In one of the industry's first major in-person events since the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual World of Concrete (WOC) trade show and exhibition returned to Las Vegas from June 7-10, 2021.
Representing all segments of the construction industry, WOC is described as the commercial construction industry's largest annual international event for concrete and masonry professionals. More than 60,000 industry professionals from all around the world typically attend WOC, with approximately 1,500 exhibiting companies and more than 700,000 square feet (65,032.1 m2) of indoor and outdoor exhibit space.
As usual, CoatingsPro Magazine was on hand to take in all the festivities with its own booth, along with gathering intel on market trends and useful case studies to feature in print and digital platforms over the coming months.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the key takeaways! CoatingsPro Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Chizik and Multimedia Specialist Bree McCullough, who were both in Las Vegas for the show, joined our podcast to share what they learned. See below for a complete transcript.
Ben DuBose: On today’s show, we’re going to have Stephanie and Bree fill everyone in on what’s been happening out at the show and what some of the key takeaways are for the industry. Stephanie, I think a good place to start, because you’re our editor-in-chief, just tell any listeners who might not be fully familiar, what World of Concrete is and how it ties into the coatings industry and what we cover at CoatingsPro.
Stephanie Chizik: Thanks for having me on our podcast. It’s fun to be on the other end of this. World of Concrete is exactly what it sounds like. It is all things concrete, from surface prep to before that even, I guess, like the admixtures, laying the concrete, masonry. As far as topping and overlays, fixing it and mitigating corrosion issues maybe in the rebar or issues with the pour. As people who are familiar with concrete know, every concrete pour is different, so you have to treat it differently each time. It’s a really interesting show. It’s our biggest one usually of the year. It’s a little bit smaller this year, understandably. But it’s still a huge offering as far as what’s new this year or I guess even for the past 18 months. Just reconnecting with people, giving them what they need as far as materials or tips and tricks. There’s education sessions as well. It’s definitely a large overview of all things concrete. It’s really interesting.
BD: We’re going to get into market talk in just a little bit. But I think a good place to start with this is the human interest angle of this being the first huge industry event since COVID. There’s been, I know, a few sectional events, little things here or there. But this is really one of the first big-time shows that attract visitors in the tens of thousands to take place since the first couple months of 2020. So I think it’s a very — if nothing else — interesting story, I’m sure, being back at an event like this. Bree, let’s start with you. I want to pose the same question to each of you, but in general, what does it feel like being out at an in-person show for the first time since the pandemic started?
Bree McCullough: It’s kind of been a roller coaster of emotions because it was really nerve-wracking thinking about being around all these people again because it’s been 18 months since you’ve been in a large crowd. So I was really nervous going into it and being around everyone again. But once you’re here, it’s been so nice and so exciting to reconnect with people, to see everyone again. I’ve met a lot of new faces. I met Stephanie for the first time on this trip, which has been fantastic. It’s been so great to just see people and be around people and to be able to talk to people face-to-face and not through a computer screen again. It’s been a lot of fun, seeing what everyone’s been working on over the last 18 years — oh, 18 months.
BD: It feels like 18 years.
BM: Yeah, it feels like it. [laughter] But it’s been really exciting, and I’ve really enjoyed being here. This is definitely the biggest show that I’ve been to. I’m still relatively new to the industry. It’s been a little overwhelming, but I’ve really enjoyed it.
BD: For anyone who hasn’t been following, at any of our social media pages, especially Facebook and Instagram, Bree has been putting together these videos at the end of every World of Concrete day, wrapping up some of the cool exhibits, booths, demos. It really gives you a quick look at a lot of the things going on out at World of Concrete in Las Vegas. If you haven’t checked it out, please stop by our Instagram, Facebook. Like and follow those pages if you aren’t already, and you can check out those videos, which really cover a lot of ground in just about 90 seconds. Bree’s been doing a great job on that.
BM: Thank you.
BD: Stephanie, the same question to you. What does it feel like being back? I know typically you do a ton of shows in-person every year. Now you’ve had to go more than 15 months without doing any. What does it feel like being back? I don’t know if it’s normal but something close to what you typically do.
