different colors of blue carpeting in our area, all smushed together like some bad patchwork quilt. It looked horribly unprofessional. And it stunk. Badly.
- Power cords were run arbitrarily under carpets. We had the privilege of having the center of our booth host a spiderweb of power cords under our carpet to share with everyone else in our row and could do nothing about it. We did our best to lay the lines flat and close together (after pulling the carpet back up) so that there would be less to trip on. Then we had to arrange our booth so that the lump under the carpet wasn’t so obvious, and so no one would trip on it.
- We were offered a great way to save money on parking so we could come and go as we pleased. Instead of paying $8 every time we parked our car (not per day, but per parking), a 24 hour expo parking pass was offered to exhibitors for $24. But the pass stopped selling 1/2 way through the first day. We don’t know if they ran out and couldn’t figure out how to print more, or if Fern was just being greedy. But we ended up paying way too much for parking!
- The food was a joke. A really bad one. My quest started off with a desire for coffee. An hour wait in line was met with 2 elderly “baristas” who had no idea what they were doing. We jokingly decided along with some other customers that we were going to start a support group for the Survivors of Kentucky Grind. About the time that lunch time rolled around the lines for food were impossibly long. There were only a few places to get anything to eat on that first day. And what was really sad? They ran out of food! People were being turned away as they closed up shop. I waited 45 minutes in one line only to watch them put up a sign claiming they were sorry but they could not accept anything but cash. I guess their credit card readers decided to stop working. Those of us without cash were out of luck. We could leave the expo center, but we would have to pay another $8 to park again. The next day more food vendors showed up. Big trucks outside claimed you could have the best pork chop sandwich ever, or a “taco” salad (yeah, that isn’t what you think it is), or deluxe potato chips (like nachos with potato chips instead of tortilla chips). The food was awful and the prices were worse. For what they were charging, you could almost go out to eat and pay for parking all over again. For as much as it cost us for the booth and travel, should we really have to pay super-inflated county fair prices for something to eat?
Of course, not the
fair expo people’s fault, but our hotel (one set up with ABC housing) was not a good experience. Normally I’m not picky about hotels. As long as they provide what they say they are going to, we are good to go.
- The first night there, we had no air conditioning. So after a really long stressful day of setting up and getting our booth ready for the show, we spent our night tossing and turning and sweating. Mind you, we called the hotel management before we went to bed at 1 am to get someone to fix it. The poor night manager (on her 3rd night working for the hotel) had to put up with plenty of discontent, not just ours. She got our AC working again…for a short while. And then by 4 am it was hot again.
- Lack of promised amenities. Where was the free wireless? Every day they would get it working and then a half hour later it was off again. The poor night manager had her hands full with this one as customers yelled at her for it not working when they got up in the morning, not like she had any control over it. Can you tell I really felt bad for her? Poor thing…
- The continental breakfast was a whole lotta not good; much like salmonella looking for a place to propagate. I think I’ll take my chances with the county fair food at the expo.
- Hubby would like me to also mention the total lack of water pressure to even have a decent shower, also not mentioned in the list of amenities.
That pretty much leaves me with what I know to be ABC’s fault directly.
- I fault them for going for the lowest bidder and hiring Fern.
- I also fault them for providing housing that not only did not meet standards, but was overpriced as well (and we were in one of the least expensive hotels).
- They obviously did not know enough about Louisville (and neither did we until we spent time with a friend who lives there) to know that the expo and the hotel we stayed in, and really a 2 mile radius of the expo, is known to all as the “bad part of town.” Although I think maybe they did, but didn’t really care since they weren’t paying for the expo space anyway. Rumor has it that it was free the first year, but they are under contract to pay next year. Apparently Louisville, like every other city in the country, is struggling with jobs lost, housing foreclosures, and poverty. The more visitors they can get into the city, the more income is raised with overpriced lodging and food. Seems like a win-win for everyone except the exhibitors.
- Uniformed police officers walked around the exhibit hall constantly. They didn’t make me feel safe. They actually put me on edge. I was waiting for a take-down or something crazy like that. What was up with the police presence? Well, just say hi to them and they will spend an hour in your booth telling you tales of thievery and deceit right there in our very own trade show. Ugh…
- Ever been to a mall on a Monday morning? That was pretty much how the show felt the entire time. 54% of the people walking around were other exhibitors. Only 14% were actual buyers. Not sure how many of those were undercover police posing as buyers from Violet’s Playhouse. Yes, the uniformed police told us about the undercovers. Your secret is out!
- The highlight of the trade show, the party/concert held for all exhibitors and buyers was very badly done. I spent so much time talking this thing up to so many people only to feel embarrassed and let down. You see, every year (when it was in Vegas) the party would have some stupid theme and an old decrepit band, whose members we all thought were long passed, would play the night away (well at least the 3 hours the party was on) while we ate and drank our fill from the free buffets and open bars. It was the one night that didn’t cost us anything except cab fair to get back to our hotels. What did Louisville have to offer?
- Their cocktail and appetizer (don’t want to confuse them with a big word like Hors d’oeuvres) servers were completely unknowledgeable about what they were serving unless it was fried. Deep fried bacon on a stick? Umm…no thanks. My assistant Jen asked a server what kind of wine he had on his tray. His response was, “Char? Char nay? Char? Don? Um…uh…White wine.” Thank you master sommelier. The dinner served was marginally better than the expo fare. What’s that saying about lipstick on a pig?
