Bonus unPACKed podcast: Competitive Advantage of PACK EXPO Las Vegas

Las Vegas fully opens on June 1, lifting large gathering and capacity limitations. On a special bonus edition of UnPACKed with PMMI, PMMI Vice-president of Trade Shows Laura Thompson calls in from Las Vegas to discuss the return of PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO this September. The most comprehensive event in the world this year is spread across four halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Thompson breaks down the significant competitive advantages that attendees and exhibitors will obtain from the show.

To subscribe and find more unPACKED podcast episodes, visit pmmi.org/podcast.

    Read the full transcript below

Sean Riley:

Hi and welcome to a special bonus edition of unPACKed with PMMI. We had to assemble the podcast team to address some of the misinformation swirling around about the return of PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO this September. The show is happening people, spread across four halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and we caught up with PMMI Vice-president of Trade Shows Laura Thompson from Las Vegas to tell us about the latest show news, why this will be the most comprehensive event in the world this year, and the significant competitive advantage that attendees and exhibitors will obtain from PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO.

Riley:

Now with all the fancy introductions out of the way, welcome to the podcast, Laura.

Laura Thompson:

Thanks, Sean. It’s great to talk to you today.

Riley:

So right off the top, let’s address the swirl of misinformation that’s out there regarding the show. I know you guys have heard this specifically in the trade show department. You’re knee deep in the show every day and you’re in Vegas right now. You just visited Las Vegas Convention Center. You’re on a site visit. Clearly, PACK EXPO Las Vegas is scheduled to still happen in September.

Thompson:

Absolutely, Sean. I am indeed in Vegas. We had a great meeting yesterday with the building and several of our vendors. The city and the building and everyone are fully committed to reopening. In fact, there was a show moving in the building when we were over there yesterday.

Riley:

And they’ve had shows, a couple already if I’m not mistaken, or would that be one of the first ones?

Thompson:

It is. They’ve had a few smaller events. The largest one I would say is starting in June. And then from June forward there seems to be quite a few shows taking place leading up to our show in September. And we’re really looking forward to the show. As you know, vaccination numbers have increased and people have become more comfortable traveling. We’ve seen a lot more interest in the show. We launched registration last week and ended up having 17 new exhibitors sign up. So there’s definitely a lot of people interested. As people are seeing the more positive news come forth, they’re signing up, ready to come to the show and engage with their customers.

Riley:

Awesome. You know, being in the industry, covering the industry, especially for the past year, it feels like the industry needs a trade show after a year like this. Is that the sense you guys are getting as a trade show team kind of working with exhibitors, talking to potential attendees every day?

Thompson:

Absolutely. One thing I want to emphasize is we definitely don’t plan this show in a vacuum. We are in constant communication with both exhibitors and the attendee base, talking to them about what’s going on in the current day to day and their needs. And we have heard this last year that there was a virtual piece where people could stay in touch with each other and search for things online, but in no way does that replicate the in-person experience. We surveyed end users and we actually got some really interesting comments back. One of my favorites was “I’m virtually sick of everything virtual. I just want to go to a show because nothing can replace seeing everything in person, talking to people in person.”

Thompson:

Also, I think the benefit of our show is we cover so many different industries. A lot of times we talk to attendees and they say I found something I didn’t even know I needed. You know, you’re doing an internet search. I’m searching for X piece of equipment, not necessarily knowing, oh, there could be this other solution out there available to me. So we’ve heard that a lot from the end users that we’ve talked to through our surveys. We also just had our executive leadership conference where there was a CPG panel who basically said the same thing. You know, Zoom calls are fine, but they really need that in person. And especially now with the industry changing so much, with consumers changing so much, they really are having to look at their whole processes to keep up with everything. So going to a show like PACK EXPO that has everything across all industries is a great way to see the latest in the industry and find what they need.

Riley:

And that’s an interesting point. And I’m recalling the session that you’re referring to from the ELC. And I think one of the biggest things they pointed to was there’s a lot of things you can do over Zoom, and obviously Zoom company did great in the last year and I’m sure they’re doing fine, but something like sales where you have to actually engage with the product or touch the product and feel the product and see it in action is just not really something that works over a virtual call.