SC: It does surprisingly feel very similar or very close to normal. I will say, I will second what Bree just said. It’s so nice to get out there and talk to people. We all know in the back of our minds how much we’ve been missing in-person contact. But until we got to do it this week, it’s so refreshing. You reconnect with people that you see. I was trying to figure this out yesterday. I think I’ve gone to seven or eight World of Concretes at this point, so I’ve seen it change over the years of course. This year’s changed a bit as well. You start to see the same people and the same faces. Just reconnecting with the contractors, to me, I forgot how — I always say how my favorite thing about CoatingsPro is when I get to talk to our readership, who are the coatings contractors. That’s still true. I just forgot how really great that is because we haven’t been able to do that in-person in such a long time. It was so refreshing to be able to have these connections again. It does feel surprisingly normal. Also, little things that I maybe had forgotten about just easily come back, just talking to people at the booth or walking around. It’s been really nice. It’s been awesome.
BD: World of Concrete was one of the lucky shows that did get to go off in 2020, because typically it’s early in the calendar — January, February, something like that. So they were able to sneak it in before the pandemic. Of course, this year it was delayed because the vaccine rollout made it to really June was about the earliest that you could realistically pull off an event like this, especially with the revised CDC guidance, and feel secure about it. Stephanie, how different is it — or not different — relative to other World of Concretes? I know you’ve been doing this off and on for quite a while, going out to Vegas for World of Concrete. How different is this? I know you mentioned earlier it’s a little bit smaller. Other than that, how close to normal is it for a typical World of Concrete?
SC: The biggest difference is there’s a brand-new hall at the convention center. I know that doesn’t feel like necessarily a big deal on paper, but it’s just a completely different layout as far walking the show and attending sessions and how you navigate. They’re also doing this thing — I haven’t gotten a chance to do it yet, but — Tesla apparently is doing rides to and from the different halls, because it’s about a 10-minute walk. They’re coming up with innovative ways to kind of make it fun even though it’s different.
Besides that, I would say, I think it’s just that it’s smaller. The outdoor space used to be — or I shouldn’t say used to be, it probably will be fine next year — but the last time we had World of Concrete, the outdoor spaces were growing each year. I think this year it’s smaller not only because of COVID and this being the first time we’re back in person again, but also it’s June. June in Vegas is very different than January in Vegas. Just the pure availability to do some of this work outside in 90–100°F heat, it’s just a very different experience.
Inside the halls, it’s quite similar as far as the types of booths and the products that are being shared and that kind of thing. There are a lot of similarities. There are also quite a few differences this year. I’m really hopeful. We say next year, but it’s really only 6 months. I hope that for 2022. I think we’ll see it going back to even almost back to completely normal. It’s just going to be a matter of can the contractors get out of work in January. June is typically a really high season for a lot of these people who would normally attend.
BD: That’s a good point on the weather. I hadn’t considered that. But yes, that’s probably the biggest factor, why, with all these outdoor exhibits, they do it in January or February, because in Vegas that’s usually when you feel like you can get the best whether.
SC: It’s hot.
BD: Whereas now, yes, even though it’s the travel season, it is not fun to be outside for those exhibits.
SC: It’s the travel season as they can by the pools, but we’re not going. We’re here to work.
BD: Exactly. It’s a little bit different for us. Anyway, as far as the exhibits, indoor or outdoor, does anything stand out? Bree, I’ll start with you since it’s your first time. What are some of the really cool demos or booths that you’ve seen?
BM: Stephanie and I, we’ve been exploring the floor together quite a bit. Just yesterday, actually, we were over with Aquajet, and they were doing a lot of really cool demos and showing some of the new equipment that they had out. From a video and photography standpoint, anything moving, it just catches my eye and I run to. I believe it was — what were they showing? It was —
SC: They were doing — they do hydrodemolition for surface prep, so I think they were showing a few of their options, as far as that goes. There’s one that goes up a vertical wall, and there’s a few that can work on horizontal as well. I don’t remember the product names specifically, though.
BM: There was someone there who was operating all of them and showing everyone what they could do. Those are really cool, and I was excited to be able to capture some of that on video.
BD: Stephanie, same question to you. Is there anything that stood out to you? I don’t know if it’s something new but just something that really caught your eye when you’re walking these halls or what limited stuff there is outside.
