On the Road with USGlass

A Tale of Two Shows

Mother Nature showed everyone last week, including the glass industry, that we are not the boss of her. In the form of a tempest named Irma, Mother Nature managed to extinguish life on at least one island, kill and injure scores, cause property damage in the billions of dollars and split a major glass industry show into two.

This is a tale of those two shows.

Before I go there, I want to tell those in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and the Caribbean who were affected that you are heavy in our hearts, on our mind and in our prayers. Though our hearts break for you, we know that your spirit is not broken and we know that we have work to do now to help you. And we will. (If you want to help, here’s a list of worthwhile charities.)

Though the serious damage in Atlanta from Irma was light, she turned the GlassBuild show into two distinct ones.  Let’s look at both.

The First Show: Tuesday through Early Afternoon Wednesday

What would Vegas give as odds for a tropical storm to hit Atlanta? Well, since there had never even been a tropical storm warning there once before, it would have been a great bet for anyone to take—until last week. By Sunday evening, the State of Georgia had declared an emergency in every county, and the Mayor of Atlanta had closed the city government for Monday and urged all private businesses to close.

Show organizers faced the proverbial Hobson’s choice. Do they cancel or go forward? Each choice was fraught with challenges.

Irma kept some exhibitors from making it to GlassBuild.

As someone whose company runs events, including trade shows, (and who used to run this show in fact), I know a bit of what they were dealing with. Our first Glass TEXpo in Houston in 1998 was due to start just as Tropical Storm Frances came to town. She, too, split that show in two. Such an event brings a feeling of inevitability, coupled with helplessness and an overriding and overwhelming amount of logistical changes that need to be made instantly and simultaneously.

If you choose to go forward, you risk putting people in harm’s way, which is why I am sure the organizers kept letting people know in their emails that they couldn’t tell them what to do and that they needed to make their own decision about attendance. You also risk the conditions worsening to the point where you do have to cancel later, making those who risked coming even more upset—and stranded. “We kept calling and calling up through Sunday night,” said one exhibitor from Europe, “asking, ‘are you sure you will have it?’ because we didn’t want to get off the plane in U.S. and find out then it was cancelled.”

If you choose to cancel, you face other serious issues. Trade shows aren’t built in a day. Some of the machinery exhibitors had already been in Atlanta for a week setting up their displays. Most of the tons of freight had arrived, and all the services ordered and most already paid for. What do you say to the attendees already there and ready to go?

By late-day Wednesday, exhibitors were busy.

In a way, Irma was tougher to call for show organizers in Atlanta than it would have been in Florida. Had the show been in the Sunshine State, going forward would have been impossible. Irma put Atlanta into show twilight in terms of how seriously it would affect their area and when that effect would be felt (the worst day was Monday).

And since neither choice was good, there will still be unhappy people on both sides.

Irma kept seven of our staffers, including me, from getting there Monday. In fact, I didn’t arrive until late Tuesday and by the time I got downtown the show was closing, so I didn’t get to see it until Wednesday. Everyone who was there told me traffic was extremely light, as you would expect.

That’s also part of the reason why I didn’t get to blog last week. I needed to fit quite a bit into less time which left me very little time to write, so I hope you will forgive me and I will catch up this week.

I’ll cover the show I was at, the second show, later this week.

This was my 35th straight annual glass show. It’s had different names over the years, but I have been to every single one since 1982 (which by the way was in the Atlanta Hilton—the whole show). I went to my first one in my very early 20s. Over the years, I’ve worked at the show, for a few years I ran it when I worked there, and for the last 26 years I’ve been an exhibitor. Besides going home for Christmas, it’s the only other place I go consistently year after year. I love seeing everyone from the industry and am glad there was a chance to do so this year—albeit a shorter one than usual.


P.S. Please let me know your thoughts on this subject. I am curious to know how people feel about how the week went.

P.P.S. A dapper gentleman with black-rimmed glasses stopped by our booth to chat about our Door & Window Market (DWM) Magazine. At that moment, I was meeting with one of our customers, who was actually sitting next to me. I asked the gentleman if we could chat in just 15 minutes, but did not get his card and we did not reconnect.  If you are that guy, please reach out. I would still love to talk with you and am sorry I wasn’t able to when you visited.