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2002 FIN – How the Fastener Industry Discovered Columbus

2002 FIN – How the Fastener Industry Discovered Columbus
March 21
00:00 2017

October 8, 2002 FIN – Officially, it was the “National Industrial Fastener Show & Conference” through most of its 22-year history. But to the industry the easier name and the term of endearment for the show held in the capital city of Ohio was simply “Columbus.”

Bell Fasteners' booth pictured at NIFS in 1981 (photo courtesy of NIFS).

Bell Fasteners’ booth pictured at NIFS in 1981 (photo courtesy of NIFS).

Whether on the telephone or in person at association meetings, “See you at Columbus,” was the phrase many used in saying goodbye all spring.

The industry’s annual Columbus tradition has changed, as show management has announced NIFS/East will move to Orlando, FL, for 2003, and may rotate to other Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern cities.

Everybody went to Columbus at its peak in the 1990s. On setup day, CEOs could be seen on ladders putting together booths.

The next day inside salespeople were meeting their telephone customers for the first time in person.

The idea for the show developed in Columbus, in March 1980 when Mike McGuire called Jim Bannister’s office. Gloria Crase answered the call and sensed McGuire’s urgency and enthusiasm and reached Bannister, who was running a bank technology conference in Virginia, and they set an appointment for the day he got back.

Exhibitors at first NIFS in Columbus.

At the time 44-year-old Bannister’s business was managing trade shows. McGuire, then 33, was third generation in the fastener distribution business.

“Mike McGuire came into my office and said he had an idea for a national fastener show,” Bannister recalled of the day they first met.

Bannister questioned McGuire about possible competing shows. “I told him it was a good idea if there was not already a show. I relied on this guy and what he was telling me that there wasn’t a national show.”

McGuire told Bannister he had a fastener source guide and that a trade show would be a good way to peddle his book.

“If what you say is true, I can’t see how it wouldn’t work,” Bannister recalled responding to McGuire.

“I’m willing to gamble,” McGuire told Bannister as he pulled out a checkbook. The two each wrote matching checks to provide start-up funds and shook hands on the deal.

“We didn’t have a written agreement,” Bannister noted.

The first show was held June 3-4, 1981, in Battelle Hall in the old Ohio Center. That space is now located above the food court at the current Greater Columbus Convention Center.

There were 90 exhibiting companies in a total of 103 10×10 booths at the first show. The next year there were 164 companies and 192 booths, and the numbers increased “annually to the banner year of 1998 when we had 473 companies and 678 booths,” Bannister told Fastener Industry News.

Attendance the first two years is unknown, but Bannister estimated it at 1,200 the first year and 1,500 the second. Show management reported registration for 1983 was 2,064.

“This, too, grew steadily to 3,091 in 1989, dipped slightly in 1990, 1991 and 1992 and then rose sharply to 3,070 in 1995 and the all-time high of 3,341 in 1996,” according to Bannister.

The figures don’t include exhibitor personnel, “so overall attendance has exceeded 5,000 persons on numerous occasions,” Bannister pointed out.

One distributor at the first Columbus show told FIN at the time that it was “amazing that it hadn’t been done before. I don’t think anybody really looked at how big this industry really was, that it could support a trade show. The part I like best is that I’ve seen people here I haven’t seen in 25 years guys who stayed in the industry but changed jobs.”

McGuire told FIN that he was “surprised that so many had professional booths carpeted, done first class” at the first show.

Exhibitor Reaction
In its June 10, 1981, issue Fastener Industry News reported the first show “was pronounced a huge success by everyone FIN talked to,” and the most frequent exhibitor complaint was “tired feet.”

“When we go to a packaging show, we are normally glad to see anybody affiliated with the fastener industry; we haven?t had a medium to expose us to a concentrated group of fastener distributors,” one exhibitor told FIN. “Our equipment is primarily for packaging fasteners. We’ve been overwhelmed and certainly will be back in a bigger way, as a matter of fact.”

“The show’s been very decent. We haven’t signed up for next year; we?ll wait about a month and see if some of this stuff actually develops.”

“We got 85 solid leads yesterday and a good amount again today. We’ve already signed up for next year. I’ve talked to a number of people who can’t believe the education they got just spending a couple of hours walking up and down here.”

“Fantastic. I didn’t know what to expect. The price is right; the exposure is definitely right. The hotel is inexpensive. But the drinks are very expensive.”

By the end of the two-day inaugural event show management reported half of the booths were renewed and space was being increased 50% for 1982.

