Last weekend, June 2-5, 2021, Reed Exhibitions and The Vision Council held the first major in-person trade show in over18 months. Vision Expo East was moved from New York City to Orlando, Florida, where crowd restrictions are much looser to hold an in-person trade show and education conference, that so many of us have missed so much during the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and early 2021.
Since early 2020, I’ve made and subsequently canceled flight and hotel reservations three times to New York, four times to Milan, 2 times to London, and once each to Paris and Las Vegas, all for scheduled optical trade shows. So it was with great pleasure I could finally board an airplane, with an Optical Journal mask, and head to Orlando Florida for Vision Expo East 2021.
The Orange County Convention Center, where Vision Expo was held, is a massive structure, encompassing 7 million square feet of space. By comparison. New York’s Javits Center, where Vision Expo east is normally housed, is 1.6 million square feet of space. Even the massive Sands Convention Center where Vision Expo West is held annually is 2.2 million square feet. While Vision Expo didn’t begin to take up most of the Orange County Convention Center, you can see how it can easily accommodate multiple large conventions simultaneously with ease.
The trade show portion of Vision Expo East missed many of the usual brand names we are used to seeing at both Vision Expo East and West in normal times, especially in the eyewear frame category. Even still, over 200 vendors set up booths large and small to exhibit their wares to eye care professionals across the country who were happy to fist bump, hug, or shake hands with people outside their immediate families for the first time since Covid shut the world down.
First things first every day. Every person was required to get their temperature checked each morning and have a color sticker affixed to their badge before entering. Each morning a new color let everyone know they passed that one test. Then it was up the escalators to the show floor and the exhibition.
The aisles were widely spaced which made walking while social distancing easy. Centerpiece booth spaces like Europa erected plexiglass dividers to keep ECPs separated while looking at products. Many other booths distanced tables where customers could look at new eyewear while not sitting inches from others they didn’t know. Masks, while technically required while walking the show became very optional very fast. I noticed many people all three days not wearing masks once they got past the security guards. While there was security wandering the halls encouraging people to wear masks, it certainly at this point in the pandemic, was nothing worth getting in a fight over. In almost every meeting I had, we would very early on share that we had all been vaccinated and then by mutual consent removed our masks to go on with our meeting.
Vision Expo East 2021 featured the new neighborhoods touted by The Vision Council last year in the reimagination of Vision Expo for 2020. The Focus was where lenses and equipment manufacturers held shop. For Vision Expo East 2021, they were indeed the focus as they dominated the show floor space. There was plenty there to be seen and explored and the show spaces were busy from open to close. Missing from this Vision Expo were the long lines of people waiting to play video games to win a water bottle or keychain.
For eyewear, there was The Park with industry icons, The Union showcasing independent design, The River where the collections were a bit more eclectic and daring, and finally, The Springs, where next-generation up-and-coming designers were able to showcase their imagination with new and exciting eyewear. Unlike Vision Expos of past shows where you only knew you were in another neighborhood because the carpet changed colors, these new neighborhoods had much more definition and ambiance. The only disappointment shared by many was the choice to décor for the Springs. The small spaces were defined by corrugated cardboard walls accented by empty cardboard carpet tubes standing vertical. Where it should have brought color to these bright new companies it looked very out of place and made their products look cheaper. Hopefully, that is something that will be rethought before Vision Expo West.
OptiCon was located near the front of the exhibition space this year and was a gathering ground for opticians eager to learn more and update their CE Credits. Towards the back of the hall was The Seen, where the Eye2Eye Series of programming continued in person and was broadcast live via Vision Expo+, the free digital extension of Vision Expo where those unable to attend were welcome to do so digitally.
While Vision Expo East 2021 lacked the sheer numbers of vendors and eye care professionals that throng to either New York or Las Vegas during normal times, this edition was all-in-all well-executed, and from what I heard throughout the event, the people attending were there with a purpose. The eyewear and lens companies I spoke with were very happy with the excitement and orders they were generating. To a person, everyone there was happy to make the trip, to meet once again in person, to learn new things, to share new ideas, to touch and try on new products, to be with friends and colleagues we have all missed seeing for so long.
Here are two video tours we posted live on Facebook during Vision Expo East 2021.
It was terrific seeing old friends and colleagues. If the passion and optimism expressed by most everyone at Vision Expo East was anything, it was most certainly a teaser of just how big and bold Vision Expo West in Las Vegas will be this coming September. I would be willing to bet this will be the biggest Vision Expo West in perhaps the last 15 years. You might want to start booking your trip now.