It was several years in the making, but when it finally happened, the first Aquatic Experience Chicago, produced by the World Pet Association, was by all measurable means a success.
“It exceeded expectations,” Doug Poindexter, president of the
The goal of the show was threefold, a trade event that attracted retailers, a show that brought in advanced hobbyists and great speakers and an event that drew families, he explained.
Although final attendance numbers were not immediately available, initial estimates showed they well surpassed their estimated goal of 2,000 attendees by more than 1,000. There were over 100 retailers who pre-registered for the event, which translated to about 400 people, because many of them, especially local ones, brought multiple people from their stores.
For example, Christopher Hall, the manager of Wilmette Pet Center, brought two of his employees to the show with him, while others from the store attended the day before.
Hall said they use the show as a learning experience, as well as to see what’s new.
“We are focused on the consumer,” Hall said. “So, I want them to learn from the vendors. Learn the terms, hear that enthusiasm that they have when dealing with customers.”
There were two important trends those attending the show continually pointed out; the need for an aquatics-only event and getting younger generations involved in the hobby.
“It is a great opportunity especially for stores, because they get to see both salt and fresh water in one place,” Poindexter said, explaining that at other large industry trade shows there is such a focus on dog and cat products that the aquatics get lost.
As Aaron Kline from Acurel pointed out, a hybrid show like this can create a positive manufacturer, retail, consumer cycle.
“For retailers, they get to see a lot of products they may have never seen before, that maybe their sales rep hasn’t shown them,” he said. “For the consumer, we give them a sample of something, they use it and like it and then go back to their local store and ask, ‘do you have that?’ It gives everyone an opportunity to try things out.”
Zeb Hogan, aquatic ecologist and host of National Geographic Channel’s “Monster Fish,” was the keynote speaker during a special banquet the second day of the show.
“There is an underlying passion for fish that I don’t see very often,” Hogan said of the event and those that attended it.
In an effort to pass that passion on to the next generation, there were activities geared directly to children, including a kid’s aquarium contest.
Sponsored by Seachem and United Pet Group, kids were challenged to design a fish freshwater aquarium that reflects their personality or showcases their favorite hobby.