Las Vegas draws Canucks to sun-drenched trade show
By Keith Norbury
By Keith Norbury
Canadian crane-industry enthusiasts flocked by the thousands to Las Vegas this March for the ginormous triennial ConExpo-Con/Agg heavy equipment trade show.
Despite the loonie fetching only around 75 U.S. cents in a tourism mecca where prices have spiralled upward in recent years, the consensus from Canadians was that ConExpo 2017 was a great show.
Many of the Canadians whom Crane & Hoist Canada staffers encountered at the five-day event — held March 7-11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center — said the 2017 show seemed busier than during recent incarnations. However, that sentiment wasn’t universal.
“It’s been really great actually, a big improvement over the last show,” said Arnold Free, chief commercial officer for Montreal-based CM Labs Simulations, makers of the Vortex simulators for cranes and other heavy equipment. “We’ve seen a lot more traffic, a lot of really great interest in our products as well.”
2014 more upbeat, says Alberta exec
On the other hand, John Stevens, president and CEO of Alberta-based Entrec Corporation, said
during a visit to the Crane & Hoist Canada booth in the Gold hall that the show was good and featured many new products but was not as busy as it was three years ago.
“Still lots of people but it was more upbeat and robust (in 2014),” Stevens said. “You talk to some of the exhibitors, that is kind of their impression as well.”
The economy “was going hard and fast in 2014 before the downturn,” Stevens explained, noting that the price of oil dipped below $50 a barrel the previous day (March 8).
When oil sells above $50, Alberta’s oil patch can do OK, he said, although construction in the province is still “way behind” where it was before oil prices collapsed.
“But there’s other stuff going on,” Stevens said, pointing to power and infrastructure projects as well as Entrec’s business in the United States. Entrec has also hauled “quite a bit of yellow iron” into the Site C hydroelectric dam project in northeastern B.C. and is also bidding on some of the crane work that project will require.
“So yeah Site C will be a good project and we’ll get some work from it,” Stevens said.
Stevens also noted that a Ritchie Bros. auction in Edmonton the week before ConExpo featured several cranes that fetched “really good” prices. They included a pair of 2015 Tadano GR10000XL 100-ton rough-terrain cranes that sold for $775,000 and $710,000, according to auction results on the Ritchie Bros. website.
“So that’s a good sign to see that the prices are good,” Stevens said.
At ConExpo meanwhile, Stevens had a chance to check out some brand new machines that he deemed “pretty neat,” including a Tadano all-terrain crane and a 250-ton Link-Belt telescopic crawler.
First visit proves “amazing”
Also checking out the Tadano offerings was Tanis Loshney, owner of Canlift Crane Inc. of Grande
Prairie, Alta. She and her team — husband Ashley Loshney, manager Terry Kaiser, and his wife Tammy Kaiser — also looked at a new crawler at the Manitowoc booth. “And, of course, Liebherr. We’re a big Liebherr fan, so it’s nice to see them,” said Tanis Loshney, whose company has a fleet of six ATs, RTs, crawlers, and mobile cranes from Liebherr, Tadano, and Terex, as well as some rental machines.
It was her first visit to ConExpo although her husband has been before.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I can’t believe how many people are here. I don’t think there’s anything missing, that’s for sure.”
Even for someone who doesn’t work with cranes — like Tammy Kaiser — the experience was “phenomenal.”
“There’s so much to see. It’s very diverse. It’s a great experience,” Kaiser. “And it’s a little warmer here than it is at home right now.”
During ConExpo, Las Vegas temperatures reached 28 degrees Celsius at a time when in much of Canada temperatures still hovered around zero or below.
Attendance close to 2014
Total attendance for ConExpo and the co-located International Fluid Power Exposition was nearly 128,000 for the week, said a news release from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, which organizes both shows. That was slightly less than the official count of 129,364 attendees in 2014, which was second only to the 144,600 who attended in 2008, just before the global financial crisis.
The AEM didn’t provide an estimate of how many Canadians were at ConExpo 2017. However, the association noted that nearly “26,000 international attendees from 150 countries braved global headwinds including a strong dollar and flagging export markets” to come to the show. The foreigners accounted for nearly 20 per cent of show attendees, down from a 24 per cent share in 2014.
