Stew Slater, Metroland Media
ROI Event Management co-founders Jordon Underhill and Talo Tamminga, inspired by conversations during their long drives home from the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, set out to create a Canadian equivalent of the long-established US trade show and social event.
And, according to more than just a few visitors and exhibitors at last week’s inaugural Canadian Dairy XPO, held at the Stratford Rotary Complex, the company is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.
“I know people wondered whether an event like this, happening in Stratford, would work,” Underhill said in the early afternoon of what turned out to be a hectic Dairy XPO opening day on Feb. 6.
“But the miscalculation that those people made is that they didn’t take into account that people are willing to travel a long distance for a show like this. A lot of them are staying overnight and are coming both days, or they stayed overnight last night so they could get here early this morning.”
Last Wednesday’s activities began with a free breakfast for trade show exhibitors and dairy producers. Underhill estimates they fed just over 300 people – buttermilk pancakes, of course.
But that was just the beginning of what turned into a massive wave of opening day XPO visitors. Vehicles soon filled the parking lot, lined both sides of McCarthy Road all the way to Mornington Street, and clogged side streets throughout the neighbourhood.
A quick call was made to a private transportation company requesting service along the side streets to ensure visitors could find their way to the show.
On a walk-through of the XPO – which included 242 trade show exhibitors, approximately 35 per cent of them US-based companies and another 10 per cent from Europe – Underhill was greeted by two old friends, both dairy producers, from Uxbridge and Amherst Island, Ontario.
That was proof enough of visitors travelling considerable distances to see the show.
“By 9:45 (Wednesday morning), one of our founding members had already spoken to visitors from five different provinces,” Underhill noted. “I think we got the regional crowd. But we also got the distance travelers.”
The XPO featured trade show exhibits and a seminar stage in three separate halls. On the seminar stage last Wednesday afternoon, the highlight was a wide-ranging panel discussion touching on various aspects of dairy production and management, featuring guest contributors from Wales, Poland, Brazil, New York State and Ontario.
But the segment Underhill was most eager to show off was the one he said gave the XPO its “wow factor” – the so-called Cow Coliseum, a temporary “cover-all” style building erected immediately to the west of the complex’s twin ice surfaces.
Showcased along one wall of the building were what Underhill referred to as a world’s first: robotic milking units manufactured by four different companies displayed side-by-side for dairy producers to compare.
“The dairy industry in Canada is known internationally, and the two main reasons it’s known internationally are its genetics and its early adoption of innovation.”
The demonstration, Underhill commented, represents the innovation.
A big part of the success of Wisconsin’s World Dairy Expo is the fact it’s seen as a must-do experience for serious dairy farmers in North America and beyond. It’s a cultural attraction, Underhill said, and his company hopes to recreate that attraction with the Canadian event.
That’s why the Cow Coliseum played host to a CheeseFest, breakfasts were held both mornings of the show, and the Thursday included the Embryo Queen Auction, a 4-H Heifer Draw, and other activities.
But a trade show is a trade show, where business always comes first if things are going well. And, in that respect, Underhill felt confident his company – which has operated a Fruit and Vegetable XPO in Norfolk County for a few years – also scored major points in that regard with their first foray into the dairy world.
“With the robotic milking units and some of the other exhibitors we have here, you’re looking at some pretty significant investments. But I’ve been listening in on some of the conversations. And these guys are serious,” Underhill said. “They’re making buying decisions.”