In the second year show management started the NIFS Hall of Fame in conjunction with the show. A total of 85 persons have been inducted at the annual banquets drawing their families, friends, suppliers, customers and even competitors to Columbus.

Over the years Columbus reflected the health of the industry. At the 1988 show then FIN editor Dick Callahan found “upbeat exhibitors and attendees who all seemed pretty excited about having enough activity during the first day alone to call the trip a success.”

The economy weakened the next few years, but by 1993 there was a record turnout. The combination of the improved economy and a move into the expanded and attached Greater Columbus Convention Center pushed up booth space 77%, and attendee registration rose 25% from 1992.

“If the numbers at Columbus presage anything for the industry, it looks like the fastener field is in for some busier times in the future,” Callahan reported in 1993.

Indeed, Columbus records continued to be set through most of the 1990s.

Bannister said his favorite year was about halfway through the 22-year run when fastener machinery exhibits were added to the distribution-oriented show. “The entire industry was together at one time, whether they were manufacturers, distributors or importers,” Bannister reflected.

Columbus Legend
Industry legend has it that the fastener show was the largest convention in Columbus and that more drinks were sold at the Hyatt Regency bar during the fastener show than at any other time.
However, Bannister said the show was probably only in the top 10 largest in Columbus.

The drink total may be true. “We were told that by the Hyatt Hotel” Bannister acknowledged. “Though we’re not particularly proud of that,” he hastened to add.

The Hyatt is attached to the convention center, and the mezzanine-level bar was shoulder to shoulder with fastener people until last call. It was for many the “must” place to meet less formally with customers and industry friends after the show.

Legendary Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes was scheduled to kick off the conference program in conjunction with the 1981 show. Hayes was hospitalized and missed the first show but spoke the next year at the first NIFS Hall of Fame induction.

In subsequent years show management brought in sports celebrities Rocky Blier, Bobby Knight, George Blanda and Terry Bradshaw to speak at Hall of Fame events.

Knight’s visit was timely, because he had “just made the headlines with his infamous interview with Connie Chung,” show manager Crase added.

“We also welcomed Jack Hanna from the Columbus Zoo, who brought his famous Madagascar roaches,” Crase recalled.

Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell gave a reenactment of that near fatal trip to the moon. Sen. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut was a guest just after the Watergate scandal.

The outstanding booths Crase remembered were topped by Joel Hammer’s Distributor Sales double-decker just inside the hall entrance.

Crase also recalled Quick Cables “Smokin” Buckeye #3,” the Ohio State University Formula Lightning race car used in competitions with other universities.

Emhart’s multiple-booth, RV-size mobile engineering lab “certainly was outstanding,” Crase said.

Conferences were featured the day before the show, with topics varying with the times. There were 11 sessions in 1988 drawing a record 980 participants. Three times there were sales training workshops for exhibitors.

Crase recalls the 1996 “Fastener Industry Roundtable” discussion of current issues and future trends as one of the most popular.

When implementation of the U.S. Fastener Quality Act appeared imminent in 1998, hundreds attended a program, with panelist Kirk Flashner of the Bureau of Export Administration finding himself in the hot seat.

Engineer Jim Speck has been a featured conference presenter since 1983 when he spoke on “Helping Your Customers Get Their Fastener Dollars Worth.” From 1991 through this year he presented one-day “Fastener Fundamentals” seminars strictly limited to about 20 students. Most students had been in the industry less than two years, and many were getting their first formal fastener training.

Many trade shows can be impersonal, and people come and go over the years. Not everyone on the show floor knew Bannister, McGuire or Crase personally, but Columbus did have one human element exhibitors and attendees became familiar with: the distinctive voice of Bannister on the microphone opening the show, paging McGuire or others, announcing prizes, or bidding showgoers adieu at the end of the day.

The Columbus show’s 22-consecutive-year run has come to an end, and the show is moving to Orlando, but an obituary might not be appropriate. Bannister noted that the East show might return to “the show’s birthplace at some future time.”

After all, the Ford Thunderbird and Volkswagen Beetle returned in updated forms. In the meantime, industry veterans will be telling their successors about the Columbus heydays. ©2002/2009

Editor’s 2009 Note: Though operating at a fraction of its peak size, NIFS/East has subsequently been held in Orlando, Baltimore and Atlanta. In 2006 and 2008 it was held again in Columbus. NIFS/East was not held in 2009, but is scheduled to return in 2010.

Related Links:

• National Industrial Fastener Show

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