10 ‘Must-Knows’: ISA Sign Expo Orlando

Ensuring your tradeshow success in Florida this spring.

From March 22-24, the 66th annual Sign Expo hosted by the International Sign Association (ISA) will be back in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center. The exhibit hall floor will showcase the breadth of the sign and graphics industry, with hundreds of exhibitors showcasing the latest products and services.

Last year’s Expo in Vegas proved to be its largest show since 2008, leading many to believe the industry was beginning to rebound from the recession. And with many companies on the upswing, it’s the perfect time to scope out the latest in wide-format technologies and build relationships with manufacturers, as well as other industry professionals.

To help plan your ISA attack, we’ve provided 10 “must knows” covering the ISA spectrum – from educational seminars and exhibitors, to attendee pricing and discounts at Orlando hot spots, and much more. See you there!

1. Count ‘em
With a 14-percent increase in attendance at last year’s Sign Expo – 19,000 attendees in all – ISA is expecting an equally solid turnout in 2012. Plan your time wisely because the event will showcase 550 exhibitors on the show floor – with 1900 booths.

“Our 2011 exhibit hall floor was teeming with new products and, based on the exhibitors who have already committed to 2012, we’re certainly expecting that to increase,” says Lori Anderson, ISA’s president and CEO. “I am certain that International Sign Expo 2012 will be the place to network with the industry’s top professionals, see the latest technologies and conduct business. With just a few days in Orlando, sign professionals will be better able to make educated purchasing decisions, to discover their next big ideas, and make valuable connections with future business partners and peers.”

Continues Sarah Singleton, ISA director of marketing: “Last year’s ISA Sign Expo had a huge turnout, and this year is trending toward an even better event. Currently our early attendee registration numbers are almost double what they were last year. Our support by suppliers and distributors is up, our show floor is already larger than the last time we were in Orlando [in 2010], and we still have three months to go before show time. If you look at our show statistics over the past 18 months, it appears the industry is very strong. In our conversations with exhibitors, it appears 2011 has been a positive year and they are cautiously optimistic about 2012 and these numbers are being reflected at ISA.”

2. Get Schooled
Been out of school for a while now, eh? Now might be a good time to dust off the ol’ cerebral cortex. Step off the show floor to experience an array of more than 75 industry-specific educational programs covering 13 distinct industry tracks, which include Digital Print Imaging, Customer Service, Digital Electronic Signage, Electrical/Structural, Estimating/Project Management, Graphic Arts/Design, Hands-On/Demonstration, Legislative Management, Production/Fabrication, Sales/Marketing, Sustainability, and Workplace Safety. Five sessions tailored specifically for digital printing include:

• Make More with Your Wide-Format Printer: Tapping into New Ink and Media Solutions
• 100 Ways to Make Money with a Printer/Cutter
• Boosting Your Profitable Print and Cut Workflow
• Prepress Automation, Not an Option Any Longer
• Solving Printing Defects and Complications Caused by the Static Change

Pricing for educational sessions is $129 per session, or attendees can choose among three package-pricing options: Genius ($459, unlimited number of education sessions); WorkSmart ($359, choice of 60 education sessions taking place Thursday-Saturday); or JumpStart ($259, choice of 18 intensive workshops taking place on Wednesday). Discounted prices are offered to ISA members.

And all this learning won’t be done in vain: Educational attendees receive ISA Professional Development Unit (PDU) credits for each session. The PDUs demonstrate your commitment to remaining current on the latest sign and graphic industry information.

3. Don’t Be Late!
The Expo schedule stacks up like this:

Wednesday, March 21
9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Pre-Expo education workshops
1:00 p.m. ISA/Southern States Sign Council golf tournament

Thursday, March 22
9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Expo education sessions
9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Exhibit hall open
4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Free Happy Hour

Friday, March 23
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Expo education sessions
9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Exhibit hall open
4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Free Happy Hour
4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. ISA Custom & National Sign Company annual meeting

Saturday, March 24
9:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Expo education sessions
9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Exhibit hall open

4. ‘But Won’t I Miss the Madness?’
No! Lucky for you, attending ISA doesn’t have to mean missing out on March Madness, the hoops extravaganza that is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Have your brackets ready and track your progress in the new Basketball and Social Media Lounge, which features a 103-inch TV. Drop in and check out the latest scores, log in at the cyber café, and follow what everyone is saying about ISA events on the official Twitter wall. Relax, recharge, and enjoy a drink from the cash bar all while staying connected online. Lounge hours: Thursday and Friday 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

5. Networking Opps
Put a face to all those e-mail addresses and phone voices by connecting with industry professionals face-to-face through one of several ISA networking events. “With the industry’s top professionals gathered in one place, it’s only natural that business relationships are formed and solidified. Networking happens in formal settings, such as the Global Sign Forum and the Golf Tournament, and informally, such as events hosted by manufacturers,” says Anderson.

