A year ago today, I was making final west coast travel plans to supervise set up of a client’s properties during the first week of March.
Two weeks later, I was informed the event cancelled due to concerns about spreading the newly discovered COVID virus. In addition to the exhibit floor, the focus of this annual show was education for public health department officials attending from all over the country.
Not too long after that, trade shows and other face-to-face marketing events started falling like oak leaves in the Fall. By the end of March, our warehouse was full to the brim with properties that either had returned early or prepped properties sitting idle with unused shipping labels attached.
I was on a Zoom conference the other day where one of the attendees (an exhibit house employee) remarked that there was so much dust on the machines in their shop they couldn’t see how any more could possibly pile up.
A chilling realization for many in our industry that trade shows and face-to-face meetings remain, for the most part, at a grinding halt. By all indications, with a very few exceptions involving business-to-consumer or private events, the United States will not see events coming back until at least Q1, 2021. A few shows have already pushed back dates to July and August.
Simply put, one cannot sugarcoat anything about the physical and economic impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic to anyone or any organization in the hospitality, meeting and travel industries. Doing what you can to hold on until there is an effective treatment or vaccine, is of the highest priority. From what we have seen, that has taken many forms.
Crazy. Simply crazy times. Craziest time I have seen in our industry since Prairie opened our doors in June of 1994, or even earlier when I started in the trade show and event world in 1983.
Let me first say to anyone reading this, if you are affiliated with the trade show and event industries in any capacity, I hope you are healthy, staying safe and doing whatever it takes to keep your family and friends the same. The virus that shut the door on face-to-face marketing events in March continues to change the way we live, work, eat and play.
When Illinois started to quarantine on March 21, we all figured it would last just a month or two, cause a few delayed events and then be up and running again by Fall. Here we are in September and the only things up and running are online meetings and professional sports without spectators. I am tired of both.
To say it's been busy the last few months at Prairie is an understatement. During the show season, Prairie is an “all hands on deck” team. My hands have been on deck more this January and February than I can remember.
Our Store and Ship clients seem to be on heavier and tighter show schedules this year and I have found myself pitching in on display inspections. Each display is set-up and inspected after each show/event to make sure all is good for the next use.
We see display properties come back to our dock in a variety of conditions, from okay to missing or broken parts. Graphics usually need to be cleaned or steamed and refolded, depending on if they are rollable panels or fabric. The trade show floor is probably one of the dustiest and dirtiest places around. That dust and dirt usually ends up on your display and graphics and in your cases.
“Sure. I’ll look into it,” I said.
Those five words took me on a long and involved journey I originally thought was going to be a short trip. Shelley and I volunteered to look into what it would take to fix up the tennis courts that are part of our homeowner’s association. I mean, how hard can that be?
I thought we could just go online, check out some local companies and get quotes on filling the cracks, putting on a new layer of asphalt, and painting whatever court lines were needed. That’s what they do in parking lots, right?
My father served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954 during the Korean conflict. While the majority of his platoon was sent overseas, he and a few others in his company were deployed to the Alaskan Territory (Alaska did not become a state until 1959) to guard Elmendorf Air Force Base, outside of Anchorage.
The United States, and the then Soviet Union, were in the height of the Cold War. Only 90 miles separated the territory from the Soviets so he was involved in several maneuvers that took his company to some of the most extreme conditions the region had to offer.
My lovely wife has been faithfully going to yoga classes a few times a week for several years. She swears it has helped with her balance, strengthened her core and reduced the stress and strain of daily living. She keeps telling me, I have to go too.
“Whatever you are doing for your core,” she said “ain’t working.” Ouch.
A few weeks ago, Shelley informed me she had a free pass, so I was going and that was that.
Shelley told me enough was enough. I needed to take a few days off to catch a breather from the last three months of trade show and event craziness. After all, she said, there never seems to be a good time and “you keep telling me the next two months will be just as busy”.
So what better way to relax and recharge for a few days than to continually expose myself to my two biggest fears: heights and being in confined spaces.
Twenty-five years ago (1994), Amazon sold its first book and Yahoo! was the go-to search tool (Do you Yahoo!?). There was a Major League Baseball strike, and Prairie Display/Chicago was incorporated as a company.
So the year Forrest Gump and The Lion King came to movie theaters, Prairie launched into the trade show and event world. We started with a vision of providing the best portable/modular display products, services and large format graphics, used at trade shows and other face-to-face marketing events.
I have never been to a wedding with an outdoor ceremony.
The ones I’ve seen on television and in the movies, the weather is always perfect. The ceremony usually takes place on a tropical island or other sunny, weather-predictable location.
My niece and her fiancée decided to have an outdoor wedding in northern Michigan in October. The ceremony and reception were at a golf and ski resort. The setting was the top of the ski hill overlooking miles of fall colors in full force. They probably knew they were rolling the dice when it came to weather. I mean, it can snow up there this time of year.
While it isn’t officially the end of summer in the Midwest, there is a rush to get all things “summer” done before Labor Day. Never mind that there are three more weeks of the actual season. Midwesterners have mistakenly accepted that we only deserve three months of bearable weather, not even one or two weeks more.
So that, combined with school starting up and the exodus of the college-aged work force from resort towns - leaving no one to run go-cart tracks and wait tables - means one last lap in proverbial summer pool.
The world has moved a block away from Prairie, right here in Elmhurst.
We have a new neighbor in our business park. They’ve constructed a 25’ tall stainless steel sculpture of a globe. Originally it stood outside of Sears (Willis) Tower in Chicago, which is undergoing extensive renovations. Our neighboring business, involved with those renovations, removed the structure and reconstructed it on the front lawn of their production facilities, about 100 yards from Prairie’s front door.
Sears is closing their last store located within the city of Chicago.
It is the one on the northwest side at the Six Corners area. That’s where Irving Park Road, Cicero and Milwaukee avenues intersect, creating a hub of retail and commercial activity that has anchored the northwest side neighborhood, known as Portage Park. The history of the name dates back to the French explorers. The explorers and their Native American guides would portage canoes across the area, linking the Chicago River on the east and the Des Plaines River to the west.
It is also where I grew up.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”
— Henry Ford
The worlds of design, art and graphic production have all evolved very rapidly over the past 20 to 25 years. It has never been easier to create what you can visualize, then produce it at what seems like lightning speed.
Perhaps, though, we are losing the art of creating imagery using paint, pencil and paper.
I was recently wrapping up a meeting with Joe Matillaro, one of our transportation and logistics partners from Superior Logistics. We were going over an upcoming, tight show schedule for a client to ensure we had enough time between events for advance warehouse delivery.
“I just want to remind you that ELDs are here, as of December 18,” Joe said.
“ELDs?” I was a bit puzzled. “What are they?”