$16.98

Blame it on my mother, who spent her teens and early 20s in the Great Depression, and then managed a family of six on a blue-collar guy’s wages: I grew up well-schooled in the notions of value.

In other words, I can be cheap. Very cheap.

320_LVbreakfastSometimes, the price of every little thing gets too steep and reduces the value of the sum of the experience. That’s where the headline comes in, as it sums up my feeling about a place that’s becoming the U.S. stone-show capital: Las Vegas.

The sum quoted at the top bought breakfast for two at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand within the Luxor Hotel during StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas last month. And, for that, the serving tray groaned with:

• 2 bagels with a small serving of cream cheese;
• 2 small bottles of juice;
• 1 “regular” coffee.

The serving area – the upstairs food court – offered a dark corner of the pyramid, where at least we weren’t charged for the privilege of seating. (I suppose that the birds flying around the indoor area to snatch up any stray morsels could be considered entertainment thrown in for free.) Since this was self-service, we didn’t need to leave a tip, so we “got away” with a bagel, some juice and a bit of coffee for $8.50 each.

I’m not complaining because I’m cheap. I’m sounding off because this is indicative of why, when it comes to shows for the stone trade, Vegas is a place that’s worn out its usefulness.

Unfortunately, when it comes to exhibitions, Las Vegas is one of the most-convenient places for organization and production. Convention centers and hotel ballrooms can accommodate any size of event, with a nice hotel attached. Major companies specializing in decoration – the term for setting up the booths, carpets and services needed for a show – have major operations in Las Vegas.

As someone attending a show, however, Las Vegas doesn’t have a lot to offer, unless you revel in consuming overpriced food and drink and staying in hotels that are quickly becoming shopworn. Nearly every major U.S. metropolitan area has casino gambling – formerly an exclusive draw for Vegas –  within a two-hour drive. High-class entertainment is pretty much down to gilded gymnastics galas and attitude-driven magicians who easily make two Franklins disappear for an 85-minute show.

Yeah, I can hear the basic answer of, “It’s Vegas, baby! Suck it up!” So here’s the response: You paying your own ticket, buddy? Or is somebody else sucking up that expense account?

Las Vegas is a series of resorts-cum-biospheres, where the designs discourage walking out of them (unless you have a lot of time and like having cheap escort flyers shoved in your face) and you’re treated like a captive audience within the boundaries. Add in the incredibly bad traffic that discourages getting in a car, and you’re often stuck with that $16.98 breakfast – and other eating/lodging compromises – being your best option. That’s no value by any measurement.

There’s also the argument of location. Sure, it’s not too hard to find a flight to Las Vegas, but that’s also assuming that the masses of stone fabricators and installers out there have the time and the cash to hop a plane at least halfway across the country – and then ask them to do it again and again. Driving there is not an option, unless you happen to be working Phoenix or Los Angeles (a place where it’s difficult to get people to drive 40 miles for a show, let alone several hundred).

Frankly, many of the same arguments can be made for Orlando, Fla. With both places, the location adds absolutely nothing to the effectiveness of the event, as far as attendees are concerned. And the idea of doing the ol’ show-vacation combo is a tired-and-tattered fantasy of visitor bureaus and travel agents that needs a final retirement.

There’s a vast part of the country being underserved for a blue-collar (or, since a T-shirt is the garment of choice, no-collar) trade that would relish going to a place within a half-day’s drive where it’s feasible to take several folks from the shop, and the predominant customer service by hotels and restaurants isn’t attaching a vacuum cleaner to your wallet.

Take Collinsville, Ill., where the Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) runs its Megaworkshop. It’s not glamorous; you don’t have celebrity-name steakhouses and go-go dancers working a runway between the blackjack tables. You do get a place where thousands of fabricators and installers live within 400 miles, with a major city 15 miles away and a bunch of lodging within walking distance.

And, a Jackson buys a heckuva breakfast for two, tip included.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

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