This month I had the privilege of being an exhibitor at RootsTech, a 4-day gathering of the genealogy community in Salt Lake City. The event features keynote speakers, workshops, networking and the biggest expo floor I've seen. This article journals the experience.
I heard about RootsTech last year from colleagues who work for family legacy and photo preservation companies. Attending this conference is a no-brainer, but Salt Lake City isn't exactly close to San Diego. How would I get there? What would I bring? Where would I stay? How would I endure a 4-day expo by myself? I submitted my application and punted these questions until later. RootsTech accepted me as a vendor and the event went on calendar.
I successfully booked a room at a Holiday Inn across the street from the convention center. Nice. To make the trip smoother and less stressful, I decided to arrive a couple days early. The expo started Wednesday night, so I would arrive on Monday. Plenty of time to get my bearings, buy provisions and set up.
I've done several expos, and I'm proficient at building an expo table. I always put my transcribed books on display because my words cannot do them justice. People need to turn the pages to really see the value of the Reflection Package. People don't always immediately grasp the custom documentary concept when I explain it, but everything clicks when they see the book.
After my grandfather's passing in October, I remastered and reprinted his book. The book I created for him was my first ever, and it was a prototype. I wasn't pleased with the binding or the layout, and after he passed I remade his book and shared it with the family. I found a new book bindery just minutes from my home (Golden Rule Bindery), and they create handmade hardcover books. My grandfather's book was ready for pickup just in time for the trip. It's the best book made by Eternal Roots to date, and I couldn't wait to display it at the expo.
The Drive North
After packing my bags and my car the day before, I hit the road on Sunday, February 25th. Interstate 15 literally goes from my home all the way to Salt Lake. Las Vegas is (almost) the halfway point, so it made sense to stop there for the night. I've always been curious about the South Point resort on the southern tip of the Strip, and the room was only $90, so the decision was easy. I met an old friend for dinner, played some craps, and I was back on the road the next morning. I haven't been north of Las Vegas since I was a teenager, so the area was a strange blend of foreign and familiar.
Once you get an hour north of Vegas the topography shifts, and you start seeing beautifully jagged and colorful rock formations and mountains. After passing through the Nevada resort town of Mesquite, there is a 40-minute ride through an Arizona canyon in the northwest corner of the state. Soon after that you're in St. George, Utah. What a beautiful state. I was there in late February, so it didn't take long until snow was visible on the ground. I had a couple pit stops, but was determined to check in to the hotel before the sun set. I arrived at the hotel late Monday afternoon. Snow was everywhere from a recent storm, and the weather was in the mid-40s.
The Expo Hall
Here are some photos of my empty booth and the expo hall under construction. The last photo is a view of my hotel from the convention center entrance.
I arrived early enough to see the big vendors (Ancestry, 23 and Me, etc.) using cranes to set up elaborate booths. My booth was in a remote corner of the expo floor, but it was near a breakout room and the food court, so I was quite happy with the location.
I used my hotel room as a staging area, efficiently loaded my wagon with most of the expo materials, and did a rough setup for the booth.
This is the registration line. It was a total zoo. I came back the next morning when they opened, at 7:00, and got my badge in a matter of minutes.
Eternal Roots Booth
The day before the expo began. I like the concept of having an open booth that invites people in.
The main feature of the rear table is a computer monitor with a muted promo video on loop (with subtitles). This table featured some mentions of Eternal Roots in the media, a opt-in sheet, brochures, and my grandfather's transcribed book. I felt a little nutty watching the same video over and over, so I swapped through a few videos over time.
The main table has a branded tablecloth, more transcribed books, brochures, and a digital photo frame (barely visible on the right). Through the course of the week I experimented with moving materials around the table. To anyone having an expo table, I learned the hard way long ago never to put out too many pens. People will grab them by the handful and walk away without looking at your materials. I put about a dozen pens in a cup, and move it deeper into the table. That way you have to come in and look around if you really want that pen.
The Website Facelift
For some time I've been aware that the copy on my website was getting dated, the package details needed massaging, and the package thumbnails needed replacement. Life always got in the way, and I have been too busy serving clients to polish the website (hence the reduced blog posts lately).
