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Despite The Odds, 2002 International CES Was A Home Run

The 2002 International CES had three strikes called against it before it even came to bat, making its unquestioned success a true industry triumph. What adversity did it face?

Strike 1: Its unfortunate the Tuesday through Friday schedule was a major threat to attendance. The change certainly cut into the number of regional retailers and others who normally drove in over the weekend and made the town jump on Saturday night. It similarly discouraged others more distant who would have to give up two or three full business days in order to fly in.

Strike 2: Economic conditions surely gave many business people reason to pause and consider whether this was the right time to spend travel money on a trip to Las Vegas, of all places. Especially when it came to buyers from our giant specialty retailers — including Best Buy, Circuit, RadioShack, Tweeter and Ultimate — as well as those from such powerhouses as Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart, none of whom really had to come at all. The vendors would have gladly gone to visit them.

Strike 3: The Sept. 11 WTC disaster and the following Airbus crash in New York revived that old World War II slogan, “Ask yourself, is this trip really necessary?” There were two good reasons to say no. There was the genuine concern over getting into an airplane at that time, and again, the feeling that during a period of national worry, a trip to Lost Wages may be inappropriate.

So yes, all those downbeat conditions had an adverse impact on attendance. But by the time the last attendee badge had been issued, and the last copy of the last TWICE CES Show Daily had been slipped into the suitcase with the dirty laundry for the trip home, more than 100,000 had come to the 2002 show. A record? No, but still the third best CES ever, and short only of the two preceding years when sales growth and the mysteries of new technologies spurred show interest.

This year’s CES had an unprecedented number of industry stars on hand to deliver keynotes to overflow crowds in the Las Vegas Hilton Theater. One does, however, wonder how many came to hear the messages and how many came just to gape at Gates, Fiorina, Kleisterlee, Chin and Esrey.

Usually it’s a product group or a technology that steals the show. But this time, to me at least, it was the Las Vegas Convention Center itself. This was the first CES for the just-built giant South Hall that about doubled the size of the exhibit area. How big is it? Well, I’m told the two-floor hall is big enough to have staged all four of the NFL’s AFC/NFC semi-final playoffs at the same time.

The fact is, a strong business comeback for consumer electronics retailers in last year’s closing months probably got a number of show-goers off the fence and into airplanes. But even so, I offer my sincere congratulations to all you retailers, independent distributors and others who hit the CES floor by choice for your courage and your refusal to be cowed by possible terrorist action.

And as for smaller dealers, who in effect reach into their own pockets to pay for their transportation, housing and meals, their presence was a testament to the spirit that makes this industry so dynamic.

As for manufacturers, other exhibitors, CEA and CES staffers, and my fellow journalists, well they pretty much had to be there. It was part of the job. But that doesn’t take anything away from their individual backbones. We all had a choice, and we chose to be where we belonged.