The potato industry’s largest trade show in North America, Potato Expo drew more than 1,900 participants this year, from farmers to retailers — an attendance jump that presented some challenges for NPC. “It went from, from our standpoint, a fairly big show to a really big show,” said Mark Szymanski, NPC’s director of public relations. “It was the biggest show we’ve ever managed, so there was a different feel to the show just because of the size.”
It’s not as though NPC didn’t anticipate an increase in attendance. “Since the first show in 2009, the meeting’s grown about 20 percent every year,” said Hollee Alexander, NPC’s director of meetings and industry outreach. “We planned for about that much growth, but certainly this year we didn’t plan on 1,900.”
Potato Expo 2013 also saw growth in its exhibitor numbers, from 135 last year to 149 this year. The show took place in Caesars Palace’s Octavius Ballroom, which offers 50,944 square feet of meeting space. The floor was initially partitioned off with an air wall, but exhibitors continued to contact NPC for booth space, even up until a few days before the show. “We kept having to move the wall back, and wound up taking up the entire ballroom,” Szymanski said. “We actually had to turn people away, which is the first time that’ s happened.”
Show-floor space wasn’t the only concern. The significant increase in attendees caused NPC to exceed its room block at Caesars Palace — a problem that was compounded by the fact that the 150,000-attendee International Consumer Electronics Show was taking place in Las Vegas on the same dates — forcing some Potato Expo participants into overflow rooms at a hotel across the street because Caesars was sold out.
This year, NPC introduced a stage on the exhibit floor that featured moderated panel discussions throughout the show. The discussions received positive reviews from attendees in post-conference surveys — and, because the stage was placed at the very back of the exhibit hall, exhibitors found it to be an added bonus because it drove attendees to traditionally low-traffic areas. “Adding content was definitely well received,” Szymanski said, “but from an exhibitor standpoint, adding an element that increased the traffic flow was really important to them.” Indeed, as of mid-March, the back of the trade-show floor for Potato Expo 2014 was almost sold out.
Specialized networking receptions were another new element that NPC introduced this year. The idea was for attendees to connect with others with similar interests in a more intimate setting than the opening and closing receptions. “They went really well,” Alexander said. “We weren’t sure because it was a new concept, but we had great attendance, especially for the Women in the Potato Industry Reception.” NPC plans to expand on the niche receptions next year.
One of NPC’s goals with Potato Expo 2013 was to broaden the international scope of the show. “We had 250 people from Canada, which is an increase,” Szymanski said, “and we had a dozen other countries represented, so we do feel that it’s gone from a purely U.S. show to very much a North American show. It’s definitely still a work in progress, but we do see the attendants’ response to that effort to broaden the scope of the meeting.”
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.