Industry’s biggest trade show continues to recover in spite of economy

The GIE+EXPO 2011, October 27-29 in Louisville, Ky., came and went like it always does – in a raucous, kaleidoscopic blur of noise and color. It was (as expected) manic, with product managers and manufacturers’ reps earnestly pitching the unique benefits of their distinctively colored units to anyone showing the least bit of interest in their wares.

The first day’s pre-dawn PLANET Breakfast of Champions for landscape/lawn service contractors ignited the event, which doesn’t let up for two and a half days. The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) and the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) conduct their annual conferences paired to the EXPO. As valuable as their educational classes are, most participants come to see and try out the huge array of shiny, new equipment.

Held in the South Wing of the cavernous and modern Kentucky Exposition Center, this year’s EXPO featured more than 750 indoor exhibits and a 19-acre outdoor demonstration area where attendees tried out the products.

The outdoor demo area is, from year to year, the most popular feature of the EXPO. Unfortunately, a cold drizzle the first day of the show muddied the grounds, prompting most attendees to mosey from exhibit to exhibit inside the mammoth Expo Center. Conditions improved somewhat the second day, which lured more contractors and grounds pros out into the brisk weather to put equipment through its paces.

By most measures, this year’s GIE+EXPO was a success, although not a record-breaker. The show is slowly regaining its momentum as the 2008-2009 recession fades into history. The recession and the economy that it spawned in its wake have affected, to one extent or another, all trade shows. Even so, this year’s event attracted more than 750 exhibits and an estimated 17,500 participants, reports the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), the EXPO’s primary sponsor. Encouragingly for show promoters, the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute is co-locating with the GIE-EXPO again in 2012. (Trade Show Executive magazine says it is the ninth largest trade show in the United States.)

One of the busiest places these past few years has been the press area at the back of the exhibit hall, where exhibitors roll out their newest and “most improved” products. They’re aided by huge telescreens that thunder their messages to the trade press, which seems to grow in number each year, and also a wider audience of attendees attracted to the area by a booming and sonorous voice announcing yet another special presentation.

The press stage is where Kris Kiser, OPEI’s new president and CEO, provided updates on some of the top issues affecting the outdoor power equipment industry and the users of its products. Here is a recap of his comments:

  • Isobutanol fuel blends show promise for use in small engines and off-road vehicles, suggests a recent test program. “Briggs & Stratton is encouraged by the results of the isobutanol testing on our engines,” reported Todd Teske, president and CEO of B&S. “We are very interested in alternative fuels that do not cause damage to the substantial number of engines in use today while lessening the country’s dependency on foreign oil.”
  • OPEI has filed a legal challenge to the E15 (15 percent ethanol fuel mix) Misfueling Rule. OPEI and partner groups maintain that EPA’s weak labeling effort is completely inadequate to protect consumers and avoid potential misfueling and damage to millions of legacy products not designed to run on any ethanol fuel higher than E10.
  • OPEI issues tamper-resistance compliance guidelines.
  • OPEI is maintaining an active interest in governmental programs that have the potential to profoundly affect the landscape industry. These include EPA’s WaterSense program, International Construction Codes and the International Construction Code.
  • OPEI is evaluating the creation of an ANSI standard for lawn and landscapes.

We’d like to alert you to some new revolutionary, industry-changing technology or products at the EXPO, but there were none, which wasn’t a surprise. Equipment and product manufacturers serving the industry realize that professional end users view claims of vastly improved performance (even if they’re grounded in fact) skeptically. Consequently, and because most products are improved incrementally to meet changing market conditions and user preferences, most of what was “new” at the EXPO is more accurately described as “improved”.

But even that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of attendees. To this point, and four years after PLANET and PGMS agreed to marry their Green Industry Conference with the OPEI EXPO, Louisville in late October is the place for landscapers and grounds pros to come together, share and learn about business, equipment and products.

But, as mentioned earlier in this report, it all comes and goes in a flash, two and a half days of frantic activity.

The conclusion of the EXPO, like the final minutes of any large trade show, is deflating. The change in mood is startling as exhibitors hurriedly wheel their brightly colored mowers, loaders and other products onto trailers or into cavernous trailers – this in contrast to the energy that attendees brought to the exhibits just hours before. The EXPO is over. Time to return to our workday worlds.

Ron Hall, who has spent the past 27 years writing about the green industry, is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.