SC: I haven’t gotten to go to the Diamond lot yet, which I think is where a lot of the outdoor events are going to be, so I’m excited for that today. I keep coming back in my head to Quikrete, which it’s not new, but they just do a really good job of stadium seating with their demos. They have constant demos throughout the day. I think that’s the piece that we’re missing with this virtual world that we’ve been living in. It’s not necessary that you can’t share the same information. It’s that you want to touch it, see it. You want to see how it works. You want to see how it lays down. You want to talk to someone who does this on a daily basis probably. So to me, the Quikrete one. And that’s actually not far from our booth, so it’s kind of nice to just pop over there and see what they’re presenting at that hour or what have you. I think they do that every year. So if people are coming next year to World of Concrete, they’ll be able to experience what I’m talking about there.
BM: And Quikrete has so many tactile aspects of their booth that you can kind of touch and feel the different coatings and concrete. That’s really interesting as well.
BD: From my perspective, when I’ve done World of Concrete — and I’ve been doing it not this year, but the last couple of years at least — one of the real highlights, and I suppose the true “meat and potatoes” of the experience is the one-on-one conversations, because, be it for future case studies in CoatingsPro or perhaps technology information for our supplements, it’s these one-on-one conversations with people where you get a better sense of what’s really going on out in the field.
From our perspective as editors and writers and, in Bree’s case, multimedia specialist with a magazine, we’re not out in the field. We’re relaying these stories from our contractors and, in many cases, material equipment suppliers, whatever it may be, of how their products and what’s happening out in the field. But we’re not doing it ourselves. Basically, what we do, it’s only as good as the relationships and the quality of information that we get out from the contractors that are going out and actually doing this. That’s why a show like this — especially in person — is so useful to build those relationships and to help us learn what’s really going on in a given year. Stephanie, with that in mind, when you talk to people this year, what are some of the key takeaways? This can be, I suppose, technologies that they need, the trends they’re seeing. Basically, what are they saying that’s going on out in the market right now?
SC: I think the number one thing is what we’ve been saying, is just that it’s so nice to be able to see people in person. Aside from that, as far as trends go, I’ve definitely, I’m still hearing that people are having trouble finding people to work for them. That’s going to be, I think, a continued issue for a while, until we figure that out. I know there’s a supply chain issue with materials. People are talking about that from all different aspects. Trucks or just your raw materials for your coatings or what have you. That’s definitely on top of people’s minds. I would say safety is always definitely something — especially during COVID times — it’s just on the top of everyone’s mind right now. That’s also a discussion as far as what does safety look like and how is it changing on the jobsite? Not only with PPE but also with how can we make people safer? From an equipment standpoint I mean. When Bree was talking about those pieces of equipment from Aquajet, they are remote — not activated, but they’re remote vehicles. They’re — I don’t know what to call it. They’re used by —
BM: Operator controlled?
SC: You’re putting a distance between the operator and the potential hazard. I think there’s a lot more opportunities and more equipment coming out that they use that. That also helps with the labor shortage issue as well. You don’t need five people working on the surface prep; maybe you only need one guy on the end of the joystick. Those are the top ones that I’ve noticed this year.
BD: One of the big benefits for us, I feel like, in terms of our crew at CoatingsPro that went out there, of course Stephanie and myself are from the NACE side of the fence when it comes to before the AMPP merger, as it happened earlier this year. Bree, for those who don’t know, was with SSPC. Now, of course, we’re all under the AMPP umbrella. But now that we’re going out into the first in-person show since the pandemic and also since the merger — the first major in-person show I should say — again, we know there’s been a few smaller events here and there — but I think it’s good that we have coverage from both side, NACE and SSPC, so it gives us a good overall insight into the industry.
Bree, from your perspective, the same question that I just asked to Stephanie: What are some of the key takeaways that you’ve had? Have there been any sort of trends in your conversations with people in terms of what they’re seeing in the market, what they need? What’s the 30,000-foot overview of what people are talking about?
BM: To echo Stephanie, I think a lot of people really — a lot of conversations are just that people are really excited to be here, to be out here again, to see things opening up, and to see normalcy really close in the near future. I feel like I have a little bit of a different perspective on these events, because I don’t really come from a coatings technical background as much as I have — as a multimedia specialist, I have the photography, videography, and social media background.
