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The Truth Behind
Running a Trade Show Seminar

By Dan Cox

If you’ve ever had an interest in leading a seminar at a trade show, you may not realize that the reality of doing so is sometimes much more complicated than simply showing up with handouts and talking about your business. Here, Dan Cox of Coffee Enterprises gives a behind-the-scenes look at setting up a seminar.

I presented a coffee seminar at a cigar event in Las Vegas recently. Here’s a quick story of how it unfolded, which may give you some insight in case you ever want to do something like this.

About two weeks before the event, I talked to the co-coordinator and she said 250 people were signed up for the seminar. We were both surprised as it was scheduled for 9:30am Sunday morning and we figured there would be a lot of no-shows that were partied out from the night before.

I talked to the Paris Las Vegas Food and Beverage manager at the same time, and told him my requirements, including the need to brew a lot of coffee at precise times and serve them in a particular order. I also told him I needed 1,500 cups and saucers and a grinder. He said “no sweat.”

I drove from Flagstaff, Arizona to Las Vegas (260 miles), and arrived on Saturday at 1:00pm. My contact said to meet his assistant at 2:00pm. At 2:00pm I was at the designated location and the assistant was not there…2:30, nothing, and finally at 2:50pm I have him paged. He arrives about a minute later to inform me that I forgot to change my watch, as there is a one-hour time difference between Arizona and Nevada. So, I went from being angry to feeling stupid in about a nanosecond. We tour the facility and he assures me everything is going to be O.K, although this is the first time he’s heard of my request. I go to the receiving area and find 23 boxes of coffee that had been shipped to me. I open every one, checking off to make sure that all the supplies arrived. I can’t find one of the coffees. We put out an APB within the hotel for it.

I ask the guy where the grinders are and he looks at me with the “what grinders?” look, and I realize he’s clueless about this detail. In addition, after scoping out their brewing equipment, (all 10 gallon urns), and the waitstaff, (some of whom spoke English), I realize that the chance of brewing the coffee correctly and at the right time is pretty remote. So I shift gears and decide to do a “cupping.” The new plan is that each person would have six cups of ground coffee in front of them, and then the servers would just have to pour hot water into each cup. Shouldn’t be too difficult. The brewers will just have to make hot water, which I figure the servers can handle. I emphasize several times to the servers “no coffee, just hot water.”

So then I go to my room and look in the Yellow Pages for the nearest coffee retailer. I find a chain called Jitters and talk to the manager and he’s says “no sweat,” bring the coffee over. I’m a bit leery about the “no sweats” by now. I get in my rental car and circle the hotel several times like a dog around a hydrant, and try to find the entrance to the loading docking to pick up the coffee. This is a big hotel with a lot of one-way entrances and lots of docks.

I get the coffee, 35 lbs. of it, and head out to Jitters Cafe. It takes 45 minutes to go three miles due to traffic. I arrive at the store and there is one beat up old Bunn pound grinder that has seen better days. The manager is great, however, and allows me to get behind the counter and do my thing. His staff, two young women who are about 20 - 25, are working the store and I realize that some coffee houses still hire some pretty funky folks. (Is my daughter really going to look like that in about 10 years?) With interruptions, it takes an hour and 15 minutes to grind and re-bag the coffee. (I’ll be happy to talk to the Bunn people that say their grinders do three pounds per minute!)

Back into my car, back to the hotel, this time it takes slightly over an hour because it’s rush hour. I arrive at the loading dock to be greeted by the staff who have found the missing box of coffee. Yep, there it is...whole bean. So I turn around and find a local security guard who tells me the short cuts back to Jitters. I get back to Jitters and the manager has left and the new person looks at me and says, “What do you want?” I go through the story again, convince her I’m legit, grind the coffee, and short cut it back to the hotel. Total time spent: 3 hours.

I check with my voice mail to learn that my office has sent one more box of brochures, which are kind of important. I check with guest services and they say the box didn’t arrive. I check with FEDEX and they tell me the name of the person at the hotel that signed for it...hmmm. I check with the business office at the hotel but it’s closed for the night.

