Maybe the crummy weather played a factor here, but I wasn’t as impressed with the event as I thought it would be. More on that in the next few paragraphs.
Until 2017, the largest aquarium trade show and hobbyist market in the Chicagoland region was the Aquatic experience held at the Schaumburg convention center. Now, due to the market’s growing demand there are actually two major trade shows within two weeks and 20 miles from one another- the Aquashella, and the Reefapalooza.
I must say being a newer named event Aquashella certainly has done a good job at marketing the event. The tickets are separated into three tiers: VIP, early bird, and general.
VIP: $80 for both day access to entry by 10am, mostly for serious influencers who wishes to produce content without the crowd, and to grab the best items before everyone else.
Early bird: $27, as the name suggests, 11am entry to beat the general access crowd. By this time the showroom is already crowded in my opinion.
General access: $22, entry by 12.
I personally don’t mind the limited entry and the price differences. Although I think Aquashella missed the opportunity to separate early access from general access. At $5 difference almost everyone simply upgrade to early access, thus lose that prestig a bit. To me, I think $35 would have been the right price for 1 day early access and leaving general at around $22 or $25. For most salt water reef keepers $10 isn’t a big difference but the chance to get that one coral before everyone else is worth the extra.
Now, here is what I thought was poorly managed: signage, parking, and the waiting line were all conducted by weighted buckets with strings (see below). There was a lot of confusion in the moving direction of cars and parking availability at the venue selected this year. I believe it is very poorly handled and managed. People must also form a long line outside of the building thus not helping with traffic flow.
During the wait some influencers and staff tried to come out and rally the crowd for excitement, though the reaction was lukewarm due to weather and the long line. I think some kind of warm beverage stand outside would have made a difference. Another missed opportunity.
As soon as you enter the show, you receive a filtered glasses to see the glow light show set up. I mean, it is a cool gear and I am sure it offers children a nice experience. For this I will give the show credit for entertainment.
The show room is divided into the saltwater vendor section, the dry section with art work, equipment and product vendors, and then the freshwater and reptile section. I will have to say I have never seen this many micro and medium sized aquaculturing vendors in the community to all show up at a single event. This was certainly a treat.
It is very interesting to see the coral hype shift from year to year. I remember just three years ago every vendor carries a heavy load of acan lords. And then two years ago there is palys everywhere. This year however, it seems the apex predator (for your wallet) is the LPS, specifically Euphyllia sand open brains. Most of the Indo sweeping torch corals as $600-$1,000. Some of the open brain corals demand $1,000 up to $6,000.
I will share my haul from this day (let’s not talk about how much, I consider it investment as I grow and frag them) in a future post.
Moving on we have some freshwater and reptile vendors. Nothing out of the ordinary though- only one vendor each for stingrays, angels, plecos, discus, larger fish like gars, and flower horns. Not much set up for pond, and no pinnacle freshwater fish here, which is going to be forever disappointing since Asian arowana is not allowed in the US.
Random topic- does anyone else find it interesting that reptiles somehow also find their way into aquarium trade shows all the time? Even if they are not aquatic?
The show did host a flowerhorn competition, which is actually quite cool. Unfortunately the section was roped off at the time for judging.
Next there is a section of aquarium related artworks in display and some artists attending the show.
Conclusion: so, as stated above. I was not overall impressed with the event. But there are some really good things:
- The show did a good job for entertainment value, having installation, DJ for music, etc.
- the show has more saltwater vendors than any other event I have ever attended. And the amount of micro, independent vendors is also an encouraging sign showing that the booth rent must have not been too outrageous.
- the show added diversity with livestock vendors of both saltwater, freshwater, and reptile. The show also added artists on top of regular name brand vendors for equipments.
Now, what I think can be improved:
- The crowd: the show definitely must book a larger venue with more parking availability to cope with the crowd. It needs better planning for crowd management and keep the aisles open for better safety precaution.
- vendor situation: for the most part the show separated vendors by section. And did the right thing to position saltwater vendors in the dark for better coral lighting. But they also placed some artists in the dark preventing optimal artwork viewing. And some of the saltwater over flow into other sections which isn’t ideal for the vendor either.
- Another vendor position consideration is to plan against traffic flow volume. Some vendors are very popular but are placed in area of great traffic flow of the showroom causing a bottleneck.
- entrnace and exit: no exit signs are marked. It was not easy to navigate out. In case of emergency it was be scary to imagine. Oh, and the exit door was left wide open with b7nch of smokers standing right by it, all the vendors next to the exit are breathing smoke all day. That is a poor experience both for participating vendors and for customers.
I am glad there are large trade show events in the area to help the community grow. I hope Aquashella’s managing team finds this post and take some of my honest and constructive feedbacks to heart. I will be comparing this experience against Reefapalooza and weigh the two.