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The Months-Long ConExpo Setup Returns to Vegas

By Ray Smith, Exhibit City News

The last time ConExpo-Con/Agg rolled into Las Vegas, in March 2020, we were living in a world of fear and anxiety over a virus that reportedly originated from bats sold at a market in Wuhan, China. Say what?

Conventions were cancelled worldwide, businesses shut down, schools closed, everybody hoarded toilet paper, corpses stacked up in mortuaries. The general consensus: “We’re all gonna die!”

ConExpo-Con/Agg, the largest construction equipment tradeshow in North America, was the final convention held in Las Vegas before the COVID lockdown, closing a day early as panic spread like wildfire.

The show returns March 14-18 with an air of confidence that, having survived the pandemic, we can all safely get back to work. And never has that felt so good.

“It’s intensely gratifying for me to see the industry embrace face-to-face experiential marketing,” says Bernie Massett of Experiential Marketing Specialists, who was contracted to manage the Sho-Link labor crew in setting up John Deere’s exhibit in the front parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center. “Everybody is more than happy to be back and more than happy to work hard. Nobody wants whatever happened before to ever happen again.”

The work that goes into setting up ConExpo starts weeks before the show opens. The logistics are mind-blowing. From designing and building the exhibits, to transporting materials to the convention center, to delivery of massive earthmovers, bulldozers, tower cranes and graders, it’s a job that requires months of planning.

ConExpo has grown to a record 2.8 million square feet of exhibit space in 2023, a 5 percent increase from 2020, with roughly 1,800 exhibitors and 175 educational sessions. Attendance is usually around 130,000.

Steve Powers, account executive for Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Derse Exhibit Events, arrived in Las Vegas nearly two weeks in advance of ConExpo and will spend 19 days onsite–10 days for setup, five days for the show and four days for teardown. Derse was contracted in July to build the 70,000-square-foot display for John Deere, which acquired the Wirtgen Group in 2017.

Powers oversees a crew of about 75 working 24/7 over four days to install the exhibit on schedule. His main concern for an outdoor show like ConExpo is the weather, the rain and wind, which has come heavy and hard this winter in Las Vegas.

He must also maintain an open line of communication with Freeman, general contractor for ConExpo, as well as multiple subcontractors on the job, including 616GC, the tent company that erected a two-story structure with 10 meeting rooms, two cafes, operations center, and John Deere souvenir shop, and AV Dimensions, providing audio-visuals.

“I wake up lots of times during the night wondering whether the rock has been delivered, if the equipment has come on the space, when the rigging team is coming on,” says Powers, who has 35 years of experience in the tradeshow exhibit industry.

Massett says setting up John Deere’s exhibit for ConExpo requires a lot of individual projects within the overall project. There are 64 pieces of heavy construction equipment to bring in, and he has to synchronize the work with other aspects of the job, such as building the temporary two-story structure and hanging the large LED video wall. He’s challenged by an elevation slope to build the decking for audio-visual pods.

“Staffing has been an issue since the post-pandemic era,” Massett adds. “They want to find qualified people to manage and put on a successful show. All in all, you know, this is a really big show for John Deere.”

ConExpo, held every three years in Las Vegas, is considered a must-attend event for construction equipment manufacturers, professionals and corporate decision-makers.

“We are excited to welcome ConExpo-Con/Agg back to Las Vegas for another record-setting event,” Brian Yost, chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, says in a statement. “The addition of the West Hall and Convention Center Loop will only further the ‘Only in Vegas’ experience for attendees and exhibitors.”

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