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AIMExpo puts the ‘us’ in Columbus

By Kate Swanson

AIMExpo relocates to Ohio in 2017

While I started off as a bit of a non-believer, two days in Columbus, Ohio, had me singing a different tune about the American International Motorcycle Expo’s relocation in 2017.

The trip began with a welcome dinner at Martini, a restaurant just a few steps down the street from the Hilton Columbus Downtown. After rubbing elbows with several past AIMExpo exhibitors, I gathered we were all curious for details on why AIMExpo decided to move. It was clear that this would be the type of gathering to happen after a long day on the exhibition hall floor, with those talking and joking about the coming day’s events.

Day 2 began with a lengthy itinerary of all there was to see in Columbus, most prominently with a tour of the Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC). Beginning with a brief walkaround of the Hilton Columbus Downtown’s facilities, our group took in the updated meeting spaces, friendly staff and the skywalk leading directly to the convention center across the street.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center is being renovated before AIMExpo will be held there in 2017. (Photo credit: Greater Columbus Convetion Center)

The Greater Columbus Convention Center is being renovated before AIMExpo will be held there in 2017. (Photo credit: Greater Columbus Convetion Center)

Once inside, we were greeted with applause and welcomed by the many staff members at the convention center. Although the north side of the building is undergoing an expansion, it is clear that the facility is well maintained and inviting. The expansion and renovation of 70,000 square feet of meeting space is set to finish in July.

“There is no other city in the U.S. that you will get the collaboration from the political community, the corporate community and the hospitality community. It is a true partnership here, and so that is what we want to make sure that we provide to you is a true partnership. We want you to be here, and we’re excited to have you here in 2017,” said John Page, general manager of the GCCC.

Larry Little, vice president and general manager for AIMExpo, took time to discuss the big questions: Why move from Orlando, and why move to Columbus, Ohio? “The reality is that when we first completed the business plan for this show, we had the idea that we would get established in one location — and Orlando was the specific location we selected — but then afterwards create a city rotation to get visitors to come from different areas,” he said.

Little explained that after listening to past exhibitors and the powersports community, it was clear that the next city would need to provide a higher ROI and be more accessible to the retailer population. He said that 41 percent of U.S. dealers are within a 500-mile radius of Columbus.

“We’re going to own the town. The size of AIMExpo is the perfect size for the Greater Columbus Convention Center,” he said. One of the things that people mentioned in the past that they missed the most about the trade show experience was the ability to run into others in the same town post-show and the camaraderie that came from such a tight-knit group. “You’ll get that here, and we’re excited about that and the fact that the community is willing to work with us and do whatever is going to make our experience the best,” Little added.

Past AIMExpo exhibitors are led on a personal tour of the city, including the Big Bar on 2 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, which adjoins the convention center.

Past AIMExpo exhibitors are led on a personal tour of the city, including the Big Bar on 2 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, which adjoins the convention center.

In terms of gross square feet in Orlando the last couple years, the show has used 390,000 square feet. The GCCC has 373,000 square feet, making it the appropriate size to take up the entire convention center. With a “big fish, small pond” mentality, the 2017 AIMExpo will be the only convention in town, which will provide a closer-knit feel for participants than in Orlando.

“In all honesty, I was not familiar with Columbus in any way. When I was first approached to attend this trip, my first thought was why such a small town? I was a bit shocked when I was told that it is the 15th largest city in the U.S.,” said Lenny Sims, CBDO of NADAguides. “After visiting Columbus, my opinion has been drastically changed. It has a great convention facility, convenient large and small hotels near to the venue as well as all the amenities we would be looking for within easy walking distance.”

The 2017 AIMExpo will be held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center Sept. 21-24, 2017.

The 2017 AIMExpo will be held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center Sept. 21-24, 2017.

From a consumer side, Little said Ohio is a strong location for its easy travel opportunities. Being close to several major metro areas, a large percentage of motorcycle enthusiasts live within 500 miles of Columbus. Large cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Toronto are all within a few hours’ drive of the convention.

Sims was not the only attendant whose mind was changed during the time spent in Ohio. Alex Josefson, president of Spectro Oils, said, “My opinion of this move absolutely changed after the visit to Columbus. I believe that I, like many others, didn’t know much about the city and was left shocked when I was first informed of the move. However, I am leaving very impressed with the city and with the AIMExpo staff for making a very hard, much needed decision.”

Our tour continued with a walk through the Hyatt Regency Columbus, which is also connected to the GCCC. In fact, Columbus collectively has 4,000 available downtown hotel rooms, with 2,100 connected or adjacent to the convention center.

“One of the things I was most impressed with was the people of Columbus. They were friendly, informed, helpful and are excited to accept us into their city. … By working with them, we will be able to grow this show on into the future,” said Josefson. “The biggest benefit will be the easier travel distance for my customers.”

Next, we boarded a bus tour to popular Columbus hangouts, including Nationwide Arena, Huntington Park, and The Venue and Loft at Dock580. The tour concluded with lunch at another Short North neighborhood haunt, the Hubbard Grille, where participants had time to discuss how they felt heading into the 2017.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center has 373,000 square feet of exhibit space, a fitting size for an AIMExpo takeover. The north entrance expansion and renovation will be completed in July.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center has 373,000 square feet of exhibit space, a fitting size for an AIMExpo takeover. The north entrance expansion and renovation will be completed in July.

“Initial impressions are very good. I don’t anticipate us having any problems. I anticipate it being a smoother, better transition, which makes me happy because the less time that any of us have to worry about logistics the better,” said Chet Plewacki, director of marketing, Moto for Pirelli Tire LLC. “The amount of meeting spaces, seeing how walkable it is and how integrated everything is from the hotels to the convention center, I think it will work out really well. The concept of doing product demos here is significantly more appealing than Orlando.”

“I am most excited about the community aspect of this new venue,” said Josefson. “Orlando is very spread out, and it is often hard to meet up with others after the event closes each day. Columbus will provide us with multiple city blocks of restaurants, hotels and entertainment for us to congregate each night around the center.”

Another change for 2017, besides location, is the time of AIMExpo. Moving ahead a few weeks, the show will run Sept. 21-24, 2017. Little said the timing is a positive change, eliminating conflicts with other prominent industry events like Biketoberfest and the Monster Energy Cup.

For some, Columbus stirred up some nostalgia from earlier expos. “After spending a couple days in Columbus, I began to feel like I had years ago attending the powersports expo (Dealer Expo), the city is waiting for us with open arms. The closeness of the downtown area with everything a short walk away reminds me of the Cincy days, when you would see everyone from the show wherever you went, and the timing of the event will allow for great business and perfect weather,” said Sims. “It seems to me we may have found a new home.”

 

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