Editor’s note: The Rental Show 2012 returns to New Orleans this year with the convention and trade show, organized by the American Rental Association (ARA), scheduled for Feb. 5-8, 2012, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. As the rental industry prepares to arrive in the Big Easy for the first time in a decade, Allison Box, ARA’s senior administrative director for association services, talks about New Orleans and what attendees can expect from this year’s show in an exclusive interview with Rental Management.
RM: What convinced ARA to go back to New Orleans after 10 years?
Allison Box: The Rental Show Work Group studied which convention centers can hold us and meet our needs as a show. New Orleans was on the list of convention centers that could fill our requirements. We also knew that people wanted to go back there from member requests we have received.
RM: It’s now been five years since Hurricane Katrina. You have made several visits to New Orleans in preparation for the show. What has impressed you about the area?
Box: What people will notice, as an impact of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is that the convention center is completely renovated. It is completely brand new compared to what it was when we were there before. Technologically, it is brand new as well. Visitors will be very impressed with the convention center itself. We also are in the far end of the convention center in halls we have not been in before, so that will be new to attendees as well. Most of the hotels that we are using have been renovated since we’ve been there. Those things will be different, but in terms of the city itself, there’s so much more there now. There are more restaurants than before Katrina. The World War II museum is brand new. There are so many attractions to take advantage of as well as several cruise lines, many of which have cruises the weekend after the show. If you want to come early or stay after, there is so much to do in New Orleans. There is so much history and tours for everything including the city, French Quarter, cemeteries and swamps.
RM: In terms of the show itself, Las Vegas exceeded everyone’s expectations. There was a lot of buzz that things were moving forward in a positive direction. Is that sense continuing for 2012?
Box: The buzz that started growing in Las Vegas has kept going ever since. Exhibit sales have grown steadily and we are on track to sell out space in New Orleans. It was a pleasant surprise that we were oversold at hotels and had to add more properties before the end of the year. We now have 20 hotels offering rooms for the show. The exhibitors are expecting a good show and they are doing the marketing to get people to New Orleans. The comments from attendees who are registering are upbeat. It’s encouraging that the buzz has continued all the way through. They are looking forward to not only going somewhere new, but having the continued positive outlook for the future.
RM: The equipment rental industry is outperforming the industries it serves. Construction has not recovered as fast, but there is this window of opportunity for the equipment rental industry to increase penetration and grow revenue. Has this resulted in more interest from manufacturers wanting to exhibit at the show this year?
Box: Yes. We’re getting calls from people we called earlier who said they weren’t sure and didn’t think they would participate. Now they want in and want to know what space we have available, but we have very little left. People are interested in getting space at the show because they feel the buzz. They are doing better and want to be involved. We had at least 600 exhibitors and nearly 2,400 booths sold before the
end of the year and that is up 10 percent versus where we finished for The Rental Show 2011.
RM: Much of the promotion for the show focused on “new.” Is that the theme of the show? What is new about The Rental Show 2012?
Box: We have new events, such as the Crescent City Carnival and an evening for ARAPAC, ARA’s political action committee, at the National World War II Museum. We also brought back the Events & Tents rental store tour, which is new. However, I think the show is more about discovering what is new. You have new products, new ideas and new connections that you make with people. That’s more of what
it is versus what is literally new at the show — what the attendees make of it in discovering what is new. You will discover new products, new people and new ideas at the seminars that you can put into practice.
RM: One new feature this year outside of the show floor is The Hot List Gallery. What is this?
Box: This came about because we wanted to do something different to feature new products. The Hot List has been successful for Rental Management, so we are selecting products from the list and showcasing them in a different format. The Events & Tents Inspiration Gallery was so successful and well-displayed last year. People liked looking at the large photos of events, so we are adapting that idea and using it for The Hot List Gallery, which will be located in the lobby of the Construction/Industrial exhibit hall, Lobby I. The gallery will include 36 products from all three areas of the trade show floor that will be displayed on large photos with descriptions of the products, the company name and the booth number. We believe this will be a great way to showcase new products in a high-traffic area.
RM: Specifically looking at the trade show floor, what is different this year? This convention center has a different floor plan. Are there different things on the show floor than in previous years?
Box: This is a traditional trade show floor with the three sections. The hall is nearly a mile long, but we aren’t in the full length of the convention center. We’re probably at a half mile in Halls E through J, but it does mean attendees should be prepared for more walking. We do have a couple of new things on the show floor. For example, there are relaxation stations sponsored by Wynne Systems and they will have charging stations in them to charge cell phones and laptops. We will note first-time exhibitors with stickers in front of their booths. There’s also a first-time attendee question-and-answer session on Monday afternoon. That means the first-time attendees will have a chance to see the show floor and then be able to come to this event to get advice and have their questions answered.
RM: Prior to the show, registration was pacing ahead of last year. Why do you think this is happening?
Box: It’s a combination of things, including the location and the way the rental economy is improving. Our member outreach calls this year also were fairly positive. The people who are coming say they are bringing a few more people to the show this year.
RM: The big event for attendees at the show is the Crescent City Carnival scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Mardi Gras World. How did you score this venue when it is so close to Mardi Gras?
Box: The Mardi Gras World venue is located behind the convention center and it is one of their big warehouses. They have several in the city. Blaine Kern is the owner. Mardi Gras World was started in 1947 and they do all things Mardi Gras. The company is the leading producer of floats, sculptures and props. The evening will be a behind-the-scenes look at carnival. Because we haven’t been to New Orleans for so long, we thought this experience would be the perfect thing. When we traveled to New Orleans on a site visit, we heard it was a great place. We checked into it and they said they could fit us in. We finish our show on Feb. 8 and the parades will begin that weekend after we leave. When we go to Mardi Gras World, there will be floats and they will be working on them to complete the finishing touches. It’s an amazing facility and they enjoy teaching people about Mardi Gras.
RM: In terms of educational sessions, is there anything in particular that attendees can expect to learn?
Box: We have 30 seminars scheduled, so there are more opportunities for learning than we’ve ever had. Steve Abercrombie is back for financial management. People have learned a lot from him over the years. We are offering sessions about social media and the Web that people want to learn about. The Rental Town Halls always are popular and we have a session with Dan Kaplan, a rental industry expert who has his own company, Daniel Kaplan Associates, and was once the head of Hertz Equipment Rental Corp. The indoor/outdoor training sessions, which are new this year, already are sold out. Each session is limited to 50 people. They start indoors with classroom training and then move outdoors to a gravel lot underneath a tent, so that they have protection from weather. We aren’t charging for these sessions and the spots were reserved very quickly. We can only have so many people under a tent to hear and understand the product demonstrations, which is why these are limited. We chose to try this in New Orleans because of the opportunity to have this lot right outside the convention center.
RM: The Rental Show returns to Las Vegas in 2013, just two years after the last time in Las Vegas. Why?
Box: The reason we are going back in two years is because we wanted to not be in Las Vegas during a ConExpo year. Our exhibitors asked us to do that, but in order to do that, we had to go back in two years so that we could go to Orlando in 2014, which is the next ConExpo year. While we will be in Las Vegas in 2013, we will be in another facility. The Sands gives us a unique opportunity to be in the center of the Las Vegas Strip with different hotels, which will give attendees other opportunities for restaurants and things to do. The Venetian will be the headquarters hotel with other options at other price points. The exhibits will be in the Sands, Feb. 10-13, 2013.