The AOA National Show is a large event, but not as large as many conventions that I have planned in my career. However, it has something that other conventions do not…animals. Adding animals to an event brings in a whole other set of challenges and a dynamic that often requires some creativity to manage. It also means traveling a lot of ground dealing with issues at the show. Most days, I have already walked nine miles by noon.
I’ve been an event planner for most of my adult life. I’m used to solving problems, having little sleep at events, and covering a lot of miles at events. What does an event planner do? The short answer? An event planner creates, organizes, and supervises every element of an event, meeting or conference. They are involved with making sure these events go smoothly, including choosing locations, hiring caterers, entertainment and other vendors, and arranging lodging and transportation. Oh…and those alpacas I mentioned earlier…they add a whole new wrinkle to the overall plan.
So what does it take to put on the AOA National Show and Auction?
Several factors go into selecting the right location for the AOA National show. Let’s start with the venue – it has to potentially hold 1000 alpacas, stalls, 4 show rings, vendor spaces, competition displays, registration areas, staging and seating for 1000 attendees (including public), educational rooms and more. Other things we keep in mind are flooring, access to electricity and water, move in and out accessibility and budget! Cost will obviously always be a huge factor in choosing where to hold Nationals. As you can image finding the right location with the amount of space required, coming in with the budget allotted and facility availability can be challenging.
Cost to Members
We realize that it is expensive for our members to attend shows. The cost of travel, lodging, time away from work, and other expenses add up. We often get asked many questions. Why is it so expensive to attend a show? Why does this show charge more than that show? What does my registration fees cover? The simple answer is there is no simple answer. The list varies by event location, dates and years and includes items as facility rental fees, guest speaker, stalls and bedding, judges, superintendents, entertainment, catering, marketing, audiovisual, ribbons and awards, decorations, printing costs, shipping, security and insurance. Keep in mind that facilities charge for everything and they can be endless -- chef fees, bartender fees, service fees in addition to charges for power, loading docks, security, etc. That bottle of water you see the halter superintendent drinking can cost more than $4.50 a bottle when you add in tax and service fees, and unfortunately most facilities will not allow you to bring in your own water from the grocery store. AOA is always looking at new and innovating ways at cutting cost and passing them along to exhibitors.
Food and Beverage
There are several food functions that AOA hosts during each National show. Many people know planning a meal at a small holiday function can be daunting but accommodating and delighting guests at the AOA National Show while staying on budget can be a balancing act for even the most experienced planners. Several things are considered in the overall planning of food and beverage events. From guests preferences and consumption history, matching menus and service to daily agenda and theme, taking advantage of seasonal and local cost savings and always venue/caterings restrictions.
One of the larger food and beverage events that AOA hosts is the live alpaca auction. Many people know it’s important for the attendees and the consigner to have guests fill the room and stay throughout the evening. Auctions take place over several hours. Careful planning is considered to have food available for all guests throughout the evening without running out or spending a fortune. We want guests to pay attention, network, and bid. Keeping them there and happy is the goal.
There are many reasons volunteers play an important role in the AOA National show, but one of the most important is because it makes connections and builds organizational strength. As member volunteers get involved, they learn more about the organization and the event. They make connections with other volunteers and promote the association because they believe in it. Volunteering is a personal choice. They are not forced to be there and are not paid for the work they do. They become involved because of a deep rooted desire to see the organization succeed and to be involved in that success. At the same time, volunteering also extends the resources of AOA, by providing extra hands that enable us to do tasks and activities that might not otherwise be possible to complete. Volunteers also provide valuable input to the show and staff, which helps better manage the show and improve the show for next year.
It is impossible to have an alpaca show without volunteers willing to donate their time and energies to bring about a well-organized and smoothly run show. A productive show requires a lot of manpower!
Sponsorships play an important role in all events, but they are imperative to the AOA National Show. Why? It all comes down to budgets. It’s one of the ways to help cover the high cost of putting on this important event. Most sponsorships come from alpaca farms and ranches, as well as vendors that provide products and services to the industry.
Additionally, involving corporate and local sponsors helps credibility for our industry in local communities. Because the National show is in different locations year to year it allows for new and different sponsors each time. They want to show off their city, they want people to come back and most importantly they want you to enjoy your time and learn what their city has to offer. As a staff we start months and months in advance, researching, calling, emailing, networking, and promoting the show to the local vendors in the area. Soliciting corporate and local sponsors is a serious business and a giant task to take on. At the same time, securing these sponsorships is challenging, because our industry is relatively small compared to many and we can’t offer large enough exposure for many companies.
Part of planning the National show is keeping a proper balance of members’ time. There are several events that take place throughout the weekend that keep people hopping from event to event or class to class. At the same time, we work hard to schedule events to allow time for our members to network with one another and the public. That’s how relationships are built and sales are made. This networking is often overlooked in discussions of a show, but can often be just as important as obtaining that first place ribbon.
It allows members to meet, interact with and make new contacts with other alpaca owners and potential alpaca owners from all over the US. Having like-minded alpaca owners to talk to also gives members a chance to get advice on all sorts of things whether it is farm business or personal. For new alpaca owners or potential owners networking is a great way to tap into advice and expertise that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Lastly, it gives everyone an opportunity to see their peers animals, compare, and even evaluate them for possible alpaca or breeding purchases.
Not only are you there to show your alpaca, win ribbons, network with others, learn new things; we are all there to promote the alpaca industry as whole to a community who may never have seen an alpaca before. This is a great opportunity for you to help educate the local public that attends the show when they see the advertising that AOA utilizes to promote the show. As AOA staff, we work hard to get people in the door, but we rely on you as experts in the industry to essentially sell the industry to new people.
Planning this kind of event is often very stressful. I’ve dealt with missing stalls, stolen vendor merchandise, last minute changes, damage to facilities by contractors, hurt alpacas, sick alpacas, loose alpacas, and even missing alpacas. We even had a fork lift injure a person one year. With all of the guests, food, animals, promoting, tracking, analyzing, connections, etc. to keep track of, there’s hardly a moment to just breathe and enjoy the event!
These are just a few of the thousands of things that are on my mind if you see me at the national show as I walk past you many times throughout the week. There are constantly things that I am checking on, or questions that I am answering.
As your AOA conference manager, let me say that there are always new ideas to learn that will improve the show from year to year. With plenty of challenges and hurdles in planning an event of this size and diversity I am always up for the challenge. I hope those of you who attend have a wonderful time and I sincerely hope the AOA National Show and Auction will be an educational fun filled event for all. Join us for this year's AOA National Show & Auction, and perhaps you can even join me for nine miles by noon.