Picture this: you walk into a hotel conference room full of booths. These booths are full of candy and popcorn and hot dogs and all of the yummy items you could hope to find at a concession counter. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to visit these booths, try the samples, and decide how to work these items into your concession offerings.
The National Association of Concessionaires is a trade organization for all things concessions. Yes, this includes movie theaters, but it also includes venues, arenas, distributors, and relevant service providers.
Each year, NAC hosts an Expo that brings all of the members together for meetings, seminars, and the tradeshow. The 2019 Expo was held in Chicago and thanks to Joe Chabot, I was able to attend this event.
Attending industry events is important to me because I want the Palace to be as amazing as possible. I don’t want anyone to say “it’s nice for a small town” when they describe the theater. Attending a movie at Athens Movie Palace should not make you feel like you are getting cheated out of any luxury you would find in a bigger city. We want the Palace experience to speak for itself. Keeping up with the industry trends is a huge part of this.
NAC offers a couple of options for scholarships for new industry professionals. I applied every year that I was eligible. This was my last year of eligibility and I was chosen for the Joe Chabot Memorial scholarship. I didn’t know Joe Chabot or how much his family would impact me.
A couple of weeks before the Expo, Scott Moore left me a voicemail explaining that he would be introducing me at the membership luncheon during the expo and he wanted to know a little about me. I found out that Scott worked for his family’s theater chain. They had some small theaters in Michigan. At that moment, I didn’t care if I didn’t make it to the Expo. Meeting someone who owned a theater was the best thing I could have imagined happening. There aren’t a lot of independent small theaters around. So, we have mostly had to figure it out ourselves.
I went to law school in Chicago, so stepping off the plane into a city that had once been my home felt a little weird. Chicago is where the NAC home office is and it was the 75th anniversary of NAC. This was going to be a big year.
The first days of Expo week are used for board and committee meetings. I am a member of the Outreach Committee, but my flight didn’t land until after the meeting. I got to the hotel, checked in, dropped off my bags, and went to register for the Expo. I got my badge (with my committee flag! I felt so official) and goody bag. The goody bag was a large tote bag full of items from the various vendors and sponsors. Almost entirely edible! There were also several cups and a teddy bear!
The first night was a reception and silent auction. I met Scott in person along with his family. After the reception, some of the vendors had rented a Tiki party boat on the river. They invited some of their customers and I was included. I spent the whole evening eating candy and talking with a man who works at Rupp arena. We discussed concessions and basketball.
The next morning, the programming started with talks about the changing cinema audience and trends in hospitality. After the morning talks, we boarded buses to Wrigley Field. We were given tours (with an emphasis on their concessions) and served lunch in the W club. I had been to games at Wrigley, but it was really neat to see the behind the scenes.
The tradeshow started after lunch. I spent the first hour of the show working on the service project our Outreach Committee had organized. We were stuffing backpacks with supplies that would be donated to Chicago Public Schools. It was a fun way to interact with everyone.
I walked the tradeshow floor and finally was able to put faces with the names I had dealt with over the years. Such as Bric who makes the tub lids we have. We were one of his first customers and it was neat to talk with him directly. He’s in the military and has a lot of cool stories. The guys at Icee were really helpful, too. We talked about being able to switch our flavors periodically. They had a peach bellini machine, so I sampled that while talking with them.
After the tradeshow, we left for Navy Pier for a dinner at Crystal Gardens and fireworks. (The city has a fireworks show every Wednesday/Saturday at the pier, just fyi). Our bus driver was pretty fantastic. A guy got really close to the bus and she yelled at him to stay away from her lugnuts. You probably had to be there to get the full effect, but everyone who had been in earshot repeated that phrase throughout the rest of the Expo and it made me laugh every single time. I used public transportation when I lived in the city, so I was not a stranger to busses, but let me tell you. There is NOTHING like riding a charter bus in the city. The taxis were a little scary… the charter busses… a lot scary.
Thursday morning started with more talks. One of the presenters at the Expo said it best. “I did it because I didn’t know it couldn’t be done.” He was referring to his job but I feel this perfectly sums up how I’ve approached the theater, too
We had lunch on the 80th floor of a nearby building. I sat with the Moore family. Scott explained the history of the scholarship to the crowd. His step dad (Joe Chabot) had been a big part of the organization and after he passed, his family made the scholarship for a theater industry professional to attend the Expo. The Moores own several small theaters in Michigan. If you are in the area, check them out: http://www.mooretheatres.com/
After lunch, we had more time at the tradeshow. I talked with our current distributor about resolving some issues we’ve been having. I talked with some candy makers about new products (be on the look out for cookie dough and cotton candy). I met with a company that will hopefully be able to get us new nametags. We had dinner at Buddy Guy’s Legends. It is a blue’s bar.
Friday, we left the hotel early to visit several venues. Our first stop was a dine in theater that had opened relatively recently. It was interesting to see this in operation. This is one of those trends that we will probably never have the demographic for in our area. They discussed how the theater operated and showed us the kitchen and one of the auditoriums. It is a neat concept and an experience. They had more than twice the number of auditoriums as us, but they had less seats because the dine in reclining seats take up so much space. It’s not really doable in a theater of our size unless that’s all we did. We wouldn’t have room for the kitchen either. Plus, serving actual food subjects us to health code sections that do not apply now.
After the theater, we spent some time at the White Sox stadium and United Center. Our last stop was Cretors. Cretors is a family owned business… the inventor of the popcorn machine (more on them in another blog). We had lunch from a taco truck in their factory (it’s not always there). After the tour, we boarded the busses back to the city or to the airport.
And just like that, the Expo was over. I had to get extremely creative with my packing to get everything home. I met some amazing new people and spent time with some familiar faces. It was an incredible experience and I am so thankful for Joe Chabot’s family for providing this scholarship.