So a lot of my conversations are, “What gear are you using? What camera is that? Can I take that on my jobsite” type of thing. I feel like my conversations are a little different. But it is interesting to hear people on the show and contractors asking me about gear and how they want to add multimedia aspects and video to their company. Because people are realizing that video is very important. It is such an essential marketing tool. I’m always excited to talk to people about video and photography whenever they want to.
BD: Absolutely. And it ties into your business because, for example, a lot of the decisions that we make at CoatingsPro, especially with our print issues, come down to, “Do you have quality visuals that we can run with to help illustrate what happened on a project?” With the web, of course, images are important, but you also have a multimedia component in regard to videos that we can play up. If we or some other publication publicizes your great work, then as a contractor, that can help you earn future projects from the publicity. There are so many benefits that come with that. That’s a really interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of. But yes, these contractors do need to prioritize, not just photos but videos as well, because that ties into their business because it’s not just about the one article that they get with CoatingsPro or some other publication. It’s the benefits of that article and what that can do for them as a business. I think that’s a really interesting takeaway. I’m glad to hear that people are recognizing the importance of that.
Let’s transition to our usual rapid-fire. We’ll do it a little bit different. For anyone listening to the CoatingsPro Interview Series, you know that, over the past few months, we’ve had these rapid-fire questions. We’ll do it a little bit different. I suppose what happens in Vegas stays on the podcast, in this case. [laughter] Stephanie, I’ll start with you. What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve see in Vegas on this trip?
SC: That’s appropriate for this podcast. I guess I would say all of the outdoor exhibits are really cool here. I haven’t gotten to see too much of Vegas outside of the show, which is fine. Obviously, I’m here for that. I think the outdoor exhibits. We walked outside at one point during the day yesterday, and they were 3-2-1, and they had a competition for breaking down — I guess it was a concrete slab — with these huge sledgehammers, by hand, just to see how quickly you could do it in 15 seconds. That was pretty fun. It’s a little bit of a quieter —. Maybe the other most interesting thing I’ve seen is the brand-new exhibit hall, which like I said, doesn’t sound very exciting, but it really is cool. You’re inside these halls for nine hours every day or whatever it is when you’re traveling. It’s a beautiful space. It’s really interesting to see. I’m sure there’s coatings from top to bottom in it. So it’s just a cool feat to see how much Vegas has changed — and is continuing to change even now — over the past 18 months.
BD: Bree, same to you. Most interesting thing you’ve seen in Vegas.
BM: Honestly, this is my first time in Vegas, so everything is interesting to me. Everywhere I turn, I’m just like, “Oh, okay!” It’s my first time at World of Concrete as well, and the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. So I’m just wide-eyed, taking everything in because it’s just so big and so grand. For the last 15–18 months, I’ve been working from home and had to talk to everyone through a computer. So it’s a completely different world. It’s very interesting being out there again and seeing everyone and people. Las Vegas is a very fun city. They have a lot going on here.
BD: Stephanie, quick follow-up because I know you’ve been to Vegas a few times. Outside of the show, in terms of the hotels, the restaurants, how back to normal is it? Does it feel the same way it did before?
SC: Yes. It absolutely does.
BD: That’s good.
SC: It’s kind of a weird feeling because I expected it to be that we’d have to do a lot of things differently, but I think because they waited for the vaccines, that has made a big difference. Basically, it’s just like normal. I also forgot that you could smoke in the casinos, and I walked in the front door, and I was like, “Oh, that’s right.” It’s funny, the things you forget.
BD: Back to rapid-fire. Last question that I was going to ask of that. What’s been your favorite swag giveaway. For anyone that’s been to a show, you know that one of the perks and also just humorous things are the random free giveaways that so many of these big booths have. What’s been the most interesting, whether you took it or not? Just the most interesting swag giveaway that you’ve seen.
BM: I personally am a sucker for any booth that has candy.
BD: That always works.
SC: I think because of a few parameters that World of Concrete put up this year, a lot of people weren’t even sure we were going to be allowed to have swag. So I haven’t really seen anything super cool except for, I saw, I picked up a hi-vis gator. I thought that was pretty fun.
BD: That is pretty cool.
SC: Maybe be able to use on a jobsite if I’m going to take pictures or what have you. This is going to sound completely self-serving, but I have to say that our — not only does CoatingsPro but also across the hall we have our AMPP booth as well — our swag this year is nothing new as far as what we’ve done in the past two years, but we’ve got water bottles, coffee mugs, and flashlights, and they are super popular. That’s kind of fun. Our own swag. Is that sad? [laughter]
BD: CoatingsPro swag is actually pretty popular. Those lunchboxes, every time we have those, those go away almost immediately. And the thing is, they get used at the show.
