Overheard at the OLA 2001

By Christie Walker
Overall, I liked the idea for a co-located show. From my perspective and the vendors I spoke with, having one show was more efficient and saved them tons of money. Once I was at the show however, I had to run around like a crazy person trying to cover both events. My overall sense of the event was that the OLA portion lost out in this combination of shows.

The Hall of Fame on Wednesday night was perfect. It felt like it always has, a great way to honor people who’ve made a difference in our industry. Then Thursday hit. It wasn’t obvious where to register or where to go. People were heading to the show floor and getting sucked up in the excitement. When you drop a couple hundred OLA people into a sea of thousands of VEW attendees, the result is a diluted event. No more gathering of lab people talking on the show floor, do more walking the aisles and seeing your friends, peers and colleges at every turn.

The early hour “exclusive hours” was a bust. To be blunt, I blame it on Vegas. The lure of the gambling, alcohol and artificial lighting that tricks you into thinking it’s still 10:00 pm when it’s actual 1 am makes it hard to get to the show floor at 8:00 am. I walked the show floor at 8:30 and it was a ghost town. I talked to the vendors who had dragged themselves out of bed early to talk to the labs that never showed. The original idea was that this exclusive floor time would alleviate the problem of having the labs and their customers in the booth at the same time. From what I heard, for the most part this wasn’t a problem. For many of the “lab vendors” such as a Satisloh or Schneider or A&R, they are never inundated with ECP’s ready to put in digital surfacing or a lensmapper, anyway. So the problem was one of perception. For a company such as Santinelli, it could have been an issue since they do cater to both the ECP and the lab, but as Frank Balestra told me, you just have to be aware of who is standing in the booth before you go into your sales pitch.

It was very sad that the general session was so poorly attended. The OLA had put together two excellent presentations—one on health care reform and one on corporate giving. It’s too bad so many people missed it.

I attended several of the classes and they had a good turn out, and although I missed the cocktail party Thursday night because I was getting ready for the Labapalooza party, I heard that it was a big hit. The Friday night cocktail party and Awards of Excellence presentations were also well-attended, but the event was not of the caliber you come to expect for the Awards of Excellence. It felt rushed and not very special. One vendor, who won for the first time, arrived late and the whole event was over. After talking with several people, OLA members and vendors alike, I’ve gathered many of their suggestions. Some people are specifically quoted below while other comments are just the consensus of a several people.

• Keep the registration and Hall of Fame banquet the night before the show opens.

• Start the OLA the day before VEW, with breakfast, an opening session, classes, lunch, classes, cocktail party and then the Awards of Excellence.

• Day two, start with breakfast and the general session, followed by classes and lunch. Afternoon is show floor time followed by a cocktail party.

• Have the OLA area closer to the show floor.

• Don’t need special show hours just for labs.

• Make the Awards of Excellence special again.

• Have a separate, OLA staffed, registration area.

• Display better, larger, signage.

• Keep the camaraderie and networking.

Here’s what some of the attendees had to say:


OLA President, Hawkins Optical

“This is the 116th Annual OLA meeting, which started back in 1894. The last time the OLA was held in Las Vegas, Corinne Hood was the OLA president. Being back in Las Vegas with The Vision Council puts the OLA at a whole new level. We will have access to a whole new group of people and show floor vendors.” MIKE FRANCESCONI

OLA Vice President, Katz & Klein

“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. Even though there have been some glitches, it has gone very smoothly so far. Our theme for this year, following the 1 + 1 = 3 formula, was Tradition + Vision = The Future. I really believe we are on the right track. Because we no longer have hotel contract issues, we are in great shape financially. Now we can focus on doing more things for the labs, instead of working on putting on the trade show.” PAUL ZITO

Encore Optics

“There need to be a lot of changes. I think we should bring the breakfast back, so people are together to talk. We need to figure out the general session. No one attended. I miss the together time with the vendors in a social setting, and that will not be back. A suggested order might breakfast networking, classes, general session, lunch, then show floor. Basically how it was before.” SUE EBNER


