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Get-Ready Time

Get-Ready Time

It's March Madness of a different kind.

We're not talking college hoops, but the well-choreographed chaos that attends the opening of any trade show - setting up the booths, hanging the banners, stocking the directories and printing the badges. By the time everyone arrives tonight, there will be very little evidence that these sorts of events always get off to a messy start.

But the effort pays off. This is shaping up to be the largest Expo West in the show's 30-year history. According to organizers (part of the Penton Media family that also owns Supermarket News), this year's show is shaping up to be a blockbuster, topping last year's record of nearly 54,000 attendees and 3,000 booths. As the country emerges from the worst of the recession, it seems as if health and wellness is poised to make a strong comeback in the retail arena, and that's pretty much what retailers I've spoken to informally are predicting.

What's going on this year? It helps that with a show this big, there's a day devoted solely to education and special events, including the Health Baking Seminar and the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace (held under a big outdoor tent). This "pre-show" show gives everyone a chance to settle in and get ready for the main event, which runs through Sunday.

After 30 years, Expo West is taking big steps into creating a truly sustainable trade show. For the first time ever, organizers are distributing a Show Directory Map in place of a Buyers’ Guide, a decision that's estimated to save roughly 500 full-grown trees. Green attitudes are apparent in other areas of the show as well. Starting this year, all badges will be picked up onsite. This change will save 4 metric tons of CO2 emissions. The New Products Buyers’ Guide has been moved online. Speaking for all trade journalists, I am grateful to learn that my shoulder will no longer require massive chiropractic intervention to repair the damage that toting tons of press releases and booklets all day, for three whole days, can do.

In 1981, the very first Expo West hosted 3,000 attendees and fewer than 234 booths. Anyone who traveled to those early shows must be heartened to see the amazing success the show, the industry and its people have enjoyed these past 30 years. And that's one aspect of Expo West that never changes, regardless of size, location or content: The success is due entirely to the devotion of those working in the natural foods business.