First Local Senior Expo This Fall

July 12, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A new local firm has announced that it’s bringing something new to town for retirees — and, after that, it plans to take its show on the road.

The company, founded by Joe Sack Jr., is named American Expositions. And on Sept. 10 and 11, American Expositions will produce its first exposition, which itself is intended to be the start of an annual local series of American Senior Life Expos.

As Sack explained it, American Expositions is inviting every conceivable type of firm, agency and institution that deals with people who have retired or are planning for retirement. The firm is arranging the exposition to take place at the DeltaPlex.

“We’re expecting everyone from travel agencies, to health care, financial services, home care companies, independent living homes, nutrition and food — you name it.” 

What’s attractive to exhibitors, Sack said, is the fact that the retiring public — by which he said he means people 55 and older — has begun emerging as the strongest single target audience in the nation’s history.

“The baby boomers have reached a point in their lives that they are reaping what they have sown,” he told the Business Journal.

“Given the demographics, this is the largest, richest group in American history. This is going to be a kind of one-stop shopping expo for them,” he added, “with everything from home improvement to travel.

“That’s one of the reasons that travel agencies are so eager to sign up,” he added.

He said his expectations for this first expo are to have a minimum of 150 exhibitors and between 8,000 and 10,000 visitors.

He said his firm’s expo revenues will be derived equally from exhibitors’ fees and visitors’ tickets, which will cost $4 at the door and will be available at half that price at many area stores.

The base price for exhibit booths ranges from $675 to $525.

“My highest goal is for 200 exhibitors,” he said. “That wouldn’t quite fill the DeltaPlex. They can accommodate about 220 exhibitors.”

His decision to exhibit at the DeltaPlex rather than DeVos Place, he said, came in the wake of research that involved meetings with some focus groups.

“By and large,” he said, “people in the upper ages are not willing to come downtown and deal with traffic and parking situations. They said they find it intimidating.”

Sack said he hopes for his firm to produce similar gatherings in Toledo and Lansing, and more modest expos in smaller towns such as Bay City or Traverse City.

Sack incorporated American Expositions April 1 with the backing of two investors he declined to identify. He is the firm’s president.

Previously, Sack managed the Berlin Raceway for the West Michigan Whitecaps and, before that, was a sales engineer in the auto parts industry.

The inspiration to create the firm, Sack said, arose from learning that senior expos for the baby boomer generation is becoming a booming industry nationwide.

He said that because of the generation’s size and spending power, large senior expos have been occurring and drawing large crowds in towns such as Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Phoenix. He said one firm runs 10 senior expos a year in Florida,for once leaving Texas in second place with eight expos.

He reported that at its first senior expo in Tampa, one promoter anticipated a turnout of 15,000 visitors and wound up with 37,000.

“Of course, Florida is special,” he added.

One promoter, Sack reported, holds a monthly expo with 170 to 190 exhibitors in a Minneapolis area casino.

“I don’t really see us having more than one expo a year here,” he said. “But you can never tell.”

He said he is accepting exhibitors up to the expo’s opening day.

In addition to exhibits, he said the gathering will feature seminars in separate rooms and stage presentations, which, he said, may feature anything from music to election candidates to experts in helping people spot scams and identity theft attempts.

Sack said that preparation for an expo involves endless details.

The DeltaPlex itself, he said, handles tickets and admissions. American Expositions is responsible for everything else from organizing exhibitors’ arrival set-up, to renting pipes and drapes to form the booths, to arranging electrical service for exhibitors who need it, to teardown and cleanup.

He and four employees will staff the show and, under that staff’s direction, several church youth groups will earn donations from American Expositions by volunteering from setup to cleanup.

Sack said he began research for the expo last year and was ready with promotional mailings and exhibitor packages at incorporation.

Sack stressed that nonprofits such as churches and foundations will receive special exhibitor rates.

Currently, he is negotiating with several major firms to be the expo’s gold, silver and bronze exhibitors.

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