The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV on January 6th marked the start of a New Year as we roll into the 2017 Mobile Audio competition season. Many people indulge in CES to recharge their batteries after the holiday season. Still, for many Mobile Audio distributors worldwide, CES is where they launch their new products for the up and coming season.
We at CanadianCarStereo.com had a chance to stop by the Hybrid Audio and Helix/Brax suite on the Venetian Hotel’s infamous 29th floor and have a sit down with Scott Buwalda from Hybrid Audio. We were having a candid conversation about the work behind the scenes of the CES set up. Please enjoy the following article showing the “lighter side” of life as a Mobile Audio Distributor!
CES Through the Eyes of an Exhibitor
By Scott Buwalda
The following is a parody article meant to be taken only mildly seriously. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
So, you want to go to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)? You’ve heard it is great fun. What could be better than having an all-encompassing electronics show housed within the confines of Sin City? Ah yes, the city provides the most romanticized backdrop for electronic manufacturers to debut their new wares. What could be better? Well, I would like to offer my insight on the subject matter, having been a displaying vendor for several years and a regular attendee many more years than that. Certainly, not as many years as the industry’s pioneers and my mentors, but enough to consider myself at the very least “informed” on the subject matter.
For those of you that don’t know, I founded Hybrid Audio Technologies in 2004. I’ve been attending CES in one form or another for my company for the last twelve years. It is probably 5-6 times even before, as an invitee, industry affiliate, or factory team competitor. Yes, the early years were great! I was shuttled around town, sometimes even in a limousine, bought dinners, and had ample time to gamble. Plenty of time in between to talk to vendors about a new and upcoming product that I wanted to have in my competition vehicle. But as I became an industry member and attending to my own company, things changed. Boy did the luster wears off quickly. Allow me to tell you the story of CES 2017, and basically every CES previous, through the eyes of an exhibitor!
The “party” starts on the airplane on the way to CES. As you load your already beleaguered body into your seat, you take a quick glimpse around you to witness the miracle of CES. More than three-quarters of the plane is middle-aged men headed to the event. Logoed polo shirts and khaki pants abound. You can usually spot the rookie or second year CES attendee quickly; they are the ones with a geeky permanent-smile stretched across their face and the CES exhibitor directory on their lap. They have three different highlighters’ colors, marking out in methodical order their proposed route while at CES. Trying to be a courteous fellow passenger of the aluminum tube cesspool of germs known as Spirit Airlines Flight 2202, you ask him if he’s attending CES, and he gladly nods and affirms with a big pie-eating grin. Yes, you can usually determine a person’s CES seniority by his response. The older guy that grunts at you and mutters something under his breath has been to thirty CES’s.
You get buckled into your sixteen cubic feet-sized seat, your home traveling west against the jet stream for the next five hours. Suddenly you hear the familiar sound – a virtual chorus of coughing and sneezing all around you. You say to yourself; this can’t happen again, can it? You pop an Airborne into your mouth, grab your hand sanitizer, and do a quick wash of your hands and rub your nostrils (even though it does nothing to keep you from getting sick – alas, the smell of isopropyl alcohol in your nose somehow gives you comfort that you won’t get sick again this year). You lean back into your seat and imagine yourself on the beach in Bermuda, sipping an umbrella drink. Unfortunately, Spirit doesn’t have umbrella drinks, and even if they did, they’d be an extra charge, just like the seat you’re sitting in, the bag above your head, and the bag of pretzels being peddled by the waitress, erm, I mean, stewardess. You wonder quietly if you should swipe your card to use the restroom.
Before you know it, you’re crossing the ridge in the final descent to Vegas, and you see the familiar sight of blinking neon lights. Even the CES veterans in the plane get a little bit giddy. Myself included. It’s kind of like selective memory after birthing pains. With a 358-day wearing off period, the body and mind forget what CES is all about, and you can’t help to be a little bit excited about landing and about this thing called CES.
