Focus on Leadership - January 2013

Interview by Kemp Harr


Hanley Wood took control of the Surfaces expo in Las Vegas when it purchased the trade show from the WFCA in 2001 for a little over $40 million. Two years earlier, Hanley Wood had formed its Exhibitions division, based in Irvine, Texas, as a complement to its Washington, D.C. based publishing business, which at that time had 22 successful publications focused on the construction sector.

Galen Poss successfully managed the exposition division until Rick McConnell was promoted in 2009 to succeed him. McConnell has 24 years of trade show management experience, working with Miller Freeman in the apparel sector prior to joining Hanley Wood as show director in 2001. As with most construction related business, Hanley Wood’s expo business has been challenged over the last six years due to the recession. Hanley Wood was recently purchased by Oaktree Capital Management, which injected $35 million in capital into the company. We recently sat down with Rick to find out more about what it takes to be successful in this business.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became the head of Hanley Wood’s exhibition business.
A. Prior to assuming the role of president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions in 2009, I managed four of the division’s events and oversaw divisional marketing and sales efforts. I have a long history in the exhibitions industry. Before joining Hanley Wood, I served as vice president of show-management firm Miller Freeman’s Apparel Group, which produced two shows and corresponding magazines. I also served as show director for the firm’s 7,000-exhibit ASD/AMD Show and the Las Vegas Gift Expo. Prior to Miller Freeman, I directed sales for Magic International, one of the largest apparel-industry events in North America. I am a graduate of Southwest Texas State University and hold an MBA from the University of Arkansas.

Q. Where does Hanley Wood rank when it comes to U.S. based exhibit show owners? 
A. Since 1976, Hanley Wood has focused exclusively on North America’s residential and commercial construction industry, and we hold a leading position in that sector. In addition to producing trade shows and conferences, Hanley Wood develops magazines, websites, e-newsletters, and custom marketing and data services that support the construction industry’s critical information needs.

Q. How many shows do you run and what are some of the more prominent ones? Where does the Surfaces show rank?
A. Hanley Wood Exhibitions produces 13 trade shows each year, four of which are included on the Tradeshow Week 200 list of the largest events in the country. Among those are World of Concrete, which currently ranks #24, and Surfaces, which ranks #58. 

Q. Show traffic has declined during the economic downturn of the last five years. Do you think we will ever see the type of attendance levels that trade shows were bringing before the slowdown?
A. We are seeing significant growth in our 2012 fourth quarter shows as well as the shows scheduled for the first quarter of 2013 on both sides of the aisles—the number of exhibiting companies and attendees. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) recently conducted studies in which Surfaces attendees and exhibitors participated. Data from this study points to a positive outlook for trade shows moving forward. The CEIR Index forecasts a rebound in the next three-year time horizon.

Q. What are the best methods for increasing trade show attendance?
A. A successful show is an event that connects key buyers and key sellers in a given market or industry. In order to maintain and grow attendance and support, trade shows must deliver on the Big Three: top-notch educational programming, excellent networking opportunities and a true commerce-based exhibition featuring the latest innovations. As trade show organizers, we must provide the platform in which exhibitors can maximize their time and ROI, and attendees can gain critical knowledge that enables them to make the right purchases and thrive in today’s business environment.

Q. What are the biggest challenges to running a major successful trade show?
A. Obviously the downturn in the economy has been the biggest challenge for all trade show producers. Mergers and consolidation, attendee acquisition, developing technologies are a few more of the challenges we face. Despite these challenges, I remain positive about the future of trade shows.

Q. In what ways have recent technological developments helped or hindered your efforts to hold a successful trade show?
A. Social networks and new tools such as smart phones and iPads are dramatically changing our lives and the way we do business. Hanley Wood trade shows have been early adopters of these technological developments. For example, we launched a mobile app for Surfaces 2012. The app featured floor plans, the conference schedule, exhibitor listings, shuttle bus schedules, registration hours—you name it, the information was available at attendees’ fingertips. For the first time at Surfaces 2013, attendees will not have tickets for conference sessions. All registration information will be contained in the barcode displayed on the name badge, which will be scanned for access to the sessions. We believe that these and other technological advancements enhance the overall trade show experience. We also believe that the more we are in front of computers and on mobile devices, the more we are going to need personal interaction. 

Q. How do you properly balance education seminars with exhibit time so that the seminars are seen as another reason for making the trip and yet don’t take away from time on the show floor?
A. Earlier I mentioned the Big Three. It is essential for successful shows to not only deliver but to balance top-notch educational programming, excellent networking opportunities and an exhibition component. For example, Surfaces schedules a full day of programming on Monday, the day prior to the opening of the show. On show days, the majority of programming is scheduled early in the morning and later in the afternoon with minimal overlap with show hours. In addition, we continue to add dynamic live educational offerings on the trade show floor. This year, the Trends Hub will not only be the place to discover the future of flooring and surfaces, it will feature designers giving “Live In The Hub” presentations. 

