Early Exuberance Fades at Fulfillment Conference

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NASHVILLE, TN -- Indicators of a lively show during the first day of the National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment were absent yesterday, as initially upbeat exhibitors reported a quiet day on the convention floor.

"Day two has been slow," Gord Kretz, international sales manager with Canada Post Corp., Toronto, said during yesterday's morning exhibit hall hours. "We're hoping this afternoon is a little different."

Conference goers did visit the exhibit hall during breaks between sessions. But during the sessions, the hall was largely silent.

That trend led some exhibitors to suggest that the exhibit hall should be closed while sessions were under way. Others said the lunch period and evening hours should be cut short to allow exhibitors to meet with clients and prospects for dinner and drinks.

Sessions ended at 6:20 p.m. and were followed by a cocktail reception that lasted until 7:30 p.m. Richard Freeborn, vice president of sales with QuikPak, Lafayette, IN, suggested that the show shut down at 5:30 p.m.

"Seven-thirty at night is too late," he said. "It doesn't give you time to interact with clients."

Attendees said they were happy with the featured session speakers. Their sentiments contrasted with those from some who attended last year's show, which drew complaints that the same speakers were covering the same subjects every year at NCOF.

But several attendees said they didn't bother to check out the exhibit hall.

"I went through," said Dick Elder, customer service manager with Demco Inc., Madison, WI. "I didn't find a lot that was good for me."

Yesterday morning's slow floor traffic earned this year's NCOF some unfavorable comparisons with last year's event, held in Dallas. About 1,000 people attended the 2001 NCOF, disappointing many exhibitors. The Direct Marketing Association has since ceased disclosure of attendance at its conventions.

One indication of exhibitors' feelings about this year's conference was how slow they were to reserve booths for next year's NCOF, to be held in Orlando, FL, Freeborn said. When registration for booths at the 2003 NCOF began at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, only Freeborn and a few others were present.

"I'm just a little guy at this show," he said. "I picked third."

By midday, more than 50 booths were taken. "Nobody was charging down the gates," he said.

A count of exhibitors listed in the NCOF roster gave 178 companies with booths at this year's show.

Yet Freeborn and other exhibitors said they planned to return for NCOF 2003. Several said they were optimistic that Orlando would attract high-placed executives who would want to bring their families to visit the area's theme parks.

"It's good exposure for us," Brenda Clemetson of Eskay Corp., Salt Lake City, said of the conference. "All of our competitors are here."


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