You make it to the terminal and find your way to the CES badge line, which is an hour and 23 minutes long. So, you decide to forgo the badge line tonight and promise yourself that you’ll get your badge tomorrow morning before the show starts. You then head towards the exit. In year’s past, I was always one of those schmucks that had to stand in the cab line (the cab line, of course, is more than an hour-long and stretching around the airport terminal). Thankfully, I’ve got super good people that work for Hybrid Audio, that go out in advance, set up the suite and/or booth, set up accommodations, and rent a car (I can only imagine how they sorted their CES story might be). After a swift pick up in the rental car, we are headed towards ‘home’ for the next week. It’s now about 2:30 AM my time. Everyone around me has already acclimated to the time change, and all I want to do is go to bed. I’m ‘that guy,’ enduring jeering and taunting from my crew. I hear the words “goodnight princess,” as I close my bedroom door.
The next morning rolls around, the first morning of CES. You’ve got your logoed mock neck shirt on and a brand-new pair of dress pants you got on sale two nights before from TJ Maxx. There’s undoubtedly a little bit of a spring in your step. You’re excited. You pop an Airborne, and wash your hands with your sanitizer, and make your way out the door. It’s the first time you have shaved on two consecutive days since the last CES.
Jump in the rental car and begin navigating to The Venetian, where you have chosen this year to set up shop on the 29th floor in the high-end audio section of the show. The commute is approximately 4.5 miles from your timeshare to the hotel. The 4.5-mile trip takes you 53 minutes. You can literally see The Venetian up ahead, but traffic is at a dead stand-still. You suggest a Chinese fire drill in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard, and everyone complies. The hatch of the rental minivan motorizes open, and each person grabs an arm-full. I was somehow nominated to grab the box of literature and the vacuum cleaner, for which I dutifully dragged along the busiest road within a 200-mile radius; surely, this is a special form of purgatory. Was I a bad person in a past life?
A few minutes before 9 o’clock, you finally arrive at the front door of your suite only to find that housekeeping hadn’t been in there yet to vacuum the previous day’s set-up activities. Thank God you dragged the vacuum a half a mile. So, there you are, in dress slacks and a logoed mock neck shirt, with a vacuum in hand, three minutes before the doors are to be open to greet guests. In contrast, your two super-zealous sales reps watch you vacuum.
The doors of the suite swing open at a decidedly late 9:15 AM, and you’re immediately met with an onslaught of domestic and international clients and prospective clients wanting to see the new Unity amplifiers you’ve spent the previous eighteen months designing. Others are there only for the gourmet donuts you smuggled past the CEA office. You gladly oblige.
Somehow, the day blurs by rather quickly. You can remember the only thing is a ‘lunch break’ around 2:30 PM, which consisted of a cardboard cheeseburger, something that emulated French fries, and a soft drink that cost $21 and change. This was the only meal you had today, and yet, somehow, you’re not incredibly hungry. The only thing on your mind is the regrettable decision to wear dress shoes.
Invariably, someone significant walks in at 5:55 PM. You can set your watch to it. While you watch your fellow 29th-floor fancy speaker cable manufacturers walking out, you re-tuck your mock neck shirt into your dress slacks, squeeze some iso-alcohol into your hand, and you greet your guests with a warm smile and 12-hour-old donuts. At 7:55 PM, you’re walking out. The left leg seems to drag more than the right. The topic turns to something edible: what’s for dinner? I will say that the one redeeming quality of CES is the food, provided you get off-site to eat the food. Food on site is not the only suspect; it might truly require an eventual ER visit and a stomach pump. But getting off-site, the food is quite good. So, usually, you have three or four restaurants that you must attend while you’re in town. One of mine is Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza. Somehow it makes eating cardboard for lunch a little bit more forgiving. By now, you realize that it is approaching 9:30 PM local time (12:30 AM Eastern) and you’re just now sitting for dinner, having just endured a 6-mile, one-hour and 14-minute commute (54 minutes of which was spent going 800-feet in the Venetian parking deck). You’re exhausted, and in-between moments of silence, you take the opportunity to discuss the “card snappers” on every street corner (and how there are a lot less this year), your chapped lips, the apparent lack of driving ability of the locals, and how there’s a stoplight (which is always red) every four hundred feet. You eat your pizza and wash it down with “Northern” iced tea (tea is basically tobacco water unless it has sugar in it – I’m from Georgia, after all, where both the women and tea are sweet).
