The 2012 Upper Midwest Electrical Expo, held last month in Minneapolis, once again lived up to its billing as the top regional electrical show in the United States with 9,875 attendees, 439 electrical manufacturers in 341 booths, and more than 200 attendees registered for the technical sessions.

Sponsored by the North Central Electrical League (NCEL), the Upper Midwest Electrical Expo draws electrical contractors and other end users from Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin. Several exhibitors told Electrical Wholesaling that a key reason for the show's continuing success is support from electrical distributors, who bus in several thousand customers to the Minneapolis Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis. According to information in the Expo's show guide, Border States Electric, Dakota Supply Group, Echo Electric Supply, Graybar Electric Co., J.H. Larson Electrical Co., Viking Electric Supply. W.A. Roosevelt and Werner Electric Supply chartered more than 30 buses to bring customers to the show from as far away as Bismarck, N.D., and Aberdeen, S.D. To entice electrical distributors to bus in customers, the North Central Electrical League provides distributors with subsidies for each bus they charter. These subsidies range from $200 per buses originating from locations in the Twin Cities and nearby suburbs, to $775 for buses coming from Bismarck, Dickinson, Grand Forks, Mandan and Minot, N.D., and Aberdeen, Huron and Rapid City, S.D.,600 miles away from Minneapolis).

Dale Yohnke, executive director, agreed that a big reason for the show's continuing success is its broad industry support throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area and far into the more rural parts of the region. “Having the show every two years, our members get fired up to see all the new products and see the exhibits,” said Yohnke. “Electrical manufacturers aren't able to touch all those folks as often they would like. This gives them the opportunity to reconnect and show everybody what's going on in their business with their product lines.”

One rep added that the show also gives electrical distributors a good opportunity to get all their salespeople together for meetings and to entertain customers. Gary Brusacoram, a long-time supporter of the Expo now running a new rep firm, BrusacoramUSA LLC, Eden Prairie, Minn., said visitors and exhibitors at the show were bullish about market conditions, a marked difference from the event two years ago. He said the two lines he was exhibiting at the show, Rack-A-Tiers, Victoria, B.C., and Delta Products Corp., Fremont, Calif., got great exposure at the show and that after the event he had a number of calls from end users who wanted to find out more about their products.

Brusacoram said two major draws at the 2012 Expo were LEDs and datacom products, and that there were far more electronic products on display than in the past. He also said the NCEL's decision to call out exhibitors' new products, green products and U.S.-made products with different-colored pennants in their booths worked well at this year's event. Brusacoram said years ago there was a special exhibition area at the show for new products, but that it was tough to manage and exhibitors prefer to have their new products in their own booths. NCEL's Yohnke said there were approximately 230 new, green or U.S.-made products at the show.

Another independent manufacturers' rep, ElectroTech Inc., Minneapolis, parked its “traveling road show” bus on the show floor. The full-size bus is customized with display panels for the manufacturers' lines it represents. Jeff Starkman, president, said over the past few years the bus has helped thousands of customers see its product lines out in the field.

Starkman and other exhibitors on the show floor were happy with the show's traffic. Michael Kurtz, director of sales, Coleman Cable Inc., Waukegan, Ill., who was marketing his company's line of wire and cable products, as well as a job-site workstation, LED worklight and an innovative LED flashlight, is a regular at the show and said attendance was the best he had seen in years.

Several exhibitors also commented on the air of optimism at the show and said it was a welcome change from the rough few years the electrical market has been through. Wayne Eisel, V.P. national accounts, Wirexpress, Mount Prospect, Ill., said the Dakotas and Houston are two regional markets that are booming, and added that overall he would call business “friendly” but not yet great in all markets. Along with the wire and cable products that Wirexpress sells to electrical distributors, Eisel was marketing some of the company's products for the security market, including a Bosch security camera.

Other notable new products at the show included Southwire's SIMpull WireBarrel, an innovative method of pulling wire and cable from a barrel that's transported on a built-in dolly; a new line of floor boxes from Arlington Industries; and a broad array of new LED replacement lamps from several different manufacturers.

Yohnke said the NCEL's Electrical Manufacturers Club, which has 180 individual sales rep members — including members from 50 independent rep organizations — is a huge factor in the Expo's success. He said that while the club's members are all competitors, they are willing to work together for the common good of the electrical market in the region. In addition to planning, exhibiting at and otherwise supporting the Upper Midwest Electrical Expo, members of the NCEL's Electrical Manufacturers Club participate in annual NCEL events that fund local charities and industry scholarships. “They come together for philanthropic activity,” says Yohnke. “We have a robust holiday event, golf charity, and a sporting clays shootout every year. They get together with philanthropy in mind. The trade show is the marquee event of all of it.”

Yohnke says attendance was up at the 2012 Expo over the 2010 event that was held in the depth of recession, and that the NCEL show committee is already thinking about improving the event so the 2014 Expo to be held April 16-17, 2014 is even stronger. While he wants to harness social media to market the show, explore ways to give exhibitors and visitors mobile access to show information and fine-tune lead retrieval with QR codes and other technological tools, he says it's most important to never forget what brings everyone to the show in the first place.

“We can't forget the importance of the face-to-face communications and handshakes that take place on the tradeshow floor. You can do all you want with all of the technology all year long, but what it comes down to is that people still want to have face-to-face conversation that doesn't mix the message along the way. We have to continue to provide both. Our customers are expecting us to be on the cutting edge of technology, but they also expect us to provide that face-to-face conversation.”

All in all, the future looks bright for the 76-year-old NCEL and its marquee event, the Upper Midwest Electrical Expo. Says Yohnke, “Some associations are having a tough time, but we have never been stronger. Our membership and participation are up. Our trade show is as good as anywhere. We are very proud of our members and their willingness to support it.”

2012 Upper Midwest Electrical Expo Attendance

Total attendees: 9,875
Contractors, builders & journeymen: 3,479
Manufacturers, agents & reps: 1,889
Distributors & wholesalers: 1,385
Apprentice electricians & students: 1,070
Industrial, commercial & government: 729
Engineers, designers & architects: 477
Utilities & power suppliers: 356
Inspectors & building officials: 205
Miscellaneous: 285