On the other hand, attendance from U.S. buyers jumped over 16 per cent from 2014 with total buyer attendance increasing eight per cent, according to the AEM. Overall contractor and producer attendance was also up, by 10 per cent.
“I think there is a noticeable difference in the attendees at this show, and the difference is their optimism,” an AEM news release quoted Michael Haberman, president of Gradall Industries who chairs the AEM for 2017. “Optimism was on display throughout the show, and the traffic was excellent.”
Show space expanded for 2017
ConExpo was definitely bigger than ever with a record 2,800-plus exhibitors and over 2.8 million square feet of exhibition space. That new space included the Gold hall where Crane & Hoist Canada had its booth.
“Even though ConExpo continues to increase in size, I was impressed this time with the way in which the different halls and lots were organized into areas of similar products making it easier for attendees to compare and contrast certain types of equipment without having to walk a mile to do so,” said Jeremy Thain, Crane & Hoist Canada’s advertising manager, who attended the show with editor Keith Norbury and art director James Lewis. “It was certainly well worth the trip for the Crane & Hoist Canada team and great fun catching up with readers and advertisers of our publication.”
Thain was also impressed by the number of Canadians at the show, which he estimated outnumbered the Canadian attendance three years previous. “I’m not sure if this was purely a result of Crane & Hoist Canada’s booth being located in a better position this time around,” Thain said.
U.S. exhibitor notices Canadians too
Steve Kerby, sales manager for Zero Emission Equipment, also noticed an influx of Canadians.
“We were interested in meeting some Canadian prospects for distribution,” said Kerby, whose Fontana, Calif.-based company manufactures electric-powered carrydeck cranes. “We were really surprised at just how many Canadians we’ve met that were interested in the Zero Emission product and it seemed like the majority of some of the days were Canadians. So that was really interesting.”
Oil, mining, and nuclear industries are among the industries showing the greatest interest in his firm’s products, Kerby said. However, the cranes are especially popular for indoor use.
“A lot more places are really restricting any kind of emissions indoors,” Kerby said. “Our units are all electric and zero emission. They’ll last a full shift on a single charge when you use them like you usually use a carrydeck.”
Maritimers offer their perspectives
While most of the Canadians at ConExpo 2017 appeared to have come from the western side of the country, a few did arrive from the east.
“There isn’t enough time to see everything, that’s for sure,” said Leo Lafferty, a crane operator based in Riverview, N.B., following a ConExpo educational session on telematics and cranes.
It was Lafferty’s third visit to ConExpo but the first time he had come with an interpreter, Ronald Bourque, a crane operator from Moncton, N.B.
“We spoke with a guy from North Africa yesterday and Ron could translate for me,” Lafferty said. “I only speak English and he can speak English and French.”
It was the first time at ConExpo for Bourque, who commutes from New Brunswick to work for Mammoet at a gas plant in Fort McMurray, where he runs a 100-ton RT.
“There’s a lot of stuff to see,” Bourque said.
Show amazes Quebec exhibitor
Also coming from the east was Manon Huard, OEM sales manager for Quebec City-based Rayco-Wylie Systems, a manufacturer of crane monitoring equipment.
“The show has been very amazing since the beginning,” Huard said at the company’s booth. “First day started a little slow but, you know, visitors were increasing every day. Yesterday (Thursday) was the best day. This morning is a little bit quieter but it’s Friday and it’s normal.”
Rayco-Wylie made good use of a smartphone app to scan badges by the hundreds of visitors to the booth, which she said produced a lot of good leads.
“So we’re going to have a lot of work to do when we get back,” Huard said.
One drawback was that the company’s booth was tucked behind the wall of one of the big crane stands — not the most optimal location.
“But yeah, we’re happy,” Huard said. “The weather has been great. It’s hot but I’m not complaining.”
Size is right but tweaking needed
At the booth of Abbotsford, B.C.-based Bigfoot Crane Company Inc., Gerry Wiebe said, “I think the attendance is good. I think the number of exhibitors is right.”
However, he said organizers could take a few steps to make the show even better.
“You’ve got this many people and there’s no wi-fi and in today’s world that’s a pretty big deal,” said Wiebe, who is Bigfoot’s director of business development. “I hear people say don’t drink too much water because there’s no bathrooms. At least out here in the Gold wing, the human facilities are pretty light. Food’s hard to find.”
