Taking place in Louisville, Kentucky from October 16-18, was the GIE+EXPO trade show, which like this week's SALTEX exhibition, is aimed at professional end-users of outdoor powered equipment.
It was my privilege to attend the show this year, which takes place annually at the Kentucky International Exposition Centre.
Run by the American trade association the OPEI, alongside Sellers Expositions, I last attended the show four years ago and in those intervening years it has, remarkably, grown even larger. I remember when I was there previously what struck me immediately was the sheer scale of the endeavour. We are just not used to shows of this size for the outdoor power equipment sector in our country.
What of course contributes significantly to the GIE+EXPO's ability to run on such a large scale is the venue - an equivalent to which, we don't really have at home. The Kentucky Exposition Centre, allows the show to enjoy the best of both worlds for a machinery exhibition, in that it has a huge indoor space for fancy, static stands - plus an enormous outdoor area for practical, hands-on demonstrations. To this end, most exhibiting companies will have two stands, both inside and out.
What's slightly different about this show, compared to our major professional trade shows run by the IOG and BIGGA, is that the make up of attendees at GIE+EXPO is more skewed towards professional contractors rather than sporting or amenity turf professionals. Contracting is such a bigger endeavour in the U.S that it's natural that many exhibitors gear their stands towards appealing to the needs of this sector.
And it seems that the organisers are providing just what this sector desires from their trade show, because the attendance is mightily impressive and growing every year - this year the OPEI were talking about a record 25,000 people visiting. Walking round the aisles inside and the huge demonstration area outside, the crowds were obvious - and the buzz the show was creating, palpable.
Also adding to the vibrant atmosphere on the opening Wednesday, the show-floor is classed as a reception day, with many exhibitors giving away food and beer on their stands to attendees - with STIHL taking things even further with a full oompah band on theirs! This all contributed to a most convivial atmosphere - which judging by the sight of some attendees stumbling for the buses which shipped everyone back to town at the end of the day, was taken advantage of to its fullest.
On day two of the show, I managed to catch up with the President of the OPEI Kris Kiser. We had a comprehensive talk about the current state of the outdoor power equipment market in the U.S and indeed what trends Kris saw for the future.
Kris Kiser with TurfPro head of editorial, Steve Gibbs
Kris said how this year in particular had a seen a "radical shift" towards battery powered machinery in the US market. He also spoke of how the robotic mowing sector is exploding right now. He said once the autonomous sector fully takes holds, expect to see a torrent of uptake of the technology across the States.
Also during the show, I heard from Todd Teske, CEO of Briggs & Stratton. The company have had some well documented problems this past year but Todd didn't particularly address these issues in any detail in his talk with the trade press.
He did describe 2019 as a year of investment for the company and said that as a consequence of these investments they shall become a company easier to do business with in the future - acknowledging that hadn't necessarily been the case this past year. He asserted that he was confident looking forward though. He said, "We are planning for growth and we anticipate growth." He also made a point of describing Briggs & Stratton as now a company that is a "provider of power" - be that traditional petrol engines or indeed new battery and hybrid technology.
Around the show there were plenty of new products to see. One very interesting launch was on the Mean Green Mowers stand, where they had a grand unveiling of a new large area autonomous mower.
Joe Conrad unveils the Atom
Called the Atom, the innovation here was that the machine doesn't use a guide wire or GPS via a base station - rather it navigates courtesy of on board cameras and in-built A.I. Company owner, Joe Conrad, described it as "the future of autonomous mowing."
Whilst at the Mean Green Mower stand it was great to see some UK faces being represented at the show, with the chaps from Overton Ltd, Guy and Richard Overton, who are the UK distributors for the Mean Green range. Richard told me they'd had great year just gone with Mean Green at home, with more dealers coming on board and the products really starting to take off. He said there was space for more dealers in the UK and just recently they'd been having some very interesting conversations and demonstrations with several large UK groundscare contracting companies.
Guy and Richard Overton who distribute Mean Green in the UK
One new innovation to the show which wasn't included last time I was here, and one which if I'm being honest, I'd be surprised to see repeated at home, was an area entitled Mutt Madness. Clearly a passion project of the OPEI's Kris Kiser, who as part of his presidential role can be seen on U.S morning television, promoting the benefits of natural grass gardens as an ideal environment for family dogs. This area which was in its second year, allowed attendees to return home with a newly adopted rescue dog! Yep, an actual dog. Imagine going to SALTEX and instead of simply leaving with a carrier bag full of brochures and a promotional baseball cap, you went home with a new family pet?!
A puppy up for adoption at Mutt Madness
However different it sounds to us, in the context of GIE-EXPO it worked perfectly. It was a genuinely joyful experience. It was an attraction which gave attendees a fun break from trawling around the stands and it was undeniably performing a most worthwhile service - with a cheque for $10,000 presented to the Kentucky Humane Society. Also in the wider scheme of things, the promotion of the concept of well-maintained grassed areas for pets to flourish, is outside the box thinking at its best.
$10,000 was presented to The Kentucky Humane Society on behalf of the Mutt Madness event
I have to say that I was so incredibly impressed with my time at GIE+EXPO. I'm sure the U.S turf professionals in attendance would have returned to their places of business, having genuinely benefited from their time there. Plenty of new innovations were on show, with robotics in particular, making its presence felt across the showfloor and demonstration areas in a noticeably significant way.
Would a trip to the show in the future for some UK turf professionals be worth the inevitable expenses involved? Perhaps.
It would most certainly be an eye opener which would reveal the potential for what outdoor power equipment shows can be when they are operating on a scale such as this.