We love attending tradeshows. It’s exciting to be around so many people that are passionate about photography, and to meet new customers and reconnect with old friends.
Most recently, we traveled to Phoenix for Imaging USA 2014. Up to that point, I wasn’t part of the tradeshow crew, though I was hungry for the experience. Fortunately, due to some last-minute substitutions, I was asked to fill in.
I flew out to the Valley of the Sun on the Sunday that IUSA14 kicked off. The rest of the team had arrived on Friday for our two-day setup process. If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit us at the tradeshow, our “booth” is basically a pop-up shop, a miniature version of our storefront. The shelves are stacked from top to bottom, as anyone who’s visited our home base in Clintonville would expect. It’s our home away from home, and as you might imagine it takes two days of extreme effort to have it up and operational in time for any given tradeshow. Therefore, I missed the setup experience (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint).
I was a little nervous about traveling there by myself. I’m something of a homebody, not one to venture too far from familiar surroundings. Up to that point, the furthest west I had traveled (barring a trip to Disneyland when I was two years old) was Chicago, and for a pretty-much lifelong resident of the Midwest, Chicago felt like familiar territory. Phoenix was another story entirely. However, I’ve always wanted to visit the west and experience the desert climate, so my excitement outweighed my nervousness.
Due to my anxiety about travel, I arrived at Port Columbus at 6:45 AM for an 8:40 AM flight. This turned out to be unnecessarily early, but I felt better once I had my bag checked and found a seat at the terminal. The flight was roomy and, this being the first time I’d flown on a plane since getting an iPhone, I was keen on grabbing a window seat to Instagram cliché airplane shots to my heart’s content.
I landed in Phoenix at 11:00 AM Mountain Time, picked up my bag, and immediately grabbed a cab to the Phoenix Convention Center, fielding odd questions from the cabbie such as “Is that the one downtown?” (“Uh, I’m guessing, yeah?”) and receiving a blank ticket for a receipt, which confused me until I handed it to Moishe back in Columbus and he told me that I’d missed out on a golden opportunity to squeeze a few more dollars in travel expenses out of him. (Like I said, I don’t travel much.)
By the time I got to the convention center at 11:35 (five minutes after the show opened), the tradeshow was already in full swing and our booth was swamped with customers. I tried to take a quick snapshot before tossing on my MPEX t-shirt and getting to work.
The first time working at a tradeshow can be completely overwhelming. There were four “quadrants” to our booth, and all four had MPEX employees working them, but there were only two quadrants with working registers, and I was manning one of them. Now, I’ve worked our sales floor before, but the tradeshow is a different experience entirely. You’re not fielding questions and really getting to know the customer, which is what I really enjoy about working at MPEX, as much as you are trying to help as many people as you can at once. Luckily, everyone we met at Imaging was friendly and happy that we were there, and I did get to have a few extended conversations about how good Mexican cuisine was in Phoenix.
The show ended at 5:00 PM, and by that time I’d been traveling and working for 14 hours straight, so I was more than happy to indulge in a couple of free drinks that the conference was offering to vendors immediately following the show. After that, the staff reconvened at the hotel. Adam found a place for dinner, so we piled into our rental van and found our way to Welcome Diner.
The awesomeness of Welcome Diner was unanimous among the staff. I had delicious fries smothered in pulled pork and the best frickin’ chicken sandwich I’ve ever tasted, plus a PBR tall boy (or two), that old stalwart. If you’re ever in Phoenix, you’re doing your taste buds a major disservice if you don’t eat at Welcome Diner. Back at the hotel, we capped the night by visiting the Jacuzzi, despite the 40 degree weather. Who knew the desert could get so chilly? (You did? Well, well.)
The second day at Imaging was just as jam-packed as the first, but I was already growing accustomed to the environment. In some ways, it reminded me of my high school job, when I was a cashier at a local farmer’s market and grocery store, just ringing people out one after the other. It’s a completely different pace from my current position at MPEX, but it was a nice change of pace, if not entirely exhausting. However, as opposed to working as a cashier, where every interaction (even the words coming out of your mouth) is basically constructed out of automated responses, the customers at Imaging, all professional or semi-professional photographers, each have their own questions, their own individual concerns, and the monotony is broken up by truly being able to connect with individuals and help them find what they need to succeed in their line of work. It’s exhausting, but the energy of the show floor propels you forward. The four or five sugar-free Red Bulls I drank didn’t hurt, either.
The second evening was a bit more low-key than the first. The rest of the crew had been working nonstop for four days straight at that point, so we decided on a Thai restaurant that had been converted from an old Pizza Hut, which was right across the street from our hotel. Sitting around the dinner table with the rest of the show crew is great. In a tradeshow environment, I saw the staff in a new light. I’ve always appreciated (as many of our customers do) how hard our staff works at home, but witnessing all the hard work that goes into pulling off a tradeshow awestruck me with how funny, positive, and dedicated our staff really is. It’s truly like belonging to a big family, and having a work environment that feels like a family is a privilege I don’t consider lightly.
The last day of the tradeshow was the shortest but, in some ways, the most challenging. It’s a well-known fact among tradeshow attendees that you can get some of the best deals on the last day. The idea is that the less stuff as a vendor that we have to truck home, the better, and that’s not far from the truth (which I would find out later). Our booth was pretty much bombarded all day with people picking off what we had left, and the entire environment reminded me of a street market in New York, people waving their hands, shouting over one another and haggling for deals. One of our customers even stole a snapshot of Ken and I (above). By the end of the tradeshow, I was ready to plotz, but my day was far from over.
Immediately after the tradeshow ended, we began to tear down our booth. This process is not nearly as painstaking as building an entire store in the middle of a convention center, but it’s a ton of work nonetheless. Not only does our product have to find the appropriate containers, but we have to take down the shelves and signage, pack up our computers, and load it all into our trusty trailer. Amazingly, and as a testament the hard work of everyone involved, this process only took us two hours, after which we returned to Welcome Diner for one more amazing meal.
Truthfully, as physically and mentally beat as I was by the end of the experience, I was a bit disappointed when it was over. First of all, I was sad to be leaving Phoenix’s 70-degree weather and gorgeous mountainous horizons, only to return to negative-degree weather in Ohio. I have to say, I fell for that strange city in the desert and hope to make it back one day.
But I was also already missing the tradeshow environment itself, and getting to spend time that I don’t normally get with the staff, before we all returned to our busy lives at home. It was a team-building, spirit-building exercise, and one that I’m glad I got to experience finally.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth in Phoenix! We had a great time.