Written by Lisa Sanders
Imagine pinning all your week’s plans on boarding a Southwest flight right after the holidays when 11,000 flights were canceled. It was a gamble, sure, but we were headed to Las Vegas, so it felt on theme. Jay and I were on our way to the annual Promotional Products Expo!
One (thankfully) smooth flight and a taxi ride later we were taking it all in from the MGM Mandalay Bay. It was only 7 PM, but I was ready to check-in and pass out!
At 6:00 AM on the dot the next morning, I was in line at the coffee shop that would become my second home for the week. Coffee acquired, I headed back up to properly re-start this month-of-a-day and plan out my education track!
Around 8 AM, Jay and I snagged our badges and another round of coffee, and we were off to the races to find a seat at the Kickoff Keynotes. The first speaker was former NASA engineer, Maureen Zappala, who spoke on imposter syndrome and how to combat it. The second speaker was Dr. James Pogue, who spoke on engagingly on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both were highly engaging and talented speakers who left me with a sense of purpose for my day and burgeoning pride in my new industry.
Whilst we were sitting in ballrooms all day Monday, the vendors were busily setting up their wares – and set. up. they. did. The Mandalay Bay convention center was packed edge to edge with supplier tents and tables, Jay and I looked at each other with determination and set to work!
“Listen, you can’t talk to everyone. There just isn’t time. We have to come up with a strategy of attack and stick to it. We must make it to aisle 3,000 by the end of today or we have no hope of finishing tomorrow.” -Jay, the grizzled veteran to Lisa, the industry ingénue.
I had no idea just how right this advice would turn out to be. There were sellers of bags, apparel, pins, hats, and more! I was drawn like a moth to the light, chatting with new and known vendors alike, networking and learning about products new to me.
A favorite unexpected treat was all the demonstrations of decoration methods and the on-the-spot spec samples that were being created while we watched. Laser engraving, pad printing, screen printing, and debossing. It is one thing to read about these methods, but a different experience entirely to take part. By the end of the day, we had talked, we had power walked, we had skipped lunch, and we still had to quit 500 booths before our goal.
On day two, I knew my mission: Eat all the samples. Wait…no, that’s not what Jay told me to do, but that’s what I did. Highlight of the day was The Dirty Cookie Company’s cookie shotglass with coconut coffee. Magnifique! The real mission of the day was: Talk fast, look faster, and keep it moving. We made great time working our way through the larger booths quickly and soon found ourselves in the new product pavilion. I treated it as a bit of a scavenger hunt. Did I spot that item on the show floor at its booth? Could I name the vendor without reading the sign? For the most part, I had already documented the new and noteworthy items. We closed out the day with a steak sample from Meats by Linz and headed to our rooms to get ready for the Knoss Experience later that afternoon.
It wasn’t all work and no play – I tagged along with Jay to a Promo Kitchen mixer at the House of Blues where I met some interesting people and photobombed as much as possible. The Outliers Ball at RiRa Irish Pub where I got to put some faces to emails. We even got a sneak preview of Knoss’ new line at their suite event with EMT, who showered us in Promo AF swag. Talking apparel and learning about their design process made my fashion designer heart go pitter patter, I can’t wait to see what they launch in the spring!
The PPAI Expo was a lot but in all the right ways. I learned so much about the industry. I networked and met so many people. In our increasingly virtual experience, it’s crucial to find ways to make those human connections. I saw and touched so many products! I came away with creative inspiration and the motivation to find the right client for the really amazing items I saw. I also came away with a new friendship and heightened appreciation for his depth of knowledge: thank you Jay for mentoring me along this week and not letting me get lost!