The night before the expo, when I was thinking I could unwind a bit, I reviewed my website from the eyes of a casual RootsTech attendee, and had a little freak out. The site had 2-year old copy that was badly dated. The project has evolved greatly and the packages have been refined. Even the FAQ page was dated. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. the night before the expo, rewriting much of the copy and headers on my website. I also changed the package thumbnails. I had been meaning to do this for some time, but the expo provided excellent motivation.
The expo started Wednesday night, February 28th, for a 2-hour preview session. Some vendors were still setting up. I set up the day before and had a stress level of zero. Because of the massive size of the expo floor, it took a while for attendees to trickle back to my corner of the room.
I start my Reflections interviews by asking clients about their ancestry. Most people don't know anything beyond their grandparents, and many people know little about them. Not this crowd. Genealogy enthusiasts can proudly recite their heritage going back hundreds of years. They were delighted to learn that I provide a vehicle to record their ancestry through the video and book format.
I was impressed with the variety of vendors at the event. There were ancestry and DNA-related services, online forums where families can share stories and records (like a closed Facebook), photo preservation/digitization services, and vendors who provide a variety of related services, the "other" category. I found vendors who convert family stories into illustrated children's books, people who created framed family trees, and even family themed board and card game creators. I plan on following up with several vendors to explore strategic partnerships.
I fall in the "other" category. I found several vendors who provide services similar to me, but we all had nuances that differentiated us. They all were focused on either video or book, but none of them do both. Some of them were brand new and had little to no work product. Others were more established. One person approached me to say she records life stories just like me, then commenced a lecture on everything I was doing wrong (meaning different from her). She charges 3x my fee, her videos are 1/3 my length, and she doesn't create books. I certainly agree my price point is too low, but we're all pursuing our passions in our own way. People have the choice to select the interviewer who is the best fit. I have grown greatly by accepting critical feedback, but sometimes you need to take it with a grain of salt.
I learned there is a difference between genealogy research and DNA research. There are different companies filling each need. Some people like researching the stories of their ancestors, while other people like researching their genetic roots (they are not mutually exclusive, of course).
The floor got a quieter when breakout or keynote sessions were active. I used those opportunities to sit and rest or walk the room and network.
The final day of the event is known as Family Day. This is where people could attend for free, and there were large family groups coming through. The booth next to me, Connect2Family, had a bowl of mints on the border of our two booths, and it did a great job of bringing people in. Taking a cue from my neighbor, I put a stack of Eternal Roots tote bags on a chair next to the mints, and watched them fly. Anytime I saw someone struggling to hold brochures and the many things one obtains at an expo, I promptly offered them a bag to help. I was surprised to see very few vendors doing this. I wish I did this on Day 1, because by the end of the day my bag supply was nearly depleted.
By the end of the event I was ready to get home. I broke down the booth in record time. Unlike setting up, where I took a couple trips I got everything stacked in the wagon in one take (clearing out my bag supply that day really helped).
I got back to my room, loaded the car, packed my bags, then went to a nearby restaurant for a celebratory burger and beer.
All week long we were under a snowstorm forecast. The storm was supposed to hit during the conference and be done before the drive home. I awoke Sunday morning, travel day, to a whiteout. Snowfall was heavy and the streets had not yet been plowed. This San Diegan, driving his non-chained Nissan Altima, was not prepared to drive in weather like this, but this is what you expect coming to Utah in the winter, right?
I left the hotel at 9:00 and drove out into the icy and unplowed street, and found myself fishtailing and hydroplaning in no time. I found my way to the freeway, and that's where things got hairy. I'm sure Utahns (I heard that's the official nomenclature) are totally used to this, but I learned quickly that you disregard the lane divider lines, which you can't see anyway, and just follow the ruts of the cars ahead of you. Snow was falling sideways, visibility was poor and I was battling my foggy windshield. I had a police officer behind me as I started. While that would normally make me nervous, I took comfort knowing I would have immediate assistance if I spun out. I drove by a couple people who had that misfortune. By the time I got through South Jordan, the weather eased up and my knuckles turned