First Big Show Opens Thursday
GRAND RAPIDS — Keith Eidson, president of TSI Expos, is the owner, operator, organizer and promoter of the first convention at DeVos Place.
Eidson's firm, based in Claremont, N.C., also is the lessee of record for 160,000 square feet of floor space where 600 firms are busily filling 900 booths for the Midwest Industrial Woodworking Expo, which opens Thursday.
"We've needed more space for this expo since 1991," Eidson said. "Last year we were so crowded that we had booths in the corridors — well, every nook and cranny but the restrooms."
This year's expo — the largest TSI has brought here — involves about 3,000 representatives, and Eidson said he expects it to draw 7,000 to 8,000 visitors.
"I try to lowball those numbers," he added, noting that 80 percent of the expo's spectators will come to Grand Rapids from a 300-mile radius.
He said he has read estimates that the expo will bring about $3.5 million into the economy.
But Eidson said he is certain the expo will bring something else into Grand Rapids: Snow.
"I swear it has snowed with the start of every show we've held at the center," he said. "And since we delayed it until December this year instead of in November as in the past, it seems even more likely.
"Not that the snow ever has stopped us," he added. "I remember one year it started the morning the expo opened and just kept on coming down and we ended up with 14 inches of it.
"When you see the first flake of snow in the Carolinas," he said, "all the milk, bread and diapers disappear from the stores, just like that. But you folks handle it pretty well."
Eidson, who first brought the woodworking expo to the Grand Center in 1987, was asked how he was smoothly moving the equivalent of an army brigade (including some pieces of manufacturing equipment weighing up to 25 tons) in and out of the sprawling building.
Eidson said it's simple.
He hires a subcontractor for the job.
He said the subcontractor is Art Craft Displays, which is based in Lansing but keeps an office here.
"I organize the show and promote it and own it, and I lease the space," he said. "But I let Art Craft do the dirty work."
Art Craft, he explained, is responsible for setting up the pipe-and-drape partitions that demarcate the booths, and also handles what the trade calls drayage — the movement of equipment of all sizes from the trucks at the loading docks on Bridge Street to the exhibit spaces.
"Because this is the biggest show we've ever run in Grand Rapids and because it's in a brand-new building," Eidson said, "we're taking our time moving in."
He and his staff of eight planned to move into DeVos Place from Claremont the day after Thanksgiving, the same day that Art Craft was scheduled to start moving a 50,000-pound CNC router and other big pieces of production equipment to the exhibit space.
"This show will involve more than a million pounds of equipment."
He said the big routers can handle 4-by-8 sheets of plywood. He said most of the large equipment is CNC-driven, but that some analog gear will be at the show, too, particularly that which deals with large pieces of timber and with high-end custom cabinetry.
Eidson said, incidentally, that business in such cabinetry has begun to rebound substantially. And it is one area, he said, in which foreign competition likely will have little impact.
"You just don't expect many people to order high-end items like that from overseas. It takes too long to get here and if you're not happy with it when it does arrive, it's a problem.
"They're moving in all the big stuff first," Eidson said of Art Craft, adding that once the big items are in place, the subcontractors bring in the smaller exhibitors.
Eidson said that with the opening of DeVos Place, the Midwest Industrial Woodworking Expo becomes the third largest of its sort in the country.
Eidson said he's proud to have played a minor role in the design of DeVos Place.
"When they started planning," he said, "they gave me a call and asked what I would like to see in the place. So I told them about all the pneumatics and power supplies I'd like to see.
"I kind of played the old Army game of asking for twice as much as I wanted in hopes I'd get what I was after.
"And you know, DeVos Place has just about everything I did want. It's what I've been hoping they'd do since 1991."
He said that starting with his first visit here 17 years ago he has been impressed with the Grand Rapids work ethic.
"I was also impressed with how tightly they hold on to money," he added, "so that when they started to really talk about spending money to build this new center, I knew it was going to be something."