Tim Hanrahan of Erema North America Inc. struck a nerve with his story about paying $345.39 to get four cases of Pepsi products delivered to his booth at NPE2009. But there's still someone defending that price tag. Mary Kay Marquisos, a spokeswoman for McCormick Place, told ABC 7 in Chicago: "If you go to a routine vending machine it cost[s] you $1 to $2 to vend a soda bottle and then another $1.50 for staff to deliver to the booth. This price includes receiving, warehouse, staff and delivery. This charge is not dissimilar to what you would pay at a hotel or another convention center." I thought about that comparison myself, back when complaints about McCormick first came to light after this year's show. Compare the cost of doing business at NPE to, say, the cost of ordering room service at a hotel in New York. But a lot of NPE exhibitors aren't buying that explanation. Today I traded emails with a longtime NPE exhibitor who says he knows no exhibitors who are in favor of staying in Chicago. (He asked, "Maybe I'm talking to the wrong people?" Maybe I am too, because I'm hearing the same things.) He wants to be anonymous, so I won't include any details that will disclose his company, but he agreed to let me share his story:
I could go on and on, with the ridiculous stories of this past show's labor practices. The setting of some of my display items in the aisle, and the union telling me, "You only get one spot, if you want it moved (to inside my booth), you need to pay extra." The Millrights union who stopped us from attaching a sprue picker to our machine. "You need 2 millwrights for that ... oh, and we need the riggers union to lift it up ... oh, and when you start running your machine, and it falls off because we didn't tighten the bolts, well you need to put in a work order for more riggers and millrights. And did you forget the electricians union to plug it into your machine?" The union official who asked me what I thought I was doing, by trying to hang my own Velcro-backed signs to my display materials: "There's a decorators union for that, ya know." And heaven forbid your crate which needs opening has been secured by both screw AND nails. The Millwrights we do the unscrewing, but the Carpenter's union handles the prying of nails.We've heard such complaints before, typically after every NPE show. Is this reality, or are the stories exaggerated? Hanrahan, whose letter was on the record, made a point of specifically saying that he thinks the traditional complaints about unions at McCormick Place are urban myths. "I have not witnessed any of the rumored problems in the past regarding uncooperative workers, bribes or payoffs. I have found most of the tradespeople to be courteous and professional and, for the most part, qualified for the job," he wrote. His problem focused on the cost of exhibiting. The now-famous "Pepsi incident" was just one example. It's clear that many companies feel they'd get a better deal in Orlando. For the past couple of days, I've been asking exhibitors this question: Traditionally, Orlando would not be a serious candidate even for a regional plastics show. Can exhibitors be serious about holding an international show in Florida? One gave me this answer: "Surely, fewer people will come, but they will be better quality, and the return on investment will be better for exhibitors." I'm still skeptical that Chicago can offer concessions that will make a difference. If McCormick gives the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. a discount for NPE, won't all the other big shows (Pack Expo International, IMTS, the International Home + Housewares Show) demand the same deal? These are the big shows that fill the hotel rooms with thousands of out-of-town visitors. If threatening to pull out of Chicago works for SPI, I expect they'll all do the same. Still, Chicago just spent millions to build the new West Hall at McCormick Place. They can't just use it for local car and boat shows. I still think Chicago will manage to keep NPE for 2012 and 2015. I personally like Chicago, and I think it's the best location in North America for an international plastics trade show. But more than a few exhibitors believe they need to move the next couple of shows to Orlando -- and hope that Chicago eventually comes to its senses and reduces its costs, so they can go back to McCormick in 2018.