Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Show setup

For the past two weeks there have been setup preparations for a big jewelry show where I work. At our facility there will be over 4,000 booths with over 40,000 attendees expected. In addition to our spaces the big hotel next door will have several floors of their conference center used for the high priced items. And several tower floors of the hotel suites will be used for the really expensive stuff. So if you’ve got $10,000,000 or more to blow on a simple necklace for your lady or yourself then you can get an invite to one of the suites, spending a little less then the convention center floors, the low life with only a few thousand will be out on the main floor, along with buyers for most of the jewelry stores in the country. I have no idea how many billions of dollars in rocks will be present at this one location, but I am sure that it will be quite a lot of sparkle. Not to mention the number of off duty police, security guards, FBI and whatever else in the way of protection will be on hand to keep all of that stuff here.

The main show opens on Friday, and today they are starting to move in very large safes which will be used to store stuff overnight. During a typical show setup it is not unusual to see fifty or so forklifts zipping around the main halls, but it is unusual to see those same forklifts driving down the carpeted hallways moving large boxes and items into the small meeting rooms.

Employees will not be allowed on the show floor once the exhibits start showing up, and we can’t take pictures. But I walked around the lower floor yesterday and it looked like a never ending series of jewelry stores. Each booth has the same glass display cases and sharp spotlights that you would find in a high class store. Only here there are aisles and aisles of them; imagine over four thousand jewelry stores all crammed together, all sparkling with diamonds and other gems, pearls and gold and silver. OK, not into bling, but it still is impressive. You have to be a store buyer to get into the show, and be invited upstairs to the private rooms and suites.

I took some pictures last week as they were starting to setup.

This is the smallest hall upstairs – you can see about 10% of the total hall square footage. It all needs to be swept clean between shows. Here are three of our crew pushing brooms and working at this – I guess it would be like farming, up to one end, turn around, back to the other side, turn around, repeat about a million times.

Don't know why nothing stays between shows. When a show closes they clear out everything down to the bare concrete. A group then comes in with plans and marks the floors, then everything is put back in. Just a little different each time, but all of the stuff comes in to fill the empty halls, then is pulled out quickly so the next one can be set.

Then the electricians come in and drop power lines from the ceiling, and put outlets to every place power will be needed.

There is a little red light at each power plug, when the overhead lights are killed between work sessions it looks like a field of bright red flowers, reflected in the shiny concrete. (sorry if the pictures look confusing, our upstairs hall has 45 foot ceilings while downstairs the ceiling is only 18 feet high.)

Next comes carpet installation.

Different colors are used for each show. Usually the aisles and open areas have a different color installed than the booth floors. Each booth can also request (well, they pay for it too) different colors or styles of flooring. Carpet is not always laid in the aisles at setup, so that it is not damaged by the fork lifts and delivery trucks. Sometimes it gets put down after all the setup is done. That's over thirty acres of carpet that goes down and comes back up a few days later, different stuff for every show.

Next the fleet of big delivery trucks pull into the hall, and that fleet of fork lifts goes into action, distributing boxes and boxes all over the place.

After setup the boxes are taken back to the warehouses for storage, then returned after the show to be filled up as the booths are disassembled. All of the plastic and cardboard is left scattered around, to be removed by our cleaning crews.

Each show is managed by one of the two large show management companies that we deal with. These companies have large warehouses that store the items sent by exhibitors, along with all of the carpeting, chairs, tables, draping and other items used to put on a show. They make up all of the large signs and show displays ahead of time, contract with the trucking and rental companies, and coordinate when everything shows up, where it is put, and how things are put together. We just provide the room, power, food and other services. The show management companies do all of the real work.

In addition to all of the rental fork lifts that show up we also end up with a fleet of these things.

I guess people don’t like walking around. If you’re important you get your own electric cart to ride around in. Didn’t know Hertz rented so many things, did you?

And when it’s all done you end up with a pretty hall filled with happy attendees.

This is from the really fancy show that was here a few weeks ago – the one with the miles and miles of draperies hung to divide the space.

This place is a lot different than all of the places I’ve worked for in the past. Programmers are usually stuck in back rooms or down in the basement, just sitting at keyboards all day expected to work off of written specifications or by direction of the managers. At most jobs I used to interface with the end users; those poor unfortunates that had to sit at other keyboards and use my programs. Here my work is more of support, and I get to wander around and watch all of the other people do all kinds of things. I love it, even if I don’t get to see the sparkles. (Sorry B, nothing coming home from this show)

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