Q. In the flooring business, Surfaces is forced to compete with buying group shows, trade association expos and the regional shows held by the large producers. What do you think would motivate these competing shows to support one big flooring show?
A. Surfaces brings together thousands of retailers, distributors, installers, designers and home builders for three days of face-to-face networking, education and product sourcing. Buyers and sellers from all over the world come to Las Vegas every January to see the latest floorcovering products, tools, services and technologies. No other U.S. event can compete with that. Hanley Wood will continue to listen to our audiences and evolve Surfaces to meet the ever-changing needs of our attendees in order to further our status as the leading floorcovering industry event. 

Unfortunately, attendees have been forced to make decisions based on resources as to which shows they have time to or can afford to attend. One big flooring event would solve this problem. The only motivation needed to support such a compelling event should be to give the retailers and other industry professionals what they have been asking for.

Q. Surfaces has always been held in Vegas and yet many other shows move around. Do you think Surfaces will always be held in Las Vegas? Why?
A. Year in, year out, Las Vegas continues to be the number one trade show destination in North America. In Las Vegas attendees can find the best of everything—an incomparable resort city that’s not only an easy commute from the West Coast, but also a top draw for those from all over the country and the rest of the world. Also, the weather in Las Vegas in January tends to be quite mild. For these reasons, Surfaces will continue to be held in Las Vegas for the foreseeable future. 

Q. Flooring companies are making a big push to be more environmentally friendly. What is the best way to minimize your environmental footprint as an exhibitor and yet still be an effective exhibitor?
A. Being “green” is no longer a trend or fad—it’s a way of life. This was dramatically demonstrated last year at Surfaces. For the first time, Surfaces partnered with Mountain Re-Source Center and Tile Partners for Humanity on a recycling initiative focused on post-show product donations at the close of the event. The outstanding results exceeded all expectations.

Mountain Re-Source Center solicited exhibitors prior to and during the show. Participating exhibitors were very generous, offering approximately 200,000 square feet of material, which filled three 50-foot semi-trailers to capacity. The total tonnage was about 120,000 pounds. The loads were delivered back to Gridley, California and Gassaway, West Virginia to serve multiple families and community improvement efforts presently underway. Las Vegas Habitat for Humanity also partnered with one donor and collected a beautiful floor that benefited a local Las Vegas project.

Both small and large companies actively participated with some of the major donations coming from Beaulieu (9,000 square feet of carpet), Mannington Mills (9,000 square feet of flooring), Home Legend (5,400 square feet of flooring), Nature Flooring (3,500 square feet), Pergo (2,800 square feet), and U.S. Floors (2,500 square feet).

Due to the extreme success, this initiative will become an annual event mainstay. We heard nothing but positive, encouraging remarks during the effort. Numerous companies said that this type of program is in line with their green policies. Knowing their products would bypass the landfill and instead benefit others clearly inspired a feeling of pride. Additionally, Mandalay Bay was successful in recycling 80% of the remaining materials left in both the Bayside and Shorelines exhibit halls (including residual cardboard, aluminum, paper, plastics and pallets).

Q. What changes has Hanley Wood made in the last few years to improve the performance of the shows it owns? What are the most significant improvements you have made at this year’s Surfaces show?
A. At Hanley Wood, we are true believers in live, interactive demonstrations on the trade show floor. A great example is JLC Live, which is a series of workshops and clinics on a sawdust-strewn show floor. We hire authors and other professionals within the residential building sector to give demonstrations and lectures on the show floor. In conjunction with our Hanley Wood print partners, we have several fun competitions that we’ve developed, such as the Bricklayer 500 at the World of Concrete. This model of learning in an interactive way has spilled over into all our events and it’s become very successful for us and our sponsors.

Surfaces is following this model by introducing the Business Enrichment Center (BEC) this year. The BEC is an all new area that will feature an education stage where business topics such as sales, marketing, finance and business management will be presented. Also, within the BEC, attendees can visit the Social Lounge and catch short education sessions on the constantly growing world of social media. Free Wi-Fi and a charging station can be found in the Social Lounge. In addition, the Tool Alley, which debuted in 2012, has been expanded. Participating exhibitors will deliver action demos of tools alongside Chris Grundy, host of DIY Network’s Cool Tools.

Another significant improvement has to be the strategic partnership to co-date Surfaces with the Las Vegas Market in 2013 and 2014 in order to provide attendees an enhanced product sourcing, educational and networking experience. This partnership also gives manufacturers exposure to new distribution channels. Our dates coincided in 2011 and it proved to be an enormous success for both events. Due to scheduling conflicts in 2012 our dates were one week apart and we were met with disappointment from our attendees; therefore both parties agreed to hold the dates concurrently and give our customers a convenient, one-stop-shopping opportunity, saving them both time and money.

Copyright 2013 Floor Focus