The promotional products industry converged in Las Vegas last week to experience and take part in the largest, longest-running and best-attended trade show. The PPAI Expo 2020, which ran January 12-16 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, started off the new decade with myriad ways for attendees to engage and connect, learn and spark new ideas for their businesses.

“The PPAI Expo has once again delivered on its promise as the industry's premier event and the ‘must-attend event’ for industry professionals,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. “The show floor had a strong, confident, optimistic buzz. It was evident that exhibitors and attendees came ready to do business. The professional development was top-notch and the sessions were filled throughout the week. I don't know that we could've asked for a better way to kick off the new year and the new decade.”

The Expo drew an estimated 13,000-plus attendees representing 4,300 distributor companies and 30 countries. The show floor featured more than 1,200 exhibitors—including 173 first-time exhibitors—occupying one million square feet of convention center space. Next year, the show returns to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 10-14, 2021.

“The buzz on the show floor was very strong,” says Ira Neaman, MAS, president of Vantage Apparel and PPAI board chair. “Everyone was engaged and very pleased with both the quality and the quantity of attendees. I spoke with several first-time exhibitors and they were very pleased with their first show and intended on returning. They, along with other long-time exhibitors and attendees, also enjoyed the pop-up activities, which were strategically placed throughout the show floor. It was a win for experiential show activities, making for a totally engaging Expo experience.”

Henry Pedroza, owner of distributor Market Plays, says, “What brought me to Expo is that everything is always changing; companies are merging and new products are coming out. You can’t keep up with it unless you come to this show.”

The trade-show floor featured creative experiences that drove attendee excitement and engagement. The Expo Live! interactive stage, adjacent to PPAI’s booth on the show floor, provided live-streamed product demonstrations and interviews with notable Expo speakers, exhibitors and industry leaders. Last year’s popular pop-up experiences, strategically timed and located throughout the event to drive attendee traffic to new areas of the show floor, were expanded this year with a range of treats for foodies, an oxygen bar, live music and a pen full of puppies. The most popular new event was most likely the sold-out goat yoga sessions offered on two mornings. The Beer Garden and concessions featuring food truck facades provided a fun environment on the trade-show floor that welcomed more networking opportunities among industry professionals.

“The show was phenomenal with great people and a lot of great conversations,” says Dan Webb, president of supplier The Webb Company. “Traffic was really steady. I love this show because you get to see everyone—it’s a big family reunion of sorts. So, seeing people I know and getting to meet some new people is always a pleasure.”

Several of Expo’s first-time exhibitors have shared how well the show went for them. Kristi Brekhus, public relations officer at supplier CP Lab Safety, says, “This was our first time exhibiting at the Expo and I'm happy to say we had a great experience and generated a lot of interest and excitement around our product, DIGI-note. I feel we made a lot of great connections with both attendees and exhibitors. Thank you to all of you who stopped by our booth and gave us a chance to introduce our DIGI-note.”

Lianne Macrae, national sales manager at Canadian supplier, ATTRACTION, says, “This was ATTRACTION’s first time exhibiting to the U.S. market. We chose the PPAI Expo as it’s the largest trade show in our industry and a perfect opportunity for ATTRACTION to test the waters. The clients who came to our booth were qualified, interested and engaging. ATTRACTION’s goal was to find out if our domestically-made apparel could find its ‘niche’ in the U.S. market, and we are so happy with the feedback and leads received. We have come home with a ton of work but that’s exactly what we wanted.”

Attendees had the opportunity to check out what was new and trending in several different product categories throughout the show. A new fashion show saw models take to the Expo Live! Stage to showcase fresh looks in apparel and hard goods. The Product Pavilions, which bring together hundreds of products organized by category, welcomed the new Giving Back pavilion this year featuring socially-conscious products supporting charitable causes. It joined the New Products, Express Ship, 1st Time Exhibitors, Green Products and Made In The USA pavilions in the lineup.

“The show was really good,” says Murray Siegel, marketing director at supplier Towel Specialties. “We were constantly busy almost from the time it started. Customers were very engaged and there were a lot of them. It kind of reminded me of the early 2000s. It was a very good experience.”

Cory Gerstenfeld, account manager at business services company OrderMyGear, is new to the company and the Expo was her first industry trade show. “The best part of being a part of this experience is being able to connect with people I’ve been on the phone with for so long. My role is to grow and build accounts we work with on the platform, so because of our partnership model, we talk constantly about marketing strategies, new businesses to go after and sample stores to put up. Putting a face with a phone conversation or an email has been such an exciting and invigorating part of my experience.”

Mason Linn, CAS, account executive with Raining Rose, says, “From a supplier’s standpoint, the Expo is an extremely important way to start the year. All the people you need to know in this industry to build those relationships are at Expo. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t been to the show to sign up for 2021.”

Expo’s packed education programming offered industry professionals more than 100 sessions and networking events to choose from, and four keynote presentations from a diverse and engaging roster of speakers. Attendees could also take advantage of education opportunities right on the show floor in a pair of unique and funky inflatable domes. Many of the 16 show floor sessions were part of the Expo’s new Trending Now education track, which explored industry-leading ideas, trends and issues, and innovative processes and technologies.

“This is my ninth PPAI Expo, “ says Nenette Gray, chief lemonade maker at distributor Lemonade Creative Marketing. “It’s one of the highlights of my year because it gives me the opportunity to see what’s trending, gain insights in the education sessions and connect with colleagues from across North America.” 

Expo also celebrated the industry’s accomplishments and luminaries. In various ways throughout the show, attendees were introduced to the best promotions and products of the promotional products industry as recognized by the PPAI Pyramid Awards. During the Chair’s Leadership dinner, industry’s dignitaries and leaders celebrated the achievements and contributions of Carl Gerlach, MAS, retired director of marketing at Gill Studios, Inc., and Roni Wright, MAS, vice president at The Book Company, as they were inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame. This year's winners of the Distinguished Service Award, Rick Brenner, MAS, president of RFBrenner, LLC, and Kippie Helzel, MAS, senior vice president at CPS/Keystone Line, and H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award winner Rod Brown, CAS, founder of MadeToOrder, were also fêted at the evening.