SC: I know. I love it.
BM: Another swag item I saw was this little trowel. It was a key thing. It was a metal trowel, and that thing could have been used for a weapon. It’s three points of the triangle. It was sharp. I don't think I could have taken it on a plane.
BD: I was going to tell you a funny story about that. This was in Nashville a couple of years ago, so it would have been International Roofing Expo, I believe. One of the vendors, I forget who it was, but they were giving away some general roof coatings type equipment. It was all packaged in something that I could just put in my suitcase. I didn’t realize, but one of the things they had in there was a drill bit. When I went through security, trying to get back home at the airport, it kept getting flagged. I had no idea what they were catching, and it was a little bit embarrassing because I had to go through my entire luggage. They pulled it off to the side, all that kind of stuff. I’m like, “I have no idea what is in there.” Then they found the drill bit. Funny thing, I couldn't even take it home because that’s one of the things that you can’t bring on an airplane. Yes, some of those giveaways, I was actually thinking the same thing, can be very interesting. I learned the hard way from IRE a couple years ago.
BD: Anyway, final thoughts as we wrap up. Stephanie, we’ll start with you. Anything we haven’t covered already? Your thoughts, reflections on the experience? Any key takeaways or other information that you want to share before you fly out of Las Vegas tonight?
SC: I think, just the main thing is I’m so looking forward to coming back in another six months to even further get back to more normal. I don’t even — I just mean by more normal is the getting to talk to the contractors. It’s so key for us to be able to share information and help with pain points and know what’s going on in the field, like you were saying earlier, Ben. It’s crucial to being able to meet our mission, which is to be able to help improve the contractor’s job at the end of the day, whether that’s with better safety or better products or what have you. Someone did say something — I love standing at the booth because I get to talk to all the contractors who stop by. One of the contractors was saying how they were new to CoatingsPro, they’d never heard of us before, and I was walking them through the feature stories. You know, “We’d love to have a project from you to consider.” He was like, “Oh, this would be great to share with prospective clients.” I just was like, “Yes, yes it would.”
BD: That’s the point.
SC: It benefits us and you. So yes. It’s just so nice to be able to talk to everyone. I’m really enjoying it. Coworkers, contractors, vendors, everyone is really appreciative. It’s very heartwarming to be in a collective space where we’re all feeling the same emotion of hope and joy. “We’re here, let’s do it.” It’s exciting.
BD: Definitely. Bree, same to you. I know it’s your first show since the merger, your first since the pandemic. A lot of new firsts for this. Your first trip to Vegas period, which is I’m sure pretty interesting. Any final thoughts on the experience and what you’ve learned and what you’re going to take out of this week?
BM: It’s been — it’s also my first time going anywhere as part of the CoatingsPro team. I really enjoyed, not only working next to Stephanie and Eliina, but getting to interact with our members, our subscribers, our readers. It’s been really fun to be at the booth and have people come up and go, “That’s my friend on the cover.” To have people get so excited. To see them resonate with the magazine so closely, it is heartwarming, and it is nice to see. I’m excited to get to know our readers, our members, our subscribers, our clients. I’m excited to get to know them more, to interact with them more. I’m looking forward to our next conference that we get to attend. Now that we’ve been to World of Concrete, it feels like more conferences are going to be happening soon, hopefully. This was kind of like the start of things. I’m just amped up and ready to keep going.
BD: Amped up, appropriate for an AMPP podcast. [laughter] The pun of all puns. I think that’s a good point too and a good place to leave it, is that we will have more events. It’s really the beginning of things, because now that — I think one of the benefits of World of Concrete pulling this off is it’s going to be a lot easier for other shows to be confident that this can be done safely, and that people are going to be comfortable with whatever the new normal is. Of course, as we get back to having these shows on a regular basis, then the vast majority of major events within the coatings industry, you can count on CoatingsPro to have a booth. Come by and see us. We can talk about potentially featuring your technologies, your projects, whatever it may be depending on your role. We’ve got some free swag as well that you should be able to take advantage of. With that, we’ll wind down today.