When the last booth closed and the last table cleared at the Connections 2003 Trade Show & Exhibition in Las Vegas, Oct. 2-4, a collective sigh filled the air.
But it was not the exhausted exhalation of, "Thank goodness that's done," no, far from it. It was the expression of satiated expectations, flavored with just a hint of sadness that said, "I'm sorry it's over."
Connections 2003 planted its foot in the consciousness of the cleaning and restoration industry with such force and excitement as to leave an indelible mark. More than 2,000 manufacturers, distributors and end-users filled the Royale Pavilion of the Riviera Hotel & Casino for one of the largest events the industry has ever produced, a three-day collection of the latest technology, equipment, information and instruction available to today's professional cleaning and restoration technicians.
Nine of the industry's most notable associations, the AWCC, the CFI, the CRCII, the CCINW, the ISCT, the LMCCA, the NEIRC, the PCUCA and the PCRA, came together to provide attendees with the best show experience possible, the tone for which was set from day one. "Industry leaders from around the globe will be here to offer you the latest information," proclaimed Mike Morris, Connections co-chair and president of the CCINW. "There are so many great people that have worked together to make this an industry event."
Almost 100 exhibitors filled 140 booths and demonstration areas both in and outside the exhibition hall, from A&I Services Inc. to the World Floor Covering Association and everything in between. There were truckmounts; burnishers; spotters; scrubbers; wands; chemicals and rotary machines on display. Demonstrations and explanations on and of software; hardware; marketing strategies; hard surfaces; soft surfaces; industry trends and more.
"I think it's a wonderful show," said Lee Zimmerman, past president of the IICRC and owner of Keystone Carpet & Furniture Cleaning in Greensburg, Penn. "The attendance has been great, and we've been extremely busy. Usually (the vendors are) talking to each other at these things, but we haven't even had a chance to do that. It's been a constant flow of people."
Exhibition did not overwhelm education, however. More than 25 seminars were presented during the three-day event, including such topics as "The Mold Connection; What Does the Future Hold for Mold?" "Area Rug Cleaning," "Water Damage Claims - Working with the Insurance Industry," "Carpet Inspection," "Pricing for Profit," and "Marketing Audit - Do You Have All Your Bases Covered?" to name a few.
"I think everybody was really excited about the information we put out today," Rachel Adams of Indoor Air Management Inc. said of her seminar on water-damage restoration. "Attendance has been really great for all of the different courses offered. The only complaint I have is that I have to be in too many places and I don't have enough of me to do that. I think the turnout has been great, and we've had a lot of traffic at our booth. We'll definitely be back."
"It's been one of the better shows the industry's had in a long time," Indoor Air Management's Mike Adams said.
The involvement of a number of sponsoring organizations, including Bridgepoint Systems, Water Out, Restoration Consultants, Prochem, the IICRC, Environmental Testing & Technology Inc., DuPont, Steam Way International, Piranha Marketing and ICS Cleaning Specialist
, as well as the participating associations, allowed for the fielding of an all-star lineup of speakers and presenters. Barry Costa, Tim Baker, Jeff Bishop, Ed Cross, Doyle Bloss, Aaron Groseclose, Rob Hanks, Tom Hill, Claudia Lezell, Patrick Moffett, Joe Polish, Rick Raessler, Peter Sierck, Carl Williams and many others brought their years of experience and wisdom to education seekers.
"I've been pleased. Yesterday was great, and today will be good," remarked Hank Sacco of Harvard Chemical Research, Inc. "I'm pleasantly surprised with the turnout. It's definitely the market that we were hoping would be here. My reaction right now would be yeah, we'd want to come back and do it again. It's the most cost-effective way to hit this market; there is no other way."
Beyond the show itself, the Connections Cleaning College set a curriculum of IICRC-approved classes and others running from Sept. 29 through Oct. 8; a good stretch of time, but more than worth it for those in attendance. Holding a Mobile Hands-on Water Damage Restoration Technician School, a Carpet Cleaning Technician Class, a Floor Care Technician School, the Health and Environmental Safety Class, a Leather Cleaning Technician School and an Applied Microbial Remediation Technician Class in one place at one time presented a unique opportunity for growth-hungry professionals to expand their knowledge and expertise.
"This is just the beginning. This show has been outstanding; I've never seen so many cleaners in one place in my life," exclaimed CFI President Lisa Wagner. "It's really exciting, and everyone's happy and everyone's shopping, and I'm spending a lot of money and I'll be back next year to do the same thing."
The show floor wasn't the only place to find money being spent. Friday night, the penthouse of the Riviera Hotel played host to an evening social so popular that Connections Show Manager Larry Cooper asked the jubilant crowd, "Have you ever thrown a party for three hundred people and six hundred show up? If not, just take a look around."
With a two-man band and a hearty selection of southwestern fare, the evening was just warming up. After a successful live and silent auction, representatives of the various associations split into two camps to bid for one last item. The high-spirited showdown culminated in a final bid of $8,000 for...a case of beer (Canadian, if you were wondering). The proceeds went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an exclamation point on an extraordinary evening.
"This is an absolutely wonderful trade show," said EcoQuest International's Katie Tomasello. "It's the best we've attended, and certainly the best we've ever done. Both the hotel staff and the show staff have gone out of their way to assist us, to make this the best experience possible."
A well-dressed contingent of attendees mingled Saturday evening before, during and after the Connections Industry Awards banquet where, following dinner and an impressive Marilyn Monroe-impersonator birthday serenade to Lee "Daddy" Zimmerman, three prominent awards were presented to members of the floor care industry.
The Industry Connections Award, for an individual, company or group that has forged connections and partnerships between the cleaning and restoration industry and other industries, was presented to noted figure Cy Gant.
(l-r) Tom Hill, Barry Costa
The Connections Leadership Award, for an individual, company or group that has displayed vision, leadership and tireless energy on behalf of the cleaning and restoration industry on a regional, national or international level, was awarded to industry leader Kenway Mead, after which it was promptly renamed the Kenway Mead Leadership Award, to be presented as such at all future Connections events.
The final award of the evening was presented in honor of Ralph Bloss, the late chairman of Steam Way International and a legendary figure in the cleaning industry. The ICS Cleaning Specialist Ralph Bloss Humanitarian Award is an award that "honors members of the floor care industry whose compassion, creativity, self-sacrifice, leadership and creativity produce significant and outstanding benefits for mankind."
The IICRC's Tom Hill and Connections Keynote Speaker Barry Costa both received the inaugural award, each taking the podium for only a brief moment to deliver a heartfelt, "Thank you," to the audience, to the industry and to the members of the Bloss family who were in attendance.
If any more evidence of the success of the Connections 2003 Trade Show & Exhibition is necessary, Connections 2004 is already in place. Exhibitors are reserving space, seminars are being developed and panelists are being enlisted. Connections 2004 is scheduled for Nov. 4-6, 2004 at the Riviera Hotel & Casino. Check with your association and in the pages of ICS during the next 12 months to see what Connections has to offer.