Thompson:

Absolutely. Yes. We did have that conversation, and I think one of the speakers said if I have to choose between somebody showing me something via Zoom or seeing it and talking to the person in person I’m going to most likely go with the person I saw in person. And I thought that was a very powerful statement to just really the importance of these shows and these exhibitors being able to get in front of these attendees essentially for the first time in a year.

Riley:

Yeah. So it’s an obvious competitive advantage over someone that’s not doing it. So I guess beyond that, from an OEM or an exhibitor perspective, sell me on it. Why should I exhibit? What’s the harm if I sit this one out?

Thompson:

I think that, as we’ve said, there hasn’t been a show for a while now, Sean, and it’s just really gives that first opportunity to get in front of people, to have those one-on-one conversations, to truly show off your solution. We talk to people all the time after the show and the number one benefit is new customers. I understand that we have had a lot of our members and exhibitors they’ve had good years, but a lot of them were with current customers. This gives you new access to new people that you may not have contact with unless you are at the show and engaging with people.

Thompson:

And the good thing about PACK EXPO, like I said, is we really cover everything. And with this being the first event, we have over 20 association partners who have signed on to the show, representing all sorts of industries as well and they’re choosing to have some of their member events at the show. And they see this as an opportunity as, hey, the industry’s coming together here. We should take advantage of this and come to the show as well and have meetings with our members and take advantage of all of the industry being in one place in Las Vegas.

Riley:

So we kind of touched on the exhibitor part. Now if I’m an attendee, I can go on a website and look for a package to put my things in. And I know you’ve touched on some things, but I guess if you could expand on that a little bit, on why as an attendee am I going to come to Vegas and walk around the trade show versus just going on a website or typing into Google what I’m looking for.

Thompson:

We have over 1,300 companies already committed to the show. It’s access to a lot of companies doing a lot of things at one time. And with PACK EXPO this year, I’d like to mention that we’ve added the Processing Zone and we also have added logistics. So we’ve got the full spectrum of solutions. We’ve got beginning to end of your process. So it’s really a one-stop shop, I would say, to come and you can see every solution for every aspect of your operation.

Thompson:

Another thing that we have at the show and that we really looked into is our education sessions. We did learn in the virtual space what really resonated with our audience, what type of information people are looking for, and we were able to transition that to the show. We’re going to have over 70 education sessions at the show.

Thompson:

In addition, we’ve added two new stages. We have our PACK to the Future stage, which is very future thinking, a lot of topics on the up and coming trends in the industry, a lot about sustainability. And we also have the Processing Zone stage to really address the processing piece. So it’s essentially a one place, really maximize your time. We know travel is limited at this time, so if it’s you can only go to one show this is it because you’re going to be able to access everything. You’re going to be able to access all of the resources and services you need as well as have access to a lot of really good educational content. With everything changing, as you know, it’s good to kind of stay updated on what’s happening in the industry.

Riley:

Yeah. And that’s an interesting point that we… Recently, we did a podcast with Matt Reynolds from Packaging World, our packaging publication, and he kind of highlighted this, which I think about it, but it’s not something that’s always front of mind, is that while our industry for the most part did really good kind of keeping up and producing as an essential business, it kind of caused innovation and R&D to be put on hold because everybody was just trying to meet orders. So there is all this pent up innovation that people have that they want to share with people. And this is the opportunity for them from the last 16 months or whatever for attendees to see all that in one place.

Thompson:

Right. Absolutely.

Riley:

All right. So I guess to kind of put a button on all this, what else am I getting out of the PACK EXPO experience that we haven’t touched on? I know you kind of mentioned the PACK to the Future, I guess what’s that all about? And what other things might be new or coming back to PACK EXPO that people might have kind of forgot about since it’s been a while?

Thompson:

Well, the PACK to the Future we’re excited about. Not only do we have the stage, which is going to have a lot of really good educational content that’s actually being curated by the team over at PMMI Media Group, in addition we will have a display of, it’s our, say our packaging museum of sorts. It’s the past, present and future of packaging. And we have a lot of wonderful exhibitors who have generously donated some of their older machines for us to display to kind of show the evolution of the industry and how far it’s come. I mean, there’s a lot of innovation that has happened and continued to happen. And it’ll be a fun look to see how things have evolved over the years as well as to see where it’s going.

