Patrick FlanneryFeatures Shows
ConExpo is like nothing else in trade shows. But is it for rental stores?
ConExpo in Las Vegas is big. The biggest, in fact. Not only is it North America’s largest construction equipment show, it is one of the largest trade shows of any kind on the continent.
It takes up all five buildings of the Las Vegas Convention Centre and at least four outdoor demonstration areas, sprawling over three million square feet with over 2,400 exhibitors. That kind of size makes it an irresistable draw for anyone interested in construction equipment, but also carries some drawbacks for an independent rental operator. Let’s look at the pros and cons.
It’s a one-stop-shop. There’s no question that when it comes to construction equipment, absolutely everything relevant to the North American market is at ConExpo. The show is long past that critical mass where every vendor needs to be there or face questions as to whether they are still in business. So if you’re looking for, well, anything, you know you can find it there or not find it at all. More likely you will find many companies offering that thing and have a chance to compare. If it’s just a matter of locating particular products, you can make one trip to ConExpo and never need to shop again that year.
The very latest and greatest – Since it only happens every three years, just about every manufacturer has something new to show. OEMs often hold their new product launches until ConExpo, so the new things you see there are frequently the first place they’ve been revealed, anywhere. That means you’re informed about the very latest products and technology when you go to ConExpo, for whatever that is worth.
Maybe even more educational than that is the prototypes and concept machines that exhibitors bring. Even though they may never see the light of day as actual commercial products, they offer a glimpse into the future as to where OEM R&D programs are going and what you might be buying for your fleet in five or 10 years’ time. Lithium-powered heavy equipment, autonomous equipment and hydrogen-powered equipment were on the show floor this time, for instance.
See actual demonstrations – Most smaller shows happen entirely indoors and that plus space restrictions mean the equipment can’t actually be fired up and used. ConExpo has massive outdoor demonstration areas where you can see it perform and even try it yourself.
Access to decision-makers – ConExpo is big and important enough that executives descend from the C-suite and actually interact with you, the customer. It’s a chance to share your views with someone who can influence the development of your favourite brand. Your local rep is a great guy, but they can only do so much about the things you wish your supplier was doing better.
Lots to do in Vegas – As destinations go, Las Vegas is also big in terms of the sheer variety of entertainment options. Food, partying, gambling, shows, shopping…it’s all there and in forms and at scales you won’t often find elsewhere. ConExpo pulls off a truly remarkable logistical feat getting over 200,000 attendees and vendor staff housed in multiple hotels and moved back and forth and around the show. There is probably no other city with the infrastructure to do it as well. Looking to show your staff a good time in addition to doing business at the show? If you can’t do it at ConExpo, you probably can’t do it.
It’s heavy – Because there is no particular focus on the rental industry, OEMs at ConExpo bring equipment for any and every sector they serve. And when you’ve shelled out for a booth at ConExpo, you’re going to bring your most eye-catching and impressive stuff. That means a lot of very big equipment for heavy construction that wouldn’t fit well into most independent rental fleets. Not that there isn’t tons of rental-ready equipment on display, it’s just that you might have to walk past a few booths full of machinery you’d never be able to tow with a pickup truck. At a rental-focused show, pretty much everything you’re looking at is going to be something appropriate for a normal rental fleet.
It’s contractor-focused – A lot of the items you might carry for homeowners aren’t there, such as dehumidifers, hand tools and drain cleaners. Things you’d see at a rental show in addition to the construction equipment. There’s also a bizarre lack of construction heat exhibitors – none of the common vendors we see at ARA or the Rental Mart appear to be there. If anyone knows why that is, drop us a line.
It’s a lot – The show is so huge and takes place over so much area that you really do have to plan which places you will go on each day just to avoid wearing your legs down to stubs. If anyone on your team has any mobility issues, forget it. There are scooters to rent but I doubt there are enough to be sure of getting one. You’ll walk and walk and walk and then you’ll walk some more. The massive crowds mean you probably won’t find anywhere to sit at lunch time, either. And you’ll be in Disney-esque lineups for shuttles and the monorail.
Vegas can be tiresome – Las Vegas is set up for entertainment, not business, and a specific kind of entertainment at that. The hotels quite cleverly have nowhere to sit in common areas except at a slot machine or in a restaurant. There’s no way to get anywhere except by taking a long, confusing walk through a casino. There’s always upbeat music everywhere and it’s always a tick too loud for easy conversation. Maybe things you want if you are on vacation, but not always what you’re looking for if you are just trying to your meetings and booth visits as efficiently as possible.
It’s American – We’ve bumped into quite a few Canadians at ConExpo, which suggests there must be thousands down here considering the overall number of attendees. But, of course, the bulk of attendees and booth staff everywhere are Americans, primarily focused on the American market. There’s usually a “Canada guy” somewhere that you can talk to if they aren’t too busy. But there’s no guarantee that the equipment you’re looking at is even available in Canada. These issues are less significant than they used to be. Most OEMs do plan to market their products in Canada now and have dealers and certifications in place. And the “Canada guy” might actually be dedicated to Canada and not just have the country thrown in as part of his northern Ohio sales territory. While it’s better, it’s still not as good in this respect as a Canadian show where you are going to only see products you can get and representatives who actually serve you.
Bottom line, ConExpo is not to be missed for the reasons in the first section. But for the reasons in the second, there will always be a need for our national and local rental events.
ConExpo 2023 by the numbers
- Three million net square feet of exhibits (10.5% larger than 2020)
- 139,000 registered attendees (6% increase over 2020)
- 2,400 exhibitors, from 36 countries, including 603 new-to-the-show exhibitors
- 24,000 international registered attendees from 133 countries
- 91,000 scans of badges to access the 190 education sessions
- 600 global media from 33 countries
- The next ConExpo will be held March 3 to 7, 2026, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
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