It’s now 11:30 PM local time, and you head back towards the timeshare. Your body says it’s 2:30 AM. The last time you were up this late before the previous night’s arrival was 358 days earlier — at last year’s CES. You realize you’re a cranky old fart at the age of 46 years. The grandiose plan of nightlife, gambling, and taking in a show is quickly substituted with the overwhelming desire to sleep. If you’re lucky, you’ll get six hours sleep, and perhaps significantly less.
The morning of day two plays out like an episode of Groundhog Day, except instead of throwing yourself in front of a bus, you will go back to the 29th-floor suite of hell, erm, I mean, your hospitality suite. The day plays over identically as the previous day, and every day of CES you’ve had since being a second-year rookie when the show was fantastical, people chauffeured you around and brought you meals. You had time to play the tables.
Day three is begun with your German industry partner walking into the suite grasping his throat. You ask him what was wrong. He informs you that he’s had a cold for two or three days now, and it’s starting to get worse. You’ve been captive in your 650-square feet of heaven with this man since the first minute of the show. You sigh and evaluate your life. You reach for your Airborne and realize that you’re fresh out and that the isopropyl alcohol has about three drops left in the bottom of the bottle. You panic.
By the final day of the event, you could care less that the venue cost you nearly $60.00 per square foot to attend. There’s an overwhelming fight or flight posture to everyone in your company – except that everyone has stopped fighting and everyone is ready for flight. You quietly shut the door to the suite a half-hour early, even despite realizing that each minute on the show floor costs something like $12.00, if only to get a jump start on the fastest, most maniacal tear-down in the history of CES. I’m a competitor, and the competitive juices start flowing – who on our floor can be dismantled first? You spend the next several hours dismantling your suite and North Hall booth and tip-toe around the union laborers with cart-loads full of gear (what works best is to smile, nod, and/or wave as you’re passing them with illegal freight that they should be charging you $500.00/hour to move for you – works every time). Ah crap, I just tipped my hand. Maybe in 358 days, everyone will forget that last sentence?
We load the trailer in a shady parking lot off-site as we’re serenaded by music in a foreign language being blasted from a Ford Taurus on 22’s, send the driver on his way, and convene for one final meal altogether. Somehow we find the ability to make our way back to Sammy’s for one last pizza. Five of us sit quietly around the table as we wait for our food. Joey, to my left, is complaining about a sore throat and is holding his head in his hands. Klifton seems a little bit perkier, but his eyes are bright red and glazed over. Dwayne groans at random about once every fifteen seconds. The only one doing well on the table is Vince, who is a local friend and confidant that helps us out each year. Vince is overwhelmingly froggy; I hate him at this moment. In the back of my throat, I feel a tinge, a tickle. I convince myself it’s the dry air and my allergies. Joey coughs, and his whole body shakes. He lifts his head and yells out, “I need a CVS NOW!” I wonder if I’ve got what Joey has? Naw, I was diligent about hand sanitizer.
Klif and Joey head to the airport, and Dwayne and I head back to the hotel we got for the last night. We’re both in bed like two little, tired, older men by 9:30 PM. No gambling, no shows, nothing involving little people, trapeze acts, or donkeys. It was serendipitous lying in a quiet hotel room, situated in probably a decidedly shady neighborhood. Sadly, within twelve hours, I was full-on sick with this year’s CES Funk. Seventeen days later, I’m still taking corticosteroids.
If you’ve never been to CES, you must go at least once. For us lucky ones, we go every year! Around about the time I forget how I feel right now, I’ll be eager to do this madness once again, and sadly, will likely share a similar story this time next year.
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