In what appears to be a retro trend — hearkening back to the days when show organizers contracted directly with specialty suppliers — several associations, including the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, have chosen to become their own general contractors.

What does this mean for exhibitors? “We'll be able to offer superior customer service, stabilize the costs of exhibiting, and take the hassle out of exhibiting at trade shows,” says Charles D. Yuska, president of PMMI, Arlington, Va., which recently created PACK EXPO Services LLC to service the PACK EXPO trade shows.

“This is different from other customers who hire us as their general service contractor, where we give them bids and they leave it to us to set the prices,” says Ray Pekowski, president and CEO of The Expo Group, Irving, Texas, which is supplying the software that PES is using to manage show details. “Here, PACK EXPO will have full control of everything. They'll set the prices, collect the dollars, and pay the suppliers.”

How will this stabilize exhibitor costs? PES will negotiate directly with suppliers to get the best value for exhibitors. Because PMMI isn't in the business of general contracting, PES can operate on a more narrow margin and offer services at lower prices than a general contractor.

Whether a show the size of PACK EXPO, at 1.2 million net square feet, can deliver on its promise remains to be seen. The first trial will be PACK EXPO International, to be held in November 2004 at Chicago's McCormick Place, with an expected 1,600 exhibiting companies.

PMMI may be the first association to form its own limited liability corporation for service contracting, but it is not the first to become its own service contractor. Atlanta-based TradeshowLogistics, another show management system, has persuaded at least two associations to do so. AFCOM, Orange, Calif.-based producer of the IS Expo for data center professionals, has produced two editions of its IS Expo with TradeshowLogistics. The most recent was the spring 2003 show at the Las Vegas Convention Center with 85 exhibiting companies. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Ill., will also use Tradeshow-Logistics for its November event at the New Orleans Convention Center, with 275 to 300 exhibiting companies.