Another Vision Expo East is in the books. Thousand of us gathered once again at The Javits Center in mid-town New York from March 15th-19th. Another opportunity to view the newest eyewear from around the world. Another meeting of opticians and optometrists from across the country. Another opportunity to catch up on CE Credits. Another opportunity to network with our friends and colleagues. Another opportunity to enjoy all that is New York City in March.
Vision Expo East was my fourth major trade show of 2023. As many of you know, I’ve been traveling a bit so far in 2023. I visited opti in Munich, MIDO in Milan, 100% Optical in London, and now Vision Expo as well as The Loft in New York, and it’s only March.
Am I tired of seeing new eyewear? Not at all. After so much travel, I do feel a bit more sympathy for those companies who have also been exhibiting at all or most of the same shows. I can see how it can real old, real quick, but I applaud those exhibitors for treating each show with new enthusiasm and bringing with them the energy as if each day is the first day.
It is no secret that when comparing the various optical trade shows I have traveled to over the last half-dozen year, I have been disappointed with both Vision Expo East and West. Compared to the continental European optical trade shows, Vision Expos are quite vanilla, lacking any real personality. There is a sterility to the booths, where they end up being little more than a stark white stall of card tables and folding chairs with very little personality.
There are limits on decoration and vertical height here at Vision Expos, due to the huge expense of exhibition space, the monopoly of the exhibition decoration company, and union rules that make anything remotely resembling a fun or exciting booth cost prohibitive to all but the biggest multinational companies. I would love to root for the home team, but all it takes is one visit across the Atlantic to see both Vision Expos run a distant third or fourth in comparison to the optical trade shows on the other side of the Atlantic.
Vision Expo 2023 was a solid improvement over the 2022 show, the first real post-Covid optical trade show last year. It was also a nice improvement over the 2019 show, the last big New York show before the pandemic. With 425 exhibiting companies this year, there was plenty to see for everyone.
I congratulate the folks at The Vision Council and RX, their exhibition partner, for a much improved Vision Expo East in 2023. While it is still no competition for the best optical show, this year’s event was a solid step forward. For starters, the entire show was entirely on the main floor of the Javits Center this year. No more going up the escalator and down another to have your badge scanned repeatedly between appointments. Once you were in the show, you were able to see every exhibitor without having to show credentials multiple times.
While you only had to scan your badge once to get into the show unlike previous shows going up and down, getting your badge was almost as much fun as going through TSA at the airport. To get your credentials, you had to not only scan your QR code from registering in advance but had to show your ID. As if there has been some mysterious crime ring of people masquerading as optometrists and opticians and secretly downloading everyone else’s QR codes to get into a trade show. And of course, you couldn’t do a friend a favor and print theirs to bring it to them. The level of security to print a badge was a bit excessive. It’s not like every visitor to Vision Expo gets a free automobile, or even free food, or free drinks. All a badge earns you is free entry to a trade show you had to pre-register for. Yes, if you are just typing your name into the kiosk I can see where an ID might be warranted, but certainly not when you possess a QR code. Even then, even though we are both bald and not all that tall, I would bet 99% of Vision Expo would notice if I were walking around wearing Alan Glazier’s badge.
Allow me to make reference once again to the other trade shows I travel to regularly. Once you are registered, you receive a link to your badge, which you are free to print at home or at the convention center. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Something the Vision Expo people should most certainly look into for Vision Expo West of next year’s Vision Expo East.
To fit the over 425 brands onto one floor this year meant that many of the larger booths from big companies we all know were smaller to accommodate everyone being on the same floor. It also meant that a number of brands did not show in The Javits Center at all. Brands like De Rigo, ic! Berlin, Sihouette, and Etnia, to name just a few were obvious absences from Vision Expo. That doesn’t include the two dozen or so brands that exhibit at The Loft up the street at the Hudson Mercantile. The Loft, however, is not new and only has so much space, so those brands were not there either. All but Etnia had sizeable booths at the European shows earlier this year.
The Vision Expo people have a habit of renaming various sections of Vision Expo for some reason, while in the past, they kept the general layout the same. For several years many of us got a chuckle out of taking the escalator up to visit The Underground for example. This year’s Vision Expo East had an entirely new layout, save one section. While the higher-end independent frame lines that were exhibited formerly in The Galeria were back in the same section of the show this year in a section called The Atlieler, almost every other section in Vision Expo was new and in a whole new spot. Those sections were called The Park, The Springs, and The Union. The reasons for the names have never been explained or how they tie together, but it was nice to see a new layout in 2023. We have all gotten in the habit of walking to our favorite vendors somewhat blindly over the past several years and the realignment this year meant we all saw new lines and vendors we might not have seen in the past.
Right outside The Atelier section were a number of larger more global companies in The Park. This included such brands as ClearVision, Mondottica, Charmant, and Europa, to name just a few. This is also where The Bridge, the feature stage area sat.
At the back of The Park area was a small area called The Springs. The Springs is Vision Expo’s incubator area, where small up-and-coming eyewear companies were able to exhibit. While the similar Lab Academy area of MIDO is one of the busiest sections of the Italian optical trade show, The Springs area at Vision Expo East was a bit hard to find and by the look of the area, there was probably change leftover from the $5 decorating budget dedicated to that section. For many of the people I spoke with, this should be a major focus of improvement for the Vision Expo people. This is where the future of optical happens or in this case, doesn’t. As I mentioned earlier, the corresponding area at MIDO is one of the most consistently visited areas in any trade show However, since it brings in such little money to the Vision Expo organizers, we see how this area is constantly overlooked and constantly undernourished.
Entering the great hall area of The Javits Center was The Union. Here is where brands from Design Eyewear Group and Lafont to Studio Optyx to Morel to Laibach and York and TC Charton were to be found. This was the most pleasant surprise of Vision Expo East in 2023. Finally, a number of great independent brand names were given prime real estate. I am betting almost every one of those in The Union had a great show. This was the place to be at Vision Expo East 2023 and was the busiest area of the show. There were a few smaller independent brands hidden in the back of The Union for some reason, but overall, the layout of this section was the best I have seen in many years.
Finally on the far right or north end of The Javits was the section called The Focus. This is where the lens companies and equipment companies like IOT and Cherry Lab were to be found. Instead of being on the lower level of the Javits Center as in years past, they were given main-floor access this year and traffic seemed to indicate it was a success for those exhibiting in that space.
Vision Expo East 2023 was a big step forward over the Vision Expo Easts of the last 10 years, but still miles behind the European shows. When exhibitors have to pay a fortune to have a $5 case of water brought in from the loading dock or threatened with having their electricity turned off for plugging in their own light, we will unfortunately, continue to have a second-class trade show. However, to the opticians and optometrists I spoke with, they liked the new layout and the new enthusiasm that came with a new and renewed Vision Expo East. Baby steps… improvement step by step…
Here is one of the videos I took at Vision Expo East in case you weren’t there to see it on your own.
Be sure to check out all our videos from Vision Expo East on our YouTube channel.
Vision Expo East 2024 will take place March 15-17, 2024 at The Javits Center in New York City. We have great hopes the Vision Expo people will build on the success of 2023 and make the 2024 event bigger and better than ever. I hope to see you there.