“So there’s some small things that need to get tweaked out,” added Wiebe, who was attending his fourth ConExpo. “But having said that, I know exactly what I’ll be doing the next time I come to the show is filling some of those needs ourselves so it’ll attract more people to the booth.”
By that time, Bigfoot will have long finished the engineering on its 6500 model derrick crane, which was expected to go into production later this spring. At this ConExpo, Bigfoot was promoting its line of underhook crane accessories from Boscaro, an Italian manufacturer. They included a multi-discharge concrete bucket and a three-in-one style manbasket.
“What’s different about our equipment is we’re really a crane company first,” Wiebe said. “So we’re fixated on where’s the value proposition in this equipment.”
More positive mood noted
Gerry Turchak, president of Penticton, B.C.-based Brutus Truck Bodies and Nor-Mar Cranes, said the mood at this ConExpo was more positive than the last time around. He attributed that to the recent of change of government in the U.S., “whether good or bad.”
Much of the mood change is psychological, he said. “Somebody thinks things are better, they’re probably going to get better,” Turchak said. “You want to come here depressed, you can stay depressed quite easily.”
He has also noticed an attitude change in Canada as well. When oil prices dipped, his business slowed down considerably.
“Now the optimism is coming back. We’re getting busier and hiring,” said Turchak, who has been coming to ConExpo for two decades.
Transportation proves challenging
At one of the Crosby Group’s two booths, Trevor Stickel, Edmonton-based territory manager for western Canada, said this year’s version was the busiest of the four ConExpos he has attended.
“I don’t know if it’s been busier or the transportation’s been tougher,” he said, noting the long lines for cabs, Ubers, and the Las Vegas monorail on the first days of the show.
Crosby’s indoor booth was a little busier than the outdoor booth in the Gold lot but Stickel and his colleagues were still introducing visitors to some new products, such as Crosby’s Shurloc-hook with handle, Easy-Loc V2 bolt securement system, and Slide-Loc 150 lifting point.
A chance to put faces to voices
At the booth of Edmonton-based Cranesmart Systems, which manufacturers load moment indicators and other crane safety equipment, sales consultant Justin Evans said he has had a busy show.
“My favourite thing to do at this show is to meet people that you talk to over the phone with on a consistent basis,” Evans said. “You meet them in person and get to a put a face to the voice.”
Among the customers he met at this show was Greg Gilchrist of G2 Erectors, a Michigan company with a fleet of 35 cranes that has Cranesmart equipment on some of them. But what about President Trump’s pleas to buy American?
“It doesn’t matter,” Gilchrist said. “It’s what works. Like I said, service for us is everything.”
For Evans, who sits in an office all day and talks on the phone to people around the world about cranes, “it’s nice to actually be in a parking lot full of cranes.”
Seeing ConExpo is believing
Attending ConExpo for the first time was Brian Alexander, assistant director of training and apprenticeship with the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario.
“It’s absolutely massive, just unbelievable. You really can’t appreciate the size and scale of it until you’re here,” said Alexander, who has been a licensed mobile crane operator for over two decades.
“I’d always heard about it, just never had the chance to be here,” he added.
The OETIO shared a booth with CM Labs, primarily to help the latter promote its simulator systems.
“We’ve got a good rapport with them,” Alexander said. “They do good stuff.”
“One of our best shows”
Arnold Free of CM Labs, who was attending his third or fourth ConExpo, said there’s been a big uptick in business in the last three to five years. He attributed that to ongoing shortages of skilled workers as well as heightened interest in operator training and with introducing more young people into trades like crane operation.
His company brought about a dozen people to ConExpo, who also took time to check out their competitors.
“There’s a lot more simulators this year which I think goes back to that point of looking at the interest in simulation in this industry as a training solution,” Free said.
For CM Labs, ConExpo is “one of our best shows,” he said. It even produces immediate results, such selling demo units right off the show floor, although the company sends the units back to Montreal to make sure they’re in good shape before shipping to the customer.
“We don’t tend to sign contracts but soon afterwards we will,” Free said. “But for sure this show is generating good revenue for our business.”
— Keith Norbury