Hosted by ISA’s international committee, the Global Sign Forum and Reception welcomes industry leaders from more than 30 countries to exchange ideas, discuss issues, and develop international business relations. Sign up early because seating is limited. The Forum takes place Friday, March 23: 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

The Custom and National Sign Company Meeting & Networking Event invites sign and graphic executives to mingle with representatives from major sign companies to answer questions regarding installation needs. Your ISA Expo badge is all you need to attend the event and a cash bar will be available. The event happens Friday, March 23: 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Need a good excuse to hit the fairways? The ISA/Southern States Sign Council Golf Tournament is a shotgun start tournament and will take place at the MetroWest Golf Club at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday. Registration fee is $125 and includes green fees, golf carts with GPS yardage system, unlimited practice ball, $10 merchandise voucher, and a boxed lunch.

6. Welcome to Orlando: Olympus Group
In September of 2011, Milwaukee-based custom graphic manufacturer Olympus Group ( spread its wings and flew from the brewing capital to the home of Disney with its opening of a second facility in Orlando. The company first opened its doors in 1893 and grew to become a leader in the custom printing and sewing industry, eventually specializing in grand-format digital prints and dye sublimation. The new facility features an EFI Vutek QS3220 UV hybrid printer, Zϋnd L3000C precision cutter, GBC 640T laminator, an automatic grommet machine, and much more.

“Florida represents about 25 percent of our current business and to help us better service our key customers we needed to have a local presence,” says Hayes Holzhaur, general manager for the Orlando facility. “This facility will allow us to reduce logistical costs and provide faster turn times to Florida, while being supported by our headquarters in Milwaukee.”

The company focuses on producing banners, backdrops, rigid signage, event graphics, and vehicle graphics. But while Olympus can print just about any standard graphics project, mascots are its real pride and joy. In fact, the shop has concepted, designed, and produced more than 14,000 mascot costumes. Its impressive client roster includes: McDonalds, Walt Disney World, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Kohls, GM, and many more.

To support its new second-home, Olympus invested more than $500,000 in new equipment and technology, and plans to hire 25 more employees over the next three years to sustain the growing market.

Plan on checking our Disney World, Universal Studios, or Sea World? If so, look for some of Olympus’s wide-format work on display.

7. Best of the Best – Now Live!
With so many exhibitors sprinkling the tradeshow floor, there’s no question that new products will be everywhere – but only one can be named “number one.” ISA has tweaked its former New and Green Product Showcases. This year, in voting for the competitions – Best New Product and Best Green Product – you’ll be able to text your vote for products that debuted after April 2011. And the race for the top will be displayed live as the show proceeds. The competing products will be listed on and in ISA show materials. Voting is open from Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday. The products with the most votes by noon on Saturday, March 24, will be named Best New Product and Best Green Product.

Last year, 3M's Scotchprint Wrap Film Series 1080, vehicle-wrap films, took home the title of “Coolest New Product.” Image Microsystems' process for converting eWaste into a material for traffic signs was named the "Coolest Green Product."

8. Taking care of business
Register online for admission to the Sign Expo exhibit hall before February 17 for just $30 ($15 for ISA members); after that: $40 ($25 for ISA members). If you’re looking to save a little dough, ISA is offering a company package for the first time: For $999, a shop can send its entire staff with unlimited education sessions and exhibit-hall admission. Save more money by staying in an ISA official hotel and receive $50 off the education fee (see for list of official hotels and pricing).

After each show day’s end, experience Orlando’s entertainment district with a free entry to Universal CityWalk Thursday night, 5 p.m. – 12 p.m. Discounted tickets are also available for Disney World, Universal Studios, and Mears Motor Shuttle. Free coupon books are also given to ISA attendees at Orlando Premium Outlets.

And for added convenience, attendees can check their bags at the Orange County Convention Center and check in for your flight before you even leave the show.

9. Three for the price of one
ISA will once again co-locate with the International Reprographic Association (IRgA) convention and tradeshow. To offer further value to attendees, ISA has also partnered with the European Sign Federation (ESF) and Digital Signage Federation (DSF). These partnerships will provide an expanded platform to network, attend expert-led educational sessions, and result in a more robust tradeshow floor, the ISA reports.


10. Plan your attack
Find the most up-to-date list of more than 500 exhibitors and booth numbers at And to make the best use of your time at ISA, check out the ISA’s a2z show planner, which allows you to build your route within the floor plan showing just the exhibitors you are most interested in visiting and create a time efficient plan for your visit. Plus, you can choose to allow the exhibitors that you add to see your contact information, allowing them to start a dialogue in advance of the event. You can also e-mail your map to your colleagues to make certain you are all on the same page about what you want to see at the show.

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