Conference Exhibitors Upbeat About Show, Economy

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NASHVILLE, TN -- Exhibitors at the National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment gave positive reports on show floor attendance yesterday and said they were pleased with some improvements to the convention since last year.

According to exhibitors, if the exhibit hall's morning hours were any indication, attendance at this year's show seemed to be an improvement over last year's conference, which one exhibitor described as "brutal." While the dot-com crash loomed over last year's NCOF, the mood at this year's event seemed more upbeat.

Last year's attendance was 950. The Direct Marketing Association, which sponsors the conference, has since stopped disclosing attendance numbers for its events.

However, exhibitors interviewed yesterday said they felt the numbers for this year's conference, held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center here, were higher.

"So far, the show has been doing fine," said John Marrah, president of Ecometry Corp. "When the doors opened, we were mobbed."

One of the most obvious changes from last year's show, which was held in Dallas, was that a restriction that limited exhibitors to tabletop booths was dropped. Exhibitors this year had the opportunity to utilize larger exhibits and to have more space.

"When you think of tabletops only, you think of a smaller show," said Mike Cowper, marketing manager with Protocol, Danvers, MA. "When you get into larger booths, you think, this is the real deal."

Another change from the Dallas show that earned praise concerned the layout of the exhibit floor. Whereas the Dallas show floor in 2001 covered two separate rooms, this year's show was held in a single, open auditorium.

Many attendees at last year's convention may have missed the second room, said Steve Korol, president of package services with Donnelley Logistics and a member of the NCOF advisory board. If there's one problem with the Nashville location, it's the sheer size of the Opryland, which claims to be the largest hotel in the United States outside of Las Vegas.

"Finding your way through the Opryland is always a challenge," Korol said. "It comes with the territory."

Overall, the mood yesterday appeared to be an improvement over the previous year, both in terms of show attendance and lead quality.

"People are more upbeat and optimistic," said John Campanelli, president of Donnelley Logistics. "People before were looking at business deteriorating. Now, they're not sure it's coming back, but it's not getting any worse."

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