IMTS 2014 — Is Showmanship Dead?

By Noah Graff

ISCAR/Ingersoll booth at IMTS 2014. That’s Showmanship!

I walked the floor of IMTS two days this week. I saw some impressive machine tools and robots, made some important business contacts, ate at Connie’s Pizza twice and saw a lot of sports cars in booths that seemed to be placed there for no reason. Was IMTS 2014 a productive show for me? Yes, but much of the flavor — the FUN that for decades defined IMTS — has been stripped away like steel scale passing through a Cincinnati centerless.

This year’s IMTS booth budgeters must have not realized that it is not 2010. The time of austerity in the manufacturing world has ended. Manufacturers are not just going lean, they are fattening up on expensive high-tech equipment. They are paying high wages for skilled people.

So why were there virtually no giveaway items at the IMTS booths this year, and where were the booth babes? Where were the spectacles, the parties, the memories? It’s not because of money struggles. I was told that DMG MORI spent almost $14 million on its booth this year, and judging by the size of some other booths, I know they shelled out as well.

The lighter Techniks gave out at IMTS 2010, which Noah cherishes to this day.

My IMTS plunder was pathetic this year. There were the usual free bags handed out by some of the big companies like Doosan, Haas, and Sandvik, but I received virtually nothing noteworthy to put in my bag. Nobody was passing out anything fun or useful. Usually the best free thing I could hope for was a bowl of candy or mints on a table — who cares. It’s not like the good old days. In my office at Graff-Pinkert we still have a little bell that National Acme produced on a multi-spindle at IMTS 40 years ago. A while back, INDEX produced an entire metal chess set in a live demonstration at IMTS and gave away the pieces to attendees. At IMTS 2012, Doosan passed out cool blue soccer balls with their logo. Four years ago, Techniks, historically one of my favorite IMTS booths, passed out lighters with women in bathing suits on them whose clothes disappeared when you put a flame on them from another lighter. The lighters also contained a bottle opener. Now those were useful! I still have mine to this day, and it reminds me of fond memories at IMTS and the Techniks booth. I’m sure there are many other people around the world just like me who cherish the lighters they received from Techniks and think about the company all the time when they use them in their office, car or home. This year I received no blue soccer balls, monogrammed baseballs, super balls — balls of any kind for that matter. I got no bells, no whistles, keychains, or frisbees, not even measly pens! A few booths gave me thumb drives holding their company info, and I guess I can use them to hold my own data. They are a useful take home, but still boring and provide no sweet associations with a company or IMTS on the whole.

IMTS 2014 also must have set an all-time show low in the quantity of booth babes. I know, writing this paragraph likely will brand me as a sexist, but I am of the opinion that amidst of the stress and strain of networking and walking the colossal McCormick Place in a show where I estimate 98 percent of attendees are men, wouldn’t a little eye candy be an innocent perk? Why can’t all the cold expensive iron be surrounded by a little beauty? Booth babes are an IMTS tradition and I felt deprived this week. Doosan, Haas, DMG MORI, ISCAR, they had a few pretty faces, but I noticed no woman at the show who lured me into a booth just because I had to get a better look.

But more troubling than missing girls and giveaways, what really got me down at IMTS 2014 was the absence of showmanship.

At the first IMTS I attended in 2006, Walter USA brought in two live tigers! In 2014, the same booth had a measly computer screen with a tiger animation. Techniks that year featured a breathtaking Russian hulahooper contortionist. She could hula 100 metal hulahoops up and down her body while she bent herself into seemingly impossible positions, all choreographed to classical music. Sandvik’s booth used to be great. They used to have huge ice sculptures, and featured a bar made entirely of ice, serving drinks in “glasses” that were entirely composed of ice! The ice theme correlated with a promotional offer to stay at the famous Ice Hotel in Sweden. In 2008, even little old Today’s Machining World hired the Chicago Tin Man, a silver human statue who could breakdance. In 2014 — no tigers, no ice, no hulahoopers — tragedy.

