A Look Into a Las Vegas Convention Business

Bob Peters is a Las Vegas Convention Business guy. Peters was raised in Hillsdale, NJ and earned a degree in Public Relations from Rowen University. He started his event industry career in 1987 when he stumbled upon a part-time gig helping to plan Beatles fan conventions.

“I really liked the concept of bringing tons of people together, all with the same interest,  fromfar away places” Peters explains. Like many of his friends, Peters figured he’d needed to get a “real” corporate job. He found a position at a large national accounting firm working in the meeting planning department. After a few years, the suit and tie gave way to wanting something more creative, interesting, and fun.  Peters became the assistant manager with The National  Mail Order Merchandise Show. It was one of the first trade shows to be held at the New York Trade Show Piers.

Peters remembers, “It was a 300 booth trade show with a 22 year history. But there were no attendees.  Every year we needed to find 200 new exhibitors to fill the booths.  It was a terrible show, but a great learning experience for how NOT to produce a trade show.”

Enjoying the trade show business, but itching for success, Peters  started selling booth space for Fun Expo -a national convention for the family fun centers like Discovery Zones. Peters got his first taste of the Las Vegas convention business when Fun Expo was held in Sin City.

Peters said,  “We sold 500 plus booths in the show’s 3rd year and our attendance increased 20% when we moved the show from Nashville to Las Vegas.  I discovered the magic and power the Las Vegas convention business. Vegas is where it’s at!”

A few months later, a colleague and friend offered Peters a job in Las Vegas. Peters nervously left his entire on the east coast life for Vegas.

It was 1996, but the move for the upstart Las Vegas convention business did not plan out as planned. The company who paid his way to Las Vegas folded after six months. Peters eventually landed a job managing a new trade show for a hot new market. Having never smoked a cigar, Peters made the International Cigar Expo held at Caesars Palace a huge success.  The Cigar Industry and the Las Vegas Convention Business was a success. Peters was making the absentee owner was making a ton of  money, but not reaping the financial reward he felt he deserved. Peters decided it was time to move on.

Bouncing Around the Las Vegas

In the late 1999s. Peters decided to switch gears and learn other aspects of the Las Vegas Convention Business. He found a job with a new company called ShowKit.com, an Internet based exhibitor kit. The idea failed because it was ahead of it’s time.  Show managers, exhibitor and general service contractors like Freeman and GES and exhibitors didn’t yet see the value and power of online trade show services online.

Frustrated and unemployed, he began working for an exhibit company renting and selling trade show displays. He quickly discovered that he was on the wrong side of trade show money making machine. Exhibitor were paying more fro rental displays than the cost of their booth space.

Peters recalls, “My exhibit clients really appreciated my overall understanding of the Las Vegas Convention business and saw value in working with me beyond renting or purchasing a display.”

Within a few years, the exhibit company was sold. The new owners brought in there own staff and the existing staff was let go. But Peters remained optimistic. The Las Vegas Convention Business was booming! In 1998, the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center opened. In 1999 Mandalay Bay and The Venetian opened. The South Hall of the LVCC was set to open in 2002.

Peters and his wife Billie Jo decided he should start his own business. Billie Jo had a nice job with a large financial institution. Start up costs would be expensive, especially purchasing rental inventory. How would he find customers, etc. market the business.

Peters knew the Internet was growing, but the trade show industry was lagging behind. Peters always had good database management and computer software skills. He learned how to build a web site. His plan was to focus on small companies with 10×10 booth spaces and limited budgets. None of the exhibit companies really cared about those guys. The exhibit companies only wanted the big fish – the whales!  The next step was to purchase a few used pop up display on eBay.

It was time to put test his proof of concept. But anther set back would derail the business.

Death Before Life.

2001 was a big life changing year for Peters.  In early September, Peters learned his father, living in Cape Code, MA was dying from cancer. The World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania terrorist attacks of  9/11 made it difficult to get back east to see his Dad. It quickly became clear that this would have a huge impact on the Las Vegas Convention Business. On top of all this, Peters was set up his very first rental display the previous afternoon before the 9/11 attacks.

Peters said, “I got to my Dad’s bed side. I spent a few weeks there, he held and squeezed my hand as a sign of encouragement as I told him of my fledging business. My Mom looking proud of both of us.”

Peters father passed and the entire county would never be the same. Many convention, meeting, and trade show experts believed 9/11 combined with the growth of the Internet would kill face-to-face marketing. Peters remained optimistic and believed otherwise – for all the reasons we now know.

Peters stayed and Vegas Display, Inc. grew slow but steady. The business remained true to my core business concept of offering affordable rental displays for small companies exhibiting at Las Vegas trade shows. In 2011 became the exclusive sales, rental and service supplier for Snap Panel Displays.

The business continues to expand. In 2014 an online Las Vegas trade show rental furniture business was started – VegasEventFurniture.com. In 2017 Vegas Display began selling fabric displays with large format graphics, banner stands and displays and exhibits and accessories.

Las Vegas is a strange city filled with lots of gambles and dares. Lots of losers and occasion winners. Nothing is a sure bet in Vegas. Some convention businesses did not survive 9/11. A few new trade show businesses emerged.

Vegas continues to grow with exhibit hall expansions, new hotel  casinos, arenas and more.  The Vegas Golden Knights  NHL hockey teams begins playing in the new T-Mobile arena in the Fall of 2017. The NFL Raiders will be playing in a new 65,ooo seat dome stadium in 2020. Las Vegas is still the trade show and convention capital of the world.

There are tons of great Las Vegas Convention Business stories – go make yours happen!