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In the tradition of past trade shows that Aquinas and More has attended, I’m bringing you my experience at the 2012 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in Orlando, FL.

The ICRS is the annual trade show organized by the Christian Booksellers Association. The first conference was in 1950 in Chicago. This is the largest gathering of Christian manufacturers in the country.

A year ago the CBA was looking at their store survey data and realized that over 700 stores that attended their conferences carried Catholic products. I was invited to assist the CBA in adding a Catholic component to the show for the first time in 63 years! To that end, I helped them find Catholic vendors to attend and am giving two talks at the conference. The first is about how to serve Catholic customers. The second is about how to get your brick-and-mortar store on the Internet. I’ll be posting the slides for both talks over at howtorunacatholicstore.com after the show. If you want to follow the show on Twitter look for #ICRS

So what have I learned on my way to this conference?

Even if you read the luggage notes that come with your plane ticket itinerary, call the airline to see if there are additional luggage restrictions.

I got to the ticket kiosk at American Airlines in Colorado Springs, paid the $25 bag fee and took our display case to the counter. The lady at the counter said “That will be $400.”

“No, there must be a mistake, the plane ticket is already paid for.”

“No sir, this isn’t for the ticket, this is for your box.”

Do you know how when you’re dreaming you sometimes feel like you’re walking through molasses and that everything is working in slow motion? That’s how I felt. You see, American Airlines charges $200 one way for a package over 70 pounds and another $200 for an oversized package. So that box, which is flying steerage in an unheated compartment and won’t be served drinks by the stewardess, costs more to send than me! If it hadn’t been Saturday morning, I would have gone to the Fedex counter and had the display shipped overnight which would have cost less. Unfortunately, I was stuck. After leaving the box and going through security I realized that they hadn’t refunded the other $25 that I had paid at the kiosk. Grrr. Fortunately, after tweeting about this @americanair contacted me to look up details about the flight and package so maybe there will be a happy resolution.

 

Blessings happen when you aren’t expecting it.

As I finished picking myself up off the floor from the bag fee shock, I turned around and saw Eric Grimm next in line. He is the member of the CBA that initially contacted me about helping with this conference and was going to be on my flight. I told him what happened and he said that he would arrange to have our display go back to Colorado Springs in the CBA’s truck. Thank goodness! He also treated me to breakfast and introduced me to a homeschooling family that has been helping out as conference staff for several years. The CBA, in spite of running such a huge show each year, has always had a small company feel and meeting this family just made the organization look even better.

 

Blimpy’s has good subs.

Hot Panini Sicilian at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. Yum.

 

Always compare prices on car rental.

Advantage Car Rental is a better deal even if you get a $100 discount from National or Hertz. Mid-size car for four days at Advantage: $130. Same car with $100 off from National or Hertz: $160. Fortunately, I checked first.

 

Dry heat is a blessing. And a curse.

When Colorado Springs was burning down two weeks ago the temperatures were over 100 degrees and with the combination of the fires, smoke, and ash it looked like Mordor. The temperature in Orlando is in the high eighties but the combination of humidity and cicadas buzzing in the trees makes it feel far hotter and definitely stickier than Colorado Springs. After living in Dallas for several years and doing irrigation work there, you would think I’d have gotten used to living in a sauna. Nope.

This was Colorado Springs on June 26th, not Mordor:

You don’t have to get on a toll-road to leave the Orlando Airport.

I hate toll-roads. I’ve only been on the toll-road to the Denver airport twice in my life even though I’ve flown in and out of Denver many times. When I picked up my car and got my city map and started driving out of the airport I realized that the signs to both the North and South exits both had toll-road labels. Grrr. Fortunately, the map showed a two-lane back country road that left the airport and headed in the direction I needed to go. Score! So, yes, I did manage to get to the convention center without paying a toll.

 

Before you actually leave on your trip, find out which building the convention is in.

When Aquinas and More attended the ICRS in Denver several years ago, Iwas overwhelmed by how big the exhibit floor was. I’ve been to several Catholic Marketing Network conventions and they take up about 1/5 of the space. The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) and surrounding area is on a completely different scale. It’s kind of like holding up a house for an N-gauge model train next to an HO-gauge train. It also felt like the first time I walked into St. Peter’s in Rome. The scale of the building is for giants, not regular people.

