EXPOCAD: Designing Show Floors Around the World for 30 Years

December 3, 2016

The original inspiration behind EXPOCAD® was to help engineers with computer-aided design (CAD) software. Paul Ososky, a plastics engineer, his brother Mike, a process engineer (now President and CTO), and Rich Stone, a synthetic fuels researcher (now CEO), started EXPOCAD’s parent company A.C.T., Inc. in 1986.

“Like any startup, life was not easy,” said Stone. “Frugal was an understatement. We started in a closet … it was only big enough for two people. If one had to leave the office, the other had to walk out into the
hall to let them out.”

A third Ososky brother, Peter, joined as a programmer and in 1988 designed the first automated booth drawing commands for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and Freeman. Soon other engineering software customers signed on, including AMACO, Caterpillar, AT&T, NASA, McDonald’s, Motorola, John Deere, Ford and more.

Also that year, the company did their first trade show at Reed’s National Design and Engineering Show at McCormick Place in Chicago to build the brand and generate new business.

“We attended the onsite space assignment at NDES … watching the interaction of Freeman floor planners with their customers, and said, ‘there has to be a better way,’ “ Stone said.

The first product demonstration of the EXPOCAD software took place at the NAEM annual meeting (now IAEE’s Expo! Expo!).

“We told them that we had a new electronic floor plan sales and operations tool. We would do the presentation if they paid for the data projector,” Stone said. “It was expensive. It took three people all day to get the projector to work. We did the demonstration as an educational session to a
standing-room-only crowd using beta software that was barely functional. We left that session with a stack of business cards that couldn’t be held in one hand … the NAEM session was a validation of our efforts.”

That same year, SME did the first-ever onsite electronic space assignment
for AutoFact in Detroit. The first ad ran in EXPO Magazine in 1989,
spurring hundreds of phone calls in response to a quarter-page ad. Soon
EXPOCAD was working with virtually every large show organizer.

The company has moved four times since those days in the closet office, but all locations have been very close to each other. EXPOCAD’s home office for the past 20 years is in a 12,000-square-foot building in Aurora, Ill., which has experienced a bit of Hollywood fame.

During filming of the movie ‘The Express’ (about Ernie Davis, the first black player to earn the Heisman Trophy), the building’s first floor was transformed into a 1950s-era A&P Food Mart. Then again in the movie
‘Wayne’s World,’ there was a car chase up and down the street featuring a blue AMC Pacer with flames on the side.

Stone remembers how much technology pricing has dropped. “Years ago, 1 MB of memory cost $1,000. In today’s world, that would make an average cell phone about $1.6 million. A little pricey!”

EXPOCAD has enjoyed many major industry firsts over the years, including: graphical database, electronic floor plan tool for exhibitions, onsite space selection, online interactive floor plan, mobile platform
interactive searchable floor plan, onsite interactive kiosk, and variable pricing/yield management floor plan tool.

Today there’s a staff of 25 in the U.S., with five other offices in Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, and Sydney. EXPOCAD technology powers 8,000 events annually, including almost every show floor plan in North America, as well as some of the largest shows on three other continents.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.