“When we have to justify the expense of coming, we have divided up and conquered both the VEW and the OLA. It’s a more cost effective means of attending the show.” to a whole new group of people and show floor vendors.” ED DIETZ, III

Dietz Optical Lab

“In general, I found the co-located show to be very confusing. Registration was confusing. The turn out for the general session was pathetic. There were more people at the 5 to 6 cocktail hour. The 8 to 10 show floor hours was a joke. I was there at 8:15. You don’t know where you can and cannot go. I went to see the LMS folks. Some booths weren’t even open. We also need bigger and better signage. There were a lot of people who didn’t know what was going on. I thought the distance between the show floor and the area for classes and lunch were too far apart. I also think the lunch time could be a lot shorter. Overall, I still enjoyed the lab camaraderie and seeing my friends. We just need to work out all the bugs.” RICK CHITWOOD

Chitwood Optical

“Thursday was overwhelmingly confusing. While there were some signs, the signs need to be bigger, with more directional signs. There were no signs directing me to the lunch area. Gathering with peers in the exhibit hall and at the cocktail party was great. By Friday, I was starting to get used to everything. One benefit of having the show floor be part of the bigger Vision Expo, was that I ventured into the frame side of the show and got to see some things that I normally don’t get to see. I liked being exposed to different things. My suggestion is to improve the registration process and better signage. to a whole new group of people and show floor vendors.” JEFF SZYMANSKI

Toledo Optical

“I truly applaud the efforts of Bob Dzuiban, Ed Green, and everyone who worked so tirelessly on behalf of both Associations to create a culture of mutual success for everyone involved. Obviously The OLA and Vision Council will need to assess what went well and build upon this foundation so as to ensure our future success. My biggest fear is that the OLA will get lost in the culture of The Vision Council. This co-locating the show was a necessary step and we are still early in the process. OLA members still need a place to come together. Somehow we need to create a separate and unique OLA culture. Coming in a day before the start of the VEW show may be an option. Maybe we have a separate venue like the original OLA. There wasn’t always a trade show attached to the meeting. The trade show is not our identity. I feel like we are getting lost in the VEW shuffle.” GEFF HEIDBRINK

Harbor Optical

“I think this trade event will continue to evolve. It was a bit frustrating to run into my customers on the show floor. I only had a short amount of time for the show floor and then I’d run into one of my customers. You can’t just brush them off. It’s very easy to get trapped on the show floor and not be able to get back to the OLA area for classes or the general session.”


Diversified Ophthalmics

“This was the first year and we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. But overall, I liked the change. I look forward to seeing what the OLA board comes up with for next year. I’ve gotten so much done here. Having the shows co-located really saved me a lot of time, since in the past I would go to both shows. I hope that the OLA continues to have its own identity. Not sure what the best way to do that will be but I guess we’ll find out. My suggestions would be to have the OLA area closer to the show floor. The two hours of exclusive show floor time wasn’t necessary. It put an extra burden on the vendors and it wasn’t well attended by labs. The timing of the General Session didn’t work in this format.


Santinelli International

I applaud the efforts made by both associations in an effort to merge the two shows. Although the reports are that the OLA am hours weren’t as good as expected, we all need to understand that it was a first step. Similar to launching a new product, there are times when you just have to establish a release date and plan to build from that. As a distributor of an equipment manufacturer, I can feel the pain. We are constantly listening to our audience and going back to the drawing board to enhance functionality, features and benefits and the likes. What you do with the feedback is the most important part. If we can look at it as constructive criticism and learn from it, we’ll all benefit. It’s easy to be a Monday morning QB. In regards to having our booth open to both retailers and labs at the same time, I know, you know and Bob Dole (Republican from Kansas) knows that some very interesting conversations can develop in a booth where both audiences are present. We need to be conscientious about who’s in the booth and who’s approaching the booth. Although this may not be the perfect scenario, with a little effort, understanding and honesty, I trust that we can make it work.”


Labtalk June 2020