The 2018 IAFE Trade Show kicked off in San Antonio for the first time on Monday, November 26th. After over four decades in Las Vegas, the organization made the bold to transition to San Antonio.
The Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center, home to the trade show and many of the meetings in 2018, is a modern, spacious facility in the heart of downtown San Antonio and located along the city’s River Walk. With over 514,000 of contiguous exhibit space, over 70 meeting rooms, in-house food and beverage options and large, comfortable meeting spaces, the facility hosts over 300 events each year with over 750,000 attendees. The public spaces are large and many attendees could be seen congregating around table and chairs for small meetings and discussions.
Next to the convention center, the Grand Hyatt hotel is one of several host hotels and the Rojo lobby bar is looking like it will replace Paris’ Circle Bar as the gathering place when the day’s events are complete. Across the street are two Marriott hotels: the River Walk and the Rivercenter. Both hotels are just a short walk from the convention center. The Marriott Rivercenter is the host of the Showmen’s League of America’s Exhibitor Lounge. The only drawback for the host hotels seems to be that on a rainy day, all convention-goers will have to brave the elements in order to access the convention.
The River Walk itself has an incredible amount of entertainment options including restaurants of all varieties, clubs, bars and shopping, all within an easy walk along the river or the downtown streets. Most convention attendees were still assessing the facilities and getting acclimated to the change in venue after years of traditions in Las Vegas. The single biggest complaint after the first two days from those interviewed was the higher cost of airfare and hotel, an expense that was expected to be lower in San Antonio. From interviews held with fair and carnival participants, it seems that the cost of airfare and hotels rose for most.
Showmen's League of America - Exhibitors Lounge
One tradition that was kept alive after the move to San Antonio is the annual SLA Exhibitor’s Lounge. Like in Vegas, the Lounge is not held at the same venue as the IAFE trade show but rather at a nearby hotel; the Marriott Rivercenter. Held on the third floor, the lounge looked very similar to the event held in years past. Exhibitors were arranged at tables with little to no extensive booths or decorations. A few tables held only a laptop computer, while others had simple displays or marketing materials. The point of this Lounge is to have quality face time with potential buyers in a relaxed environment.
Jimmy Otterbacher is no stranger to trade shows as he plays a large role in vendor placement at the IISF trade show in Gibsonton each year. Jimmy is the owner of Otterbacher Shows, a company founded by his father Richard in 1965. Richard Otterbacher was a popcorn operator at county fairs. Seeing an opportunity to expand, he purchased a unit of Nolan Amusements with route and rides included. Richard grew the company to a 40 ride show, splitting into two units during part of the season.
Jimmy and his brother Gary Otterbacher worked with their father on the show. Gary left the show around age 19 to pursue a business building concession trailers. Jimmy continued to help operate the show, purchasing the company from his father about 25 years ago.
Jimmy decided that operating the show as one unit and sticking to 25 rides or so was the best fit for him in the business, maintaining quality and keeping a hands on approach.
Otterbacher Shows currently operates 22 rides from Ohio to Florida. Otterbacher is set to open March 1st in Florida where he plays churches and does a few rentals and buyouts. In May, the show will move north to Ohio where Otterbacher’s route consists of county fairs, bona-fide festivals and Catholic Churches throughout the summer and into early fall. In October, the show moves back to Florida for more festivals, rentals and church dates before closing for the winter around Thanksgiving.
One date, the company’s “hometown fair” in Mt. Gilead, OH has been played by the company since its inception. That kind of longevity is typical of his route, said Otterbacher. He said the company keeps a steady, solid route throughout the years without a lot of change. The company strives to do a good job for its sponsors and they are rewarded with an invite to return the following year. Otterbacher said a typical year will see only one or two new dates on his route, given his company’s ability to return to events year after year.
While the show did not add any new equipment in 2018, Otterbacher says he is in the market for something new in 2019 and is hoping to add a new piece to his ride arsenal this coming year. Current rides include a Merry Go Round, Scooter, Round Up, and Silver Streak, to name a few.
Also included on the show are four food trailers built by brother Gary. The trailers, from Otterbacher Manufacturing, are large, well-lit stands that have stood the test of time.
His business relationship with brother Gary did not end with the purchase of the food trailers. Jimmy has also recently purchased three new bunkhouses from his brother’s new venture: Lifetime Manufacturing. Jimmy said the bunkhouses are popular with his employees and have held up very well over the road.
For games, Otterbacher does not have a steady game operator that follows him throughout the season but he books independent concessionaires at events during the year. The independent game midway tradition in Ohio is not something Otterbacher faces regularly but the issue has come up at a few of his dates over the years.
While the show does not have a lot of family to assist with operations, Otterbacher does rely on 3 or 4 key personnel to help him get the show moved and operating.
Stay tuned for more updates each day from the 2018 IAFE Trade Show floor.
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