So now it’s 6:30pm, and the cigar event has started. I change clothes and go to the party and it’s a lot of fun.... serious cigar smoking mixed with a lot of silicone enhancements for the women passing them out. At 9:30pm the party’s over and all the restaurants are packed in the hotel, so I go upstairs to crash and raid the mini bar. It’s gonna cost $15 to have the smell of cigars removed from my clothes.

Rise at 7:00am; go downstairs for a croissant and a cup of coffee, but the lines are out the door at 7:30am. Blow off that idea.

Get to the room where the cupping is going to be and no one’s around. 8:00am and the first of the staff arrive to help prep the room, lay out the cups with coffee, brew coffee for an initial tasting, and lay out the samples with promotional literature.

At 8:15am people start to show up! We lock them out of the room so they stand around the hall and from nowhere coffee arrives courtesy of the hotel. I go a little nuts as don’t want them drinking coffee, especially hotel coffee, before the event and ask that the coffee be taken away. I also find out that the event organizers paid about $40 per gallon to have that coffee available.

9:00am and the doors open and the coffee brewed for a warm-up tasting arrives on a cart in a thermal server, and it tastes pretty good. Someone also comes in and said they found the box of brochures and they are being distributed. By 9:30am the place is packed to capacity with some standing room only spaces. Later I learned that 267 showed up.

I explain what we’re going to do, sniff, slurp and spit each coffee. I ask for the wait staff to start pouring hot water into each of the six cups on front of every person. Here’s comes Murphy’s Law. First, there aren’t enough servers, four total. Second, they don’t have enough hot water so I learn that they’re only filling each cup about half way. Third, when it’s time to start tasting only half the room has been served and then only partially. So now it’s time for coffee jokes and thinking fast on my feet while waiting for the rest of the folks to be served. Grumbling is beginning to be heard from the back of the room. Soooo, I look at the table of samples that my coffee friends helped to provide, which was covered by a tablecloth and announce that the people served last will be allowed to go first to take samples. There’s a cheer in the room and the daggers are put back into their scabbards.

We’re working through the last coffee when the cigars arrive, provided courtesy of the organizers. Now everybody lights up and the room is quickly turned into a wonderful mix of fresh cigar and coffee aromatics. It really did smell terrific. Everybody is mellow, and the Q&A session begins. I am still mystified at the level of questions being asked. How do I grind coffee? What’s the best way to brew? What do I think of a Mr. Coffee brewer? I gotta move them to a higher level of thinking, so I start asking questions like “where was coffee first discovered?” No one knows the answer, and I have to start giving hints like “let’s think of a country in Africa.” The first thing I hear is Brazil. NO, wrong continent. This ends up being somewhere between a game show and Imus in the morning. Luckily it’s not a hostile crowd and I end up giving away lots of presents that I brought or were provided. LaMinita books were a hit. Coffee gum (some guy went nuts and wanted to buy a case on the spot), coffee chocolate, etc.

At 10:30am the seminar is supposed to be over, but most everybody stays for more Q&A. At 10:55am they announce that the next seminar, “How to Hand Roll Cigars”, is starting, and all but about ten folks leave. Some guy comes up and wants me to sign the LaMinita book. I can’t oblige him but sign Bill McAlpin’s name, as he is the author, and initial that I did this. Finally at 11:20 the last guy leaves. The place looks like the aftermath of a lengthy frat party.

Back to my room, I change clothes and check out of the hotel at 12 noon. At check out, I see they charged me $20 for handling the FEDEX package that was sent to me but misplaced in the shuffle. I explain that I paid the postage and that they couldn’t find the package until the last moment! The look on the clerk says it all - “tell someone who cares” and pay up. I act like a sheep, pay the bill, and leave. Try to stop by a gambling table to win back the $20 in Blackjack (the only game I know) but the only table I can find has $25 minimums. I take a pass and stumble out to the rental car and drive back to Arizona to find my family. Total time in Vegas: 23 hours. Meals consumed: one mini-bar special, cigars smoked: 1/2, drinks consumed: 3... not enough!

So, if you’re ever asked to do something like this, I hope my experience will give you some insight as to what you may be in for.

Tea & Coffee - October/November, 2004

Modern Process Equipment

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