Thompson:

As far as new show floor destinations, I touched on the Processing Zone. We also know we are a 1,300-exhibitor show. We cover four halls. So we do try to provide some targeted destinations to help attendees find what they need. We have the Processing Zone. We have the Package Printing Pavilion. We have the Containers and Materials Pavilion, which as we know is so important as people are looking at more sustainable materials, as well as with the boom in e-commerce. So there’s a lot of new and innovative materials on display there. And in that area, there’s also the Showcase of Packaging Innovation, which shows the award winners over the past year. And you know, Sean, so many of those awards have been done virtually. So this is honestly the first time that folks will be able to truly see a lot of these award-winning innovations in person.

Thompson:

In addition, we are going to have the Confectionary Pavilion again. We have the Reusable Packaging Association Pavilion as well as their stage with even more content. And of course, we still have Healthcare Packaging EXPO co-located with the show that, as you know, that industry has been very busy in the past year, and there’s a lot of new and innovative solutions for that group as well.

Thompson:

So we do try to provide these targeted places for the attendees to go. I do recommend anybody who is planning or even thinking about attending or exhibiting at the show, our website is fully up to date at all times. You can see exactly how many people are exhibiting. You can search by keyword, product category. So really kind of plan ahead to see what solutions are going to be there to meet your needs. And new this year, Sean, we’re going to be offering matchmaking assistance as we get a little bit closer to show where attendees can schedule 30-minute consultations with our independent packaging and processing experts to help guide them and help make a plan for the show so that they can make the most of their experience.

Riley:

Wow. So it seems like we keep repeating it, for all the years we’ve been having shows we’ve been saying it, but it is, it’s a one-stop shop for an attendee and an exhibitor to get together and, especially for attendees, to see the variety of different options they have because a lot of times they’re first-time attendees or a good portion are first-time attendees who maybe just came up with a product that they want to put in the package for the first time. Right?

Thompson:

Exactly. Yes, we do. We have a large number of first-timers, and we have a first-timers program. So if it is your first time at the show, check out the website where it lists some of the benefits of a first-timer and we absolutely are available to help. We know it can be overwhelming with the number of suppliers at our show and we want to make sure that anybody coming can make the most of their experience. They can use the online search. There’s also the option if people really want to plan out their show they can schedule meetings in advance with the exhibitors in their booths as well as take advantage of some of these one-on-one matchmaking services. We also are going to have a first-timers lounge at the show where we will have additional one-on-one consultations available. So our goal really is to help anybody coming to maximize their experience and get the most out of coming to the show.

Riley:

All right. And while, okay, all this is great and all, this is exactly what we want to hear, but it would be I guess dereliction of duty on my end if I didn’t bring up that we’re in a pandemic and how is PACK EXPO Las Vegas going to handle the health and the safety and things like that come September. What’s the plan in place for that just so we can kind of put minds at ease?

Thompson:

Thank you, Sean, that’s a great question. Our operations team has worked extensively on putting together our PACK Ready program. I encourage everybody to go to the website to read it. It is changing and evolving as the guidelines are changing. The bulk of our meeting yesterday actually with the building was going through the Las Vegas reopening plan. They just turned the large gathering oversight over to the county as of May 1. So we have some really good guidelines from the building. They are an excellent partner as we’re working through this to make sure that we have a safe event that people are comfortable going to. And we’re really excited. I would say Vegas is ready to open and has really been on the forefront of this with health and safety planning.

Riley:

Very good. You know, we do these podcasts and every person that we talk to mentions how they’re ready to get back to the show and interact with people. So it’s great to know that everything is on schedule and going the way it’s supposed to be. And we look forward to getting together in September with the industry. So I want to thank you for coming on here and kind of breaking this down for everybody to let everyone know that this is something that you don’t want to miss this year. So thanks again.

Thompson:

I appreciate it, Sean. Thank you.

Riley:

To register for the show, go to packexpolasvegas.com. See you there.

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