In my observation of IMTS 2014, the shared booths of ISCAR and Ingersoll was the only exhibit that kept alive the tradition of IMTS showmanship. The two companies (of same ownership) installed a large round table surrounded by at least 50 seats, where people drank free beer and other beverages served by attractive waitresses. The booth felt like a party! Pop music played loudly, attractive women danced on the table (although poorly I’m sorry to say), and every so often three lovely female violinists came on stage, playing classical music. The booth was the place to be. It was an oasis from the seriousness of the show, a bright spot, the place a show attendee needed to go to at least once.

The budgeters and planners for the majority of boring booths at IMTS 2014 probably would say that my thoughts are shallow. My critics will say that people come to the show to see the the new products that will help their businesses — not to enjoy sex objects, sideshows, and tchotchkes. They will say, “why have the extra stuff, even if it is fun, if it doesn’t lead to sales?” But that claim is wrong. Those fun things do help companies obtain customers, and they make people want to come to IMTS.

I think of the products exhibited at IMTS as cakes. Fun and showmanship are icing. Cakes can be tasty on their own, but usually they are significantly better with good icing. Icing makes a cake memorable. Icing makes us choose to go to the ISCAR booth rather than one of a similar cutting tool maker. When it is time for a buyer from a manufacturing company to decide where to buy cutting tools, which company does he have a fond memory of, which company’s booth did he spend time in, in which company’s booth did he take a photo of himself? I know that being creative and having fun still matters when selling products. I’m grateful for that.

Question: What is the most memorable booth you have seen at a trade show?

Share this post

24 thoughts on “IMTS 2014 — Is Showmanship Dead?

  1. Rudi

    Right before the bust at WESTEC in LA. A .com machine tool sales site start up was burning someone else’s money on $1,000plus a day models for their booth.

    Best eye candy ever!


  2. Jack Mendenhall

    The most memorable booths at IMTS were the “Ameri-Seiki” booths years ago. Ameri-Seiki was a Taiwanese imported line of CNC machines. They had heavily perfumed models (good looking ones) in too-much makeup, plunging neckline halter tops, shorts, and high heels autographing posters showing them sitting on and posing around their lineup of mills & lathes. The models would read your name off your badge and write suggestive messages like “Jack – I’d like to melt your tool ! Love, Jennifer”

      1. Jack Mendenhall

        The models were “monets”, like the artist Claude Monet, that is they looked good from a distance but when you got up close, not so good. Borderline trashy. I like that look

        The guy who had the best deal was whoever had the booth across from Ameri Seiki, because guys were lined up fifty deep waiting for a poster, and had to stand in front of the opposing booth for like ten minutes checking out what they had to sell

    1. Rod Garrett

      Yes I remember Ameri Seiki booth well, this made me smile. DMG Mori did a good job with the “Bar” and the waitresses were pretty nice but not Ameri Seiki caliber unfortunately.

  3. Mike

    Very well said.
    Past years I’ve received coffee mugs, flashlights, gage pins etc. To this day, I use all of these items daily. When I need to order a tool their names are front runners of who i’m calling. How could they not be, I see their name every day.
    I did not go this year but I’m following it online. The only thing that has my interest peaked is that 3D printer car. Hello…how cool is that!?

  4. Nancy Hickel

    We (2 ladies) attended the IMTS this year, and I would have to say the most memorable thing to us was that hardly any of the men working approached us about their product. We had to approach them, and then when we ask them hard questions, they began to realize that we knew the machining world and was part of it. Then they would show us the products which they represented. We were able to “stump” almost each company, we were interested in the equipment, with a question that had to be answered by another person.

  5. Eric

    I brought my wife and kids to the show this year. We went to the student exhibit hall on the lower level in the north building. That was where all of the trinkets and giveaways were! Lots of cool stuff for kids to learn and be exposed to about our industry.
    Who knows… we may inspire our kids to be future machine operators or IMTS eye candy!

