Space case: How IAAPA decides who goes where at its enormous expo

Orlando Sentinel
By: Dewayne Bevil – Contact Reporter: Orlando Sentinel

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Thursday, April 27, 2018

 

Members of IAAPA Attractions Expo space-allocation subcommittee work to assigned spots for vendors during a work session at Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel. Companies are prioritized by seniority for the show, which is held annually at the Orange County Convention Center. (Dewayne Bevil / Orlando Sentinel)


 

The IAAPA brain-teaser is not a carnival game, thrill ride or frozen theme-park beverage. It’s the time-consuming process of deciding where every vendor’s booth will go in the 525,300 square feet of floor space for the annual IAAPA Attractions Expo.

“I equate it to either a jigsaw puzzle or a game of Tetris that all kind of comes together during the course of this process,” said Ryan Strowger, senior vice president of exhibitions, conferences and sales for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which moved its headquarters to Orlando last year.

There’s a strict pecking order, determined by seniority, in both IAAPA membership and as expo exhibitors. But the process begins with companies’ submitted requests and wish lists. Some exhibitors want prime corner spots. Others hope to be near business partners — or far from competitors. The possible proximity of fog machines, food smells and laser lights can be factors.

“We build games, so we’re noisy. Not everybody likes to be near the noise,” said Jack Mendes, chairman of IAAPA’s space-allocation subcommittee and president of Bob’s Space Racers, based in Daytona Beach. “Some people like being around us because we draw a lot of people, and that‘s the crowd they want to sell to.”

The IAAPA brain-teaser is not a carnival game, thrill ride or frozen theme-park beverage. It’s the time-consuming process of deciding where every vendor’s booth will go in the 525,300 square feet of floor space for the annual IAAPA Attractions Expo.

“I equate it to either a jigsaw puzzle or a game of Tetris that all kind of comes together during the course of this process,” said Ryan Strowger, senior vice president of exhibitions, conferences and sales for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which moved its headquarters to Orlando last year.

There’s a strict pecking order, determined by seniority, in both IAAPA membership and as expo exhibitors. But the process begins with companies’ submitted requests and wish lists. Some exhibitors want prime corner spots. Others hope to be near business partners — or far from competitors. The possible proximity of fog machines, food smells and laser lights can be factors.

“We build games, so we’re noisy. Not everybody likes to be near the noise,” said Jack Mendes, chairman of IAAPA’s space-allocation subcommittee and president of Bob’s Space Racers, based in Daytona Beach. “Some people like being around us because we draw a lot of people, and that‘s the crowd they want to sell to.”

After the space-request deadline passes, the floor — think nine football fields — is wide open each year. The first 150 companies, in order of seniority, are contacted by IAAPA staffers to settle their spots for the year. The first call goes to Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, a manufacturer that has exhibited for more than 80 years.

“When they pick their spot, the hall is empty. They’re No. 1,” Mendes said.

This year, after those first 150 slots were assigned, the committee met in a ballroom at Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel for a two-day session to fill the exhibit space, which is set up annually in the North-South Building of the Orange County Convention Center. Representatives from various industries – such as water parks, plush toys, high tech and rides – sit in an arc facing a gigantic projection of the updated floor plan. Open spaces are blue; other colors are spots already assigned.

There also are areas to designate for 70,000 square feet of outdoor space and, for the first time, about 30,000 square feet in a temporary, climate-controlled structure adjacent to the convention center.

“Now we have web-based technology that allows us to assign the booths in real time,” Strowger said. “They get an immediate notification when their booth has been assigned. And they have the ability to say ‘You know what? That’s not exactly where I’d like to be.’”

IAAPA also uses social media to update the industry when placements are determined.

“We’ve really seen the engagement of people beyond this room,” Strowger said.

The IAAPA Attractions Expo, slated to remain in Orlando through 2030, features an array of products big and small. Visitors may see ice-cream vendors, costume makers, trash-can sellers, swimming-pool cleaners, arcade games, bounce houses and roller-coaster designers whilst wandering through the sprawling space.

The expo floor has groupings. There’s a product pavilion, a midway-like coin-op section, an area featuring inflatable attractions and so forth. One section is dedicated to first-time IAAPA exhibitors.

“That helps our attendees find companies, perhaps products and services, that they’ve never seen before at this particular show,” Strowger said.

Lisa Junkerman, vice president of marketing for Orlando-based ITEC, said her company has continually increased its booth size in the 24 years it has exhibited at IAAPA’s show.

“We like the open spaces – an island booth. Those open spaces create opportunity for conversation across all open corners. We also look for high visibility off the main aisle to benefit from the traffic flow,” she said.

ITEC conducts meetings within its booth alongside displays that show off its business in attractions design, technology and production. Some exhibitors literally throw parties in theirs; others do low-key business deals. The vibe ranges from the buttoned-down-executive feel to tables selling novelty T-shirts.

“You kind of know what to expect because that’s what makes IAAPA special,” Junkerman said.“You have all this stimulation going on around you, whether it’s sound, smell, virtual reality. … everything. That’s what makes it exciting.”

On the first day of the 2018 space-allocation meeting in late March, 500 exhibitors were assigned, Mendes said. By the end of the second day, there were 976 on the board, filling all available indoor space.

IAAPA already had decided to expand into the parking lot with the temporary structure that will be called Exploration Station. About 60 exhibitors have been assigned there. For expo-goers, it will be “an extension of what they’ve seen on the sales floor already,” Strowger said.

“It’s a challenge, but for our purposes it’s a good challenge to have,” he said. “It means the industry is doing well and we’re a reflection of that.”

dbevil@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5477; Twitter: @ThemeParks

 

LOAD-DATE: April 27, 2018
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH
PUBLICATION-TYPE: Newspaper

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