Orange County Convention Center and Crystal Palace

Approaching the convention center, my first impression was “It looks like a combination of the Sydney Opera House and the Crystal Palace.” The place is huge and the front is covered in glass and rounded white arches. It is a very classic looking building. After finding a place to park and getting inside I started to have a suspicion that I wasn’t in the right place. The signs were all for a pharmacy conference and everyone was leaving, not arriving. Hmmm. I tried to find an information booth which I think was nearly a half-mile walk through the building. Fortunately, I’d left all of my luggage in the car so I wasn’t hauling boxes. Finally, I was able to find a janitor who told me that I should check the other building (“Other building?”) to see if the conference was there.

Main entrance to the West Orange County Convention Center

The OCCC is so huge that they had to build two buildings. I had walked nearly a  half mile back and forth to my car in the North / South Building and was now being directed over to the West building which I had to drive to.

 

Parking lot” and “convenient” do not necessarily go together.

By this point I was just about worn out. I’d already gotten in more than my daily exercise in high humidity and been on a plane for several hours. I pulled into the West building parking lot and started looking for the registration desk. The parking lot entryway is massive but in one corner by an escalator I noticed a sign for the ICRS and thought that I was finally nearing my destination. (Insert laugh track).

The walkway between the Peabody hotel and the West OCCC building

Because the show hadn’t started yet, I couldn’t actually go through the exhibit halls but instead had to go upstairs, across a walkway between halls (each one is about ¼ of a mile long), down some more stairs to the main entrance which is at exhibit hall D. I needed to go to “A”. You know how little kids get jelly legs after they have been walking through a mall for a while or across the room when it’s nap time? That’s about how I felt but I didn’t have mom to drag me along.

Finally, after wandering several more cavernous corridors, I could see, far off in the distance like a mirage, signs with the ICRS colors! Yeah! As I approached I realized that there was far too little activity going on. In fact, the registration area was deserted. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 6:10. Registration had closed at 6.

 

The Peabody Hotel is not Motel 6.

Tower II of the Peabody Hotel

The main convention hotel is the Peabody, right across the street from the West convention building. The hotel is on the same scale as the convention center and actually stretches the same distance. My room is on the 20th floor and has a bird’s eye view of the “water feature” which looks like something you would find at Wet and Wild, water slide included.

The water feature – no diving allowed

 

Apart from the things you expect to find in a hotel room, at the Peabody you also get a bathrobe, chocolate and for those who really like to spend time in the bathroom, a tv built in to the mirror. That’s just a little too much creepy technology integration for me.

And they turn down your covers and leave chocolate!

International Avenue is like a food amusement park.

The street that runs between the Peabody and the convention center is full of restaurants. By “full” I mean that just about every square inch is stuffed with a cornucopia of restaurants as well as an upside-down Greek temple that looks like it crashed through another building, a theater and a mini-golf course that is like Disney’s Thunder Mountain on steroids.

No, I don’t see anything strange about finding an upside down Greek temple-like thing at an intersection in Orlando

Since I always like to try new things, I didn’t want to go to TGI Friday’s or a steak house so I found a non-chain Thai restaurant that didn’t think the music level had to go to eleven. I had a delicious and spicy green curry soup with Jasmine rice.

Green Curry soup. Spicy hot!

With that delicious dinner, I’ll close for the night. See you tomorrow!

3 comments
Fran
Fran

I am about to write "American Airlines FAIL for the third time in 3 months--just for our family! I hope they make it good somehow. We just got a voucher for a trip as a result of our debacle, but with the caveat that they don't NORMALLY assume financial responsibility when they screw up. (They were being nice this time) Their wording was different, but you get the gist.

Amy Welborn
Amy Welborn

Have been to that show (when it was CBA) in Orlando and in Atlanta. That Orlando center is insane. I am really looking forward to your observations and are so pleased they are recognizing the existence of Catholics and have you helping them out. I have no doubt some of their members on both sides - bookstores and vendors - are not thrilled. Makes it more interesting!

Ian
Ian

I'm sure that it will be an interesting experience. We'll see what kind of crowd I get for my talks.

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