- And the open bar? Well, if you were at all late, you were screwed. They had the bar open for a total of 45 minutes and they ran out of Cabernet Sauvignon before I could get a second glass. As soon as they announced the closing of the bar, people crowded in droves around the bartenders and ordered as many drinks as they could carry back to the carpeted section they were sitting on.
- Did I forget to mention to utter lack of tables and chairs? Yeah… Besides a couch and love seat, there was no furniture except high tables to stand at. Wanna sit? Cop a squat!
- The concert was held in another part of the building, so really, no where near the food or drinks. And you could still drink after they closed the open bar if you wanted to pay an outrageous amount for small servings.
- The concert, while well done for the price, was featuring KC and the Sunshine Band. KC is now a fat old guy that is trying desperately to hold on to his glory days but has to keep walking off stage for a rest (and probably an oxygen mask) between songs. I give him credit for trying. But no, KC, I don’t think you’re sexy. Just for fun, here’s a video clip from the show. The funniest part is around 6:28 when he’s trying to hide his butt crack.
The part that infuriates me the most about the whole thing? They sent out this press release:
ABC Kids Expo Completes First Louisville Show,
Looks to 10th Anniversary Celebration in 2012
The world’s largest juvenile products trade show reports on its 9th annual exposition at its new location at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
San Antonio, TX – All Baby & Child, Inc., the parent company and organizer of ABC Kids Expo®, has released a post-show statement regarding their ninth annual trade show, held for the first time at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, KY, on September 23 – 26, 2011.
Preliminary stats showed an overall decrease of about 2,200 after last year’s record-breaking attendance and a venue change for this year’s show. Retail buyers, mostly from the West Coast, were down by about 400. Final numbers are expected in the next few weeks.
Attendance figures from the Midwest and East Coast, media, government and special services were up from last year. Although slightly less than last year, the number of exhibitors was about 7% higher than at the 2009 show, and net square footage for exhibit space was 4% above the mean for the last three years.
“Most exhibitors we have talked with had good shows. Some indicated that the show was the best ever in terms of order writing and quality of buyer attendance,” according to Larry Schur, president of All Baby & Child, Inc. “We were very pleased to see that our international buyer attendance was the second highest in the event’s history, with 62 countries represented. Total event attendance was down from last year, but it is consistent with prior show years and understandable with the current economy and the number of retailers who have had to close their doors.”
He continues: “While we understand that some found it difficult to get to Louisville and there are always issues to be resolved in moving a show of this magnitude to a new city and a new venue with all new contract suppliers, the issues are easily remedied. We are pleased with the results of the show and the amount of orders it generated for our exhibitors. Retailers indicated that the layout of the show floor by category, all on a single level, made the show easily navigable and was the best in the history of the show.”
Virtually every significant manufacturer or distributor of products for infants and small children exhibits at this private industry event, showcasing their latest products, networking with established customers, and working to land new accounts from among the retailer attendees. Here are some of this year’s exhibitor comments:
As you can see, they are smoking some kind of marketing crack! I removed the comments because I know for a fact that it’s all crap. One of the quoted exhibitors told everyone how awful it was and then gave a glowing review to ABC. What a lot of hooey!
As if things hadn’t gone badly enough, my poor over-worked car decided that day 3 of the expo from hell was a good time to kick the bucket. We thought we had it figured out, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere without a major repair. When we finally had everything packed up and ready to go, we still had to stay one more day to get the car fixed. The radiator had to be replaced. All in all, the cost of the trip was more than if we had all taken first class flights to the trade show and had everything shipped. And we still didn’t make enough in sales to cover it.
Wanna know what makes me laugh about this all now? This recent press release from ABC Expo:
ABC Maintains Booth Pricing for 10th Year in a Row,
Announces Move Back to Las Vegas in 2013
San Antonio, TX – All Baby & Child, Inc. (ABC), the parent company and organizer of ABC Kids Expo®, is pleased to announce that it is maintaining booth pricing for its 2012 show at the Kentucky Exposition Center on October 14-17. ABC has not increased booth pricing for the ABC Kids Expo since its inception 10 years ago.
Floor space for the 2012 show is already 75% sold. Booth layouts will begin shortly after the first of the year. Once this is underway, major booth increases or decreases will be extremely difficult to accommodate. For that reason, early bird discounts will be forfeited for booth decreases of 25% or more after January 31, 2012.
The official deposit deadline for the 2012 show is January 31, 2012. JPMA members of record as of that date will receive an extension to March 1, 2012.
After careful review of feedback received from industry participants at the 2011 show, ABC is working closely with Louisville officials and vendors to address concerns for the 2012 event in Louisville, such as improved healthy food options and reduction in wait times, re-construction of the expo centers wifi system, and greater availability of restaurant options in the city on Sunday.
ABC is also pleased to announce that a move back to Las Vegas is planned for 2013 and is tentatively scheduled for October 15-18, 2013. Along with this announcement comes some great news for participating manufacturers. Exhibitors at the 2012 show will receive a $2-per-square-foot loyalty credit to use toward their 2013 booths of the same or larger size.
It is not too late to take advantage of this loyalty discount offer. Exhibitor registration is available online at www.theabcshow.com or by calling the ABC Hotline at (210) 691-4848.
Well ain’t that somethin? Seems they can’t just say everything was wonderful after all. When ABC goes back to Vegas, we will come back to ABC. In the meantime, plans are in the works to exhibit at KIDShow and ENK.