The annual IAFE Convention and Trade Show and the SLA Exhibitor's Lounge kicked off Monday, December 9th in Las Vegas. The conventions were held one week later than normal, starting the Monday one week after Thanksgiving instead of the Monday immediately following Thanksgiving due to scheduling conflicts with the hotel.
Severe storms throughout much of the country canceled flights and caused serious delays, making travel into Las Vegas for the convention a challenge. Many attendees and exhibitors were delayed a day and others dealt with scheduling changes and flight delays.
The IAFE Trade Show is held at the Paris hotel and convention and the SLA Exhibitor's Lounge is held in the connected Bally's hotel on the 26th floor. The Exhibitor's Lounge is an intimate affair, with a rectangle of exhibitors seated at tables greeting guests. Unlike many other trade shows, the traffic is relatively light but the time for quality interaction with qualified buyers is great. Exhibitors and potential customers get the opportunity to spend a chunk of time together without the pressure of hundreds of other attendees milling about and vying for the time of the presenter.
Joe Burum, Executive Secretary of the Showmen's league of America said his exhibitors were raving about the show and the set up. "One of the exhibitors said they didn't have enough money to spend to see all the people they meet in just two days at our Lounge", said Burum. Burum said final numbers haven't been calculated yet but he thinks it is a record year for attendees. "It was a great year for our exhibitors and despite some weather delays, a great year for attendees", he added.
Burum said the show gets bigger and better each year and there were even several new exhibitors at the event this year. Positive comments from those set up in the room confirmed Burum's observations.
On Tuesday night, President Chris Atkins Banquet was held. The event included the Showpeople Got Talent contest and a silent auction.
Tony Cassatta of Bob's Space Racers is one example of an exhibitor who was meeting and greeting customers old and new in the lounge. Cassatta said BSR is in the midst of a big project for Universal Studios in California. They will be delivering and setting up about 10 new games, revamping the look of the game operation. The games should be arriving in California the second week in January.
The company just recently finished a modernization and revamping of the Universal's amusement park in Orlando. New games were installed there earlier this year.
Another customer completing a sale with BSR was Robbie Hauser who purchased a Whopper Whack-A-Mole. Hauser is the owner of First Class Concessions of western Canada. His family owns West Coast Amusements, which he travels with. Family patriarch "Bingo" Hauser made the trip to Vegas this year and was roaming the lounge floor.
Patty and Ray Hrudka were also attending the show together. They just completed their 13th season with Reithoffer Shows, traveling with Patty Reithoffer's Orange Unit. The couple have 5 food stands and 12 games they operate with the carnival.
The Hrudkas have a long history in the business. Patty worked as an office manager for Amusements of America for many years before coming to Reithoffer Shows. Ray had a long association with Farrow Shows before his current venture.
Patty and ray said the season, business-wise, was just "alright" due to some bad weather at key times. On a personal level however, the season was marred by tragedy. The Hrudka's house trailer was burned to the ground during a fire at the Charles County Fairgrounds in LaPlata, Maryland in April.
The show stays at the fairgrounds when it is playing events in the Washington, D.C area. The Hrudkas had just left for work about 45 minutes prior when they received a call from friends that their house trailer was on fire.
The fire took 170 firefighters approximately one and a half hours to control, causing $500,000 in damage to the fair's cattle barns, show ring and several house trailers.
The house trailer is the Hrudkas primary residence and everything was lost including, tragically, the family's two dogs.
Following the fire, the Hrudkas stayed in hotels for a few months until they purchased a new coach to live in. As industry veterans, they kept a positive outlook and said they would keep going on with their new living quarters.
As mentioned earlier by Burum, there were several new vendors present at the show in 2013. One of the new vendors was Chester's Trailers of London, Ohio. Clay Chester, the young owner of the company, is in the concession business but decided to branch out into building his own equipment.
They were exhibiting at the lounge for the first time this year and will be also attending the IISF Extravaganza in Gibsonton, FL for the first time, bringing one of their trailers for display.
As a concessionaire, Chester said he knows what food industry people are looking for in a trailer and he hopes to provide "more bang for the buck" with his designs.
So far, the company has built about 20 trailers and they hope to increase that number by their attendance at the show here in Las Vegas and in February in Gibtown.
Commenting on the show Chester said, "we are getting a good response".
Also among those roaming the trade show floor was independent ride king pin Mike Wood. Wood said he had a good year in 2013 and his fairs performed well. Wood said he had his best year ever at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, CA before heading over to Hawaii for the 2nd straight year. He brought two pieces to the islands, the Techno Power and the Starship. He spent six weeks in Hawaii with Fernandez Shows and had another good year there. Upon his return, he played the Minnesota State Fair where he also had a good run before wrapping up the season at the nation's largest fair, the Texas State Fair in Dallas. The Texas State Fair, said Wood "finished strong" pulling it out in the end after a rough start.
Looking ahead to 2014, Wood said he is holding off on new ride purchases but he will be putting Denny's Electronics LED packages on his Techno Power and Magnum.
Stay tuned for Part II of our IAFE/SLA convention coverage.