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This Just In

The Art of Rebranding: Equip Exposition Shows How It’s Done

MADDY RYLEY, MANAGING EDITOR
Equip Exposition Photo 15

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In 2022, GIE+EXPO was relaunched as Equip Exposition, after the show came under the ownership and management of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) in 2021.

In the years since the rebranding and relaunch, Equip Exposition has seen significant growth in key metrics, including growth in the number of women in attendance and engagement younger professionals, and increasing quality of experiences at the event.

At the time of the relaunch, the annual event already had a nearly 40-year history in the city of Louisville, and the OPEI team was able to tap into the industry- and show-knowledge of staff and longtime exhibitors to help guide the decisions when transforming the show into Equip Exposition. This deep-rooted knowledge also helped the team to ensure the show accurately reflected the industry professionals and marketplace itself.

“It was just the right time to re-evolve and make it relate to the business, how our landscape contractors and other commercial folks are buying their equipment and how they are being distributed,” OPEI President and CEO Kris Kiser said. “Certainly, how you talk to folks changed, and the internet and social media came along, and then influencers came along. All those things factored into our thinking that now was the time [to rebrand].”

Trade Show Executive talked with Kiser to find out about the challenges of rebranding a long-established event, the investments required to be successful and keeping the show fresh for attendees every year.

Evolving and Investing

Taking over the management of the show allowed OPEI to use their capitalized resources to be more innovative and creative in the design of the show. Without a group of partners working on managing the show, the OPEI team was able to be more flexible and have more freedom to make decisions and implement ideas quickly.

“When you have partners in a business, you have to engage the partners in decision making,” Kiser said. “And, in particularly financial matters when your profits are

Since rebranding, Equip Exposition has seen growth in key metrics.

essentially a percentage of the revenue, decision making can become more challenging. There was a desire for flexibility, and as a result, the show has really grown dramatically since we’ve taken it over.”

One of the biggest changes and challenges the team faced during the rebrand and relaunch was learning how to effectively talk to different generations to expand Equip Exposition’s reach and relevance.

“We now rely a lot more on digital social media,” Kiser said. “We have a big influencer crowd, and we have programmatic elements, like podcasts. There is a podcast row in the West Wing, where a lot of young, engaged people in the business are talking to their peers and there’s a lot of learning happening there.”

Besides engaging with audiences spanning different generations, the team also created consistent branding, language and visual elements to match the Equip Exposition branding.

“That’s key: Find your branding,” Kiser said. “We work very closely with our exhibitors to make common language nomenclature and signage visibility, so that we’re all pulling together. It’s catchy, ‘Equip Exposition, Equip Yourselves.’”

“You have to invest, you have to spend some money,” Kiser said. “We worked hard to make it creative, innovative, attractive, visually appealing and seamless. We had the resources to do it and the personnel to do it, and if we didn’t have it, we hired it. We wanted to make the process as painless as possible, and as innovative and creative as possible.”

Diversifying the Audience

What began as a small portion of the National Farm Machinery Show in 1984, the show is now a consistent TSE Gold 100-ranked show, coming in at the fifth largest show in the U.S. held in 2022.

In 2021, the show spanned 908,022 square feet with 690 exhibitors, then expanded to 1,116,814 square feet in 2022, featuring nearly 800 exhibitors. Total attendance has been climbing back each year post-COVID, and now all three metrics exceed 2019 levels.

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The 2023 edition spanned more than 1.2 million nsf, featured 876 exhibiting companies and welcomed more than 27,000 attendees to the Kentucky Exposition Center. Of those attendees, an increasing number of women is seen as the team consciously tries to bring more women to the show.

“For women oftentimes, they’re in management,” Kiser said. “They’re making the financial decisions, structure design, organizational decisions, personnel and tax decisions. So that’s what we focus on — creating that classroom experience or those sessions and trainings that are dedicated to those things.”

The show also offers women-only events and sessions where attendees can mix and mingle, and most importantly, learn from each other.

Equip Exposition is also looking to attract a wider geographic audience to future shows.

“One of the challenges is regionality; a lot of landscape operations are East of the Rockies,” Kiser said. “There’s a bunch of landscape businesses up and down the West Coast, and we want to reach out to those people and figure out ways to get them to the show. That’s one of the reasons why we structured the show how we did. We want to reach more; we have over a million square feet of exhibits and now we want to fill it in with attendees.”

Mulligan’s Mutt Madness is a major aspect of Equip Exposition’s and OPEI’s community outreach.

Ingrained in the Community

Since the show’s inception, it has taken place in Louisville.

“We’re stretching the city; we’re a city-wide event and we take over the place,” Kiser said. “Louisville is unique, and we’ve always been here and have a terrific relationship with the venue. We have 30 acres outside that they let us destroy; we tear it up, we dig and trench, and it’s unique. Our attendees love it because it’s a test before you invest, and they can go out and get dirty and run the machine.”

Kiser said that as the show continues to grow and challenges present themselves, Equip Exposition will work hard to stay in the city it calls home.

“I believe in being a good corporate citizen,” Kiser said. “The city has been very good to us for 40 years, and we give it back. We’re in the top five event moneymakers for Louisville year over year, so it’s a shared relationship. We built an outdoor space; we created a dog park downtown and gave them an agility center.”

A major aspect of Equip Exposition’s and OPEI’s community outreach involves rescue animals in the area, with an adoption event taking place each year during the show leading to hundreds of adoptions. The adoption event — Mulligan’s Mutt Madness — is presented by the TurfMutt Foundation, the educational arm of OPEI and Equip Exposition, as well as the Kentucky Humane Society.

“It started when we were growing and needed to go into another building that was far,” Kiser said. “I remember someone saying that we’d never get people to go over to there, and I said, ‘we’re going to put dogs over there and they’ll come,’ and they did. We specialize in getting old dogs, three-legged dogs, the ones that are challenging to get adopted, and we get them all adopted, and we follow and share their stories.”

Kiser also said there’s something around the corner for OPEI in Louisville involving rescue animals.

Future-Looking

The 2024 edition of Equip Exposition will take place Oct. 15-18, featuring programming meant to delight attendees including a Welcome Reception at Churchill Downs, an evening arena concert at KFC Yum! Center, expanded Spanish-language education and opportunities to connect with social media influencers.

Find out more about Equip Exposition here.

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