More than a million people will walk down Convention Center Drive in Las
Vegas this week, and very few of them will be there to pay homage to the
Debbie Reynolds Casino.
Instead, the conventioneers will amble toward the other major attraction on
the street: the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center and the neighboring
Las Vegas Hilton, home of the Comdex.
The undisputed god of all trade extravaganzas will attract 215,000 visitors
this year and feature exhibits from over 2,100 vendors. Millions will be
spent over the five-day period. Countless shrimp will give their lives.
Walking or driving the mile-long stretch from the Strip to the Convention
Center always fills one with a sense of epic grandeur and anticipation,
especially on the first day of the show.
Off in the distance stand the twin
towers of the Riviera. Young men flank both sides of the road hawking
pornography. As you approach closer, the large inflatable balloons
advertising Iomega or IBM come into view. Banners of Novell flank the
building. And for comic relief, there are the models demonstrating "The
Computer on a Belt." At 9:00 a.m., someone is already hawking Dove bars.
Historians might try to claim that this differs from the scene outside the
great walled trading cities of the Middle Ages, but somehow I doubt it.
Bamberg may look stately now, but those medieval walls once held signs like
"Larchmont IS the Leech Leader," and "The Seed Plow Becomes the Speed Plow--Booth 1416."
The Debbie Reynolds, however, may portend the future for Comdex. The once
proud casino, which featured wax replicas of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Don
Rickles in the lobby, was auctioned off to the World Wide Wrestling
Federation earlier this year after limping through bankruptcy.
Comdex is still gigantic, but signs of wear are beginning to show. A number
of large companies, including IBM, Intel, and Dell, are not setting up booths. They only
have meeting rooms. Some hotels the week before the event sent out
bulletins to high-tech companies that hugely overpriced rooms were still
available, an almost unheard of occurrence.
Even Softbank, the host of the show, recently
predicted that this year's event "would be the most navigable Comdex ever."
In other words, attendance could be a little light this year.
Their hands on your Hanes
In other notes, Susan Littleton, trade show coordinator for Micron Electronics, offers this tidbit of
advice: Pack your T-shirts in nondescript luggage. Translation: When you send out a box in Las Vegas, you have to let union workers handle it. Certain types of packages aren't just moved from place to place, Littleton said.
"If it says Hanes on the box, it will be broken into," she said. "We will
put a whole pallet of boxes into black shrinkwrap to completely wrap them
or send them to the hotel."
From the outside, trade shows look like fairly simple affairs: Set up some
computers, order a deli platter, and hand out fliers to anyone toting a
cardboard IBM box. Organizing these events, however, remains a logistical
and financial nightmare.
Floor space at this week's Comdex, for instance,
goes for $49.95 a square foot, up $3 from last year. Expenses flood in from
there. If a box shows up before, or after its appointed day, it comes with
an additional $30 fee. All set-up, electrical work, and take down must be
performed by expensive union employees.
"Chicago is probably the most horrendous. You have to hire a decorator.
It's basically one of the union guys," she said. His job is to hang pictures.
Get it while it's hot
Then, there's food. Coffee runs close to $145 a day, for each company. For that, a company
gets 10 packets of coffee, bottled water, ten tea bags and labor. If you
only use three packs of coffee, the rest is taken away, and resold to the
exhibitor for $145 a day. The "Downtown Deli" and "South of the Border"
platters, meanwhile, go for $255 and $195.
But on top of all that, there is the X-factor. Namely, what will get stolen
and what will break during a five-day stay on a convention floor. T-shirts are often
a target for the local hired help, but they are also known to nick display
Attendees are no better. At a recent PC Expo, attendees had
swiped all of the mousepads from one wall of a Micron display in the first
Is it too big a hassle? Apparently for Micron. The company backed out of
renting meeting rooms. Instead, company executives will meet their
important clientele and contacts in coffee shops.