Meet the Puzzle Masters
Arrangers of America’s Largest Manufacturing Trade Show!
The initial floor plan for IMTS 2020 was released this week. It will change more than 400 times before opening day, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. How is it laid out? Why does it change? Here’s the scoop from the dauntless team that pieces it together to bring you one of the greatest shows on earth!
In this behind-the-scenes video and article, the puzzle masters share their tactics, challenges, and solutions to arrange the 2,000-piece puzzle across 1.5 million square feet of floor space—approximately the size of 13 Wrigley Fields, 87 hockey rinks, or 25 football fields.
From securing the site and the booth application process to the initial floor plan and opening day of the show, they work through a mighty maze of fire codes, electrical/plumbing needs, weight/height restrictions, and dozens of other factors to offer exhibitors and visitors an experience of a lifetime.
Watch or read. You may gain some tips for planning your next event!
Securing the Site
Years before the show, IMTS signs a contract with McCormick Place, America’s largest convention center located in Chicago, Ill. Covering close to 1.5 million square feet of floor space, McCormick Place has been the home of IMTS since 1972. Chicago has been the home of IMTS since 1947.
Applications & Due Dates
Applications are distributed 25 months (in August) prior to the show and are due in mid-October. Every exhibitor, who submits their application on time, is included in the initial floor plan, which takes six months to complete and debuts in early May.
“The initial floor plan is just the beginning,” says Mark Kennedy, AMT Director – Exhibitions Sales. “The floor plan will change hundreds of times up to the day of the show as existing exhibitors decrease in size or decide not to exhibit.”
Drawing the Initial Floor Plan
Since 1994, Tom Snyder, Exhibitions Sales Manager, has drawn the IMTS floor plans. “Arranging the booths and aisles is like putting together a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and each piece has a note about how to handle it,” says Tom. “I look at every exhibitor request and take them all into consideration. As changes come and we lay out the floor plan, I look for ways to make those requests a reality. I keep redrawing to fit them in.”
Here’s a snapshot of the steps Tom takes to design the initial floor plan within six months.
- Sort the 2,000 applications by pavilion. (Each of the pavilions represents one of nine product categories.) “Visitors can go to one place to comparison shop for software and another for tooling,” says Tom.
- Position the largest booths with regard to more than three dozen constraints including fire codes, safety issues, columns, weight/height restrictions, and more. He tries to avoid having columns in booths. He admits this is hard to do on Level Two of the East building.
- Draw the main aisles and get bearings for cross aisles. “I think of the aisles as highways with on and off ramps, guiding people through the building, with clear lines of site,” says Tom.
- Position small and medium sized booths throughout the hall while considering the size of equipment they are bringing in.
- Rearrange, redraw, redraw, and redraw, as exhibitors make changes, downsize or decide to withdraw.
Meet Mark Kennedy – All About the People
Mark leads the puzzle masters. He first attended IMTS at the age 21 as an employee of a registration partner, moved his way upward in the company, and for 25 years worked on more than 500 shows including IMTS – his biggest client. In 2011, he landed his dream job as AMT Director – Exhibitions Sales for IMTS. “It was the longest job interview in history,” says Mark.
“I always wanted to work for IMTS because it's the biggest and the best,” says Mark. “IMTS is always innovating. I love my job because of the people. My team is creative, detail-orientated, and customer-focused. The exhibitors are friendly, and the visitors are appreciative.”
In addition to laying out the floor plan, Mark’s team is focused on helping every exhibitor meet their goals for the show. “From communicating deadlines for shipments and working with unions to understanding hanging sign guidelines and helping first-time exhibitors, we try to have a one-on-one relationship with each exhibitor and communicate exactly what's going on all through the two-year show cycle.”
When he's not preparing for IMTS, Mark enjoys reading, collecting baseball cards, and spending time with his granddaughters.
Meet Tom Snyder – Floor Plan Creator
As the Exhibitions Sales Manager, Tom aims to place companies in the right place on the show floor. He loves working with exhibitors and knows many very well, some for 34 years! After all, he’s been involved with IMTS since 1985.
Tom enjoys the challenge of creating the floor plan and compares it to putting a giant 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle together without interlocking pieces.
Tom says his job is all about relationships. He wants exhibitors to know, “I am giving it my best. I look at every request and take them all into consideration.”
“I focus on creating the best layouts for exhibition booths, easy navigation for visitors, and ultimately to connect exhibitors and visitors.” He takes pride in the fact that IMTS is one of the shows with the highest yield of floor plan square footage.
He designs six floor plans, one each for the main levels of the North, South, East, and West buildings and the lower levels in the North and East buildings. When he starts to feel stuck, he moves on to another floor. “Often ideas pop into my head while I am working on one floor that I can use on another,” says Tom.
For booths in the back of the hall, under a lower ceiling, or in less visible spaces, Tom makes special considerations. “I try to give 10 x 10 booths corners with two open sides, 10 x 20 booths three open sides, and 20 x 20 booths all open sides to gain more visibility,” says Tom.
When he's not piecing the show floor together, Tom is using his creativity and planning skills to landscape his yard, reading crime fiction novels by his favorite author Michael Connelly, or pushing his muscles to the limit weightlifting. (He once bench-pressed 265 lbs. and leg pressed 1,000 lbs.)
Meet Katie Carey – Artsy and Logical
“Puzzles are my hobby and my job,” says Katie, AMT Customer Service Administrator, who manages the applications and guides exhibitors through the show preparation process.
Katie loves talking to the exhibitors. In the months before the show, she has more than a hundred exhibitor interactions a day. “I like to think about the best way to help exhibitors find answers, and I like getting to know them,” says Katie. “IMTS is such a big show. I think it is important to make a connection with as many exhibitors as possible, so they feel at ease.”
“The exhibitors are interesting people and fun to get to know. They call me from some unusual places. Once an exhibitor called from his fly-fishing trip, and we bonded.” A native of Montana and the granddaughter of a fly fisherman, Katie definitely relates to catching trout.
Her approach to finding solutions, “I think it's a combination of having artful and logical skills. I've always loved logic puzzles, and I apply that methodology to that job.”
Outside of IMTS and doing puzzles, Katie enjoys skating in the recreational roller derby league she started with friends, distance running, knitting, crocheting, and taking pictures of her rescue cat Boris who is very active on Instagram.
Accolades for the IMTS Puzzle Masters
IMTS Showmaster Peter R. Eelman, AMT VP and CXO, says, “Mark, Tom, and Katie are truly the IMTS Puzzle Masters. They are always surprising me with creative, but logical solutions. They care about the exhibitors. I am amazed at how well they accommodate hundreds of changes with humor and grace. We're grateful for their positive can-do attitude, eye for detail, and sensitivity to the exhibitors and visitors' needs.”
See the IMTS 2020 floor plan.