  6. C.W.

    I fully agree on your thoughts on this years show. I thought the same thing during our two day walk around. I’m not all about grabbing freebies, but it is nice to get something to USE from the vendors that you use on a daily basis. My biggest complaint from this year is I seemed to get the “guy” from every booth that didn’t seem to know jack about their product or had a very hard and frustrating time explaining how it works. I did visit a booth only because one of the models caught my attention walking by and without her (revealing choice of dress) I would of missed a good “find” in gaining efficiency in a operation in our shop.

  7. Jorge

    This was my fourth time there, me and my wife and we used to use all those giveaways to bring it to our kids, to show them what was IMTS about it, this year the only thing we grabbed was beer and hot dogs from the DMG MORI booth. Also we noticed that very few machines were cutting metal, just air.

  8. Albert B. Albrecht


    I read you column regularly and normally agree with your thoughts – however on this one you are way off base – IMTS is not Las Vegus – it is and what it should be a machine tool show where the latest manufacturing technology is on display. If all you are looking for is girls and trinkets go someplace else – but don’t pan the show – you hit an all time low

    Albert B. Albrecht

    1. Josh

      I think he’s looking for technology primarily, the point of his piece was that the girls and giveaways are a nice bonus to 3 days of endless walking. They take the edge off. Whats wrong with having both?

  9. Mike

    Relax Albert – Noah is right – trade shows are to see and learn – but have some fun too – even if vicariously. While the days of smoking cigarettes and looking at pin-ups may have waned – a trip to Chicago and IMTS should mix with flash as well as fare – while lots of good machine tools and technology – I’m with Noah – hell, I didn’t even see the bearded lady from visits past – let alone the trapeze act or burlesque type babes that mix it up.


  10. Lloyd Graff

    I hit the Show on the last day. I got water at Hydromat, wine at Bucci (Iemca) chocolate at LNS and John Schuld at Swisstek had tops. John you are tops by me. There were some attractive “Booth Babes”, Noah and they almost deserve the Purple Heart for standing up all day in spike heels, but darn few. Showmanship, nil, but on the sixth day, I commend anybody still standing.

  11. Bryan Willman

    Well, before I went (for the 6th time) I wrote a note on a bulletin board which said (a) tell me the damn price, (b) I don’t want your crap, (c) don’t call me, I’ll call you.
    Given the way people treated me, I would say most of them read that post.

    Noah’s “free stuff” is crap I can’t take on an airplane and would throw away anyway – I have zero interest or capacity in lighters, rubber balls, key chains, etc. etc. And I wonder where some people work – in the large (non machining) corp I worked in for two decades, showing risque stuff in the office could get you cited or fired.

    I find the idea of “booth babes” offensive. I like women as much as any man, but would much rather meet and talk with women who are engineers, business people, etc. If one wants to look at “eye candy” the web is full of it, as are local “gentleman’s clubs” – I don’t need to fly 4 hours to Chicago to see such women.

    And maybe people like me, who are trying to gather a lot of first hand info in a short time and frankly don’t have time for the rest of this crap, are more common than Noah? Maybe people like me for whom you’d better explain what it is, why yours is better, and what yours costs, and who your rep is, or you are just plain off the list, are more common? Or at least buy more product?

    DMG/Mori did show a machine that could build up with laser welding and then machine down, kind of a radical thing, isn’t that showmanship?

    Several vendors hauled in very large machines which maybe didn’t cut but could at least demonstrate motion, with work envelopes large enough to contain a car – doesn’t that count for something?

    But of course I’m a weird guy who can’t eat most of the free food, is a allergic to beer, and has only spent high 6 figures on things I found at IMTS over the years.

    1. Noah Graff


      You must understand that I was at the show to do business as well, and I got a lot out if it.

      But why not have a little extra fun, which has traditionally been associated with the show? What harm is that?

      And the extra crap may not be what sells to you, but people’s sentiments here suggests it does work on them to some extent.

      1. Jim


        I went to this year’s show also, but I disagree with your take on booth babes. At IMTS, women are allowed to do 3 things:
        1. young attractive women are allowed to stand at the front of the booth and hand out literature.
        2. smart attractive women are allowed to make presentations.
        3. all other women can only scan your card at the back of the booth.
        It is difficult to diversify the manufacturing workplace with sterotypes like this, becaue this type of behavior tells women “we don’t care about your brain talent”.
        How comfortable would you be walking into a booth that had Chippendale men at the front of it? That’s the signal that booth babes give to women.

  12. Robert Arthur

    I’ve attended every IMTS since 1970 and the shorter show is a blessing for all. Showmanship is great, but builders spend a huge amount of money to exhibit. Doesn’t it make you wonder how the big builders can spend millions to be there? Is there that much profit to blow millions at IMTS ?

    Smaller booths are practical and easier to look busy. The Hyundai-Wia booth looked deserted most of the time, but no surprise there.

  13. Josh

    I have to say I too thought IMTS was lackluster this year. We bring our whole shop every IMTS, it’s an event, it’s a retreat, it’s a bit of a party. It’s a reward for being a hard worker. We shut down our facility and we go to look for solutions to manufacturing problems we have. We examine new machinery and try and make the best purchase. We also take everyone out for a fancy dinner and give them all some spending money while they’re in town. It’s business and pleasure coming together. Our younger/newer guys enjoy the sights, the fancy food, the good looking women and the fun handouts. The rest of us who know more about what we’re doing focus on solutions and help the newer guys get a handle on how you can find solutions at IMTS.

    This was my 4th and I quit grabbing all the crap last time. That doesn’t mean I don’t get the useful stuff. I sure as hell grabbed a bottle of Tap Magic. I have a pretty great flashlight I use that I got from Brinkman Pumps 2 years ago. I have used mouse pads from IMTS since my first in 2008. At that show in 08 I also got an amazing Hurco branded OGIO backpack that I’ve packed things in ever since for business trips and wear on the show floor every year. Now that’s a giveaway and Hurco gets free advertising from me all show long.

    People remember the good giveaways. You forget the pens and the key chains and pads of paper. I’ll never forget that backpack, or the flashlight, or my Micro100 speedy sharp that I use regularly. Those are companies that are now burned into my memory because they have a good product and a good giveaway.

    As for the girls, like I said, we take the guys in the shop as a reward and guys like seeing attractive ladies, most of them at least. It shouldn’t be the focus of your booth or your sales pitch, but it’s a good way to draw people in. That said, for the women in the crowd I’d have no problem if the booths had nice looking men and nice looking women in them. Equal service for everyone.

    My favorite booth this year was Tungaloy, which provided a well needed hair off the dog that bit me and some delicious sushi that kept me going until we could stop for lunch. Now that’s how to get people in your booth.

  14. Jim Snyder

    I agree with you to a point. I have been to every IMTS sense 1980 and over the years things have changed. The girls have become more professional looking, people don’t wear suits like they use to, there are more women in the isles then there use to be, and yes there are less give-a-ways. But over all things have not changed that much from what they use to be and remember society has changed over the years. With companies having less money to play with then they use to. But it has become more generic with less perks.

  15. Greg Knox

    As I told you at the show, Noah, take some advice from an old married fart – my policy at tradeshows with “booth babes” is the same as it is on the golf course – “keep your head down and you won’t get in trouble”!!!

  16. Erik Anderson

    Wow, that’s a nice shallow take on a show designed to let those of us who buy tools and equipment actually lay eyes on all of it, in one show.

    Perhaps if people like you were not there hunting trinkets and ogling the babes in the Mazak booth, guys like me who are actually there to research actual expenditures would be able to get more accomplished, instead of wading through herds of trinket hunting booby watchers.

    By the way, if you want to have fun at IMTS, buy something. Everyone and their sales manager will be looking to show you a night or two on the town.

    Seriously, that was an idiotic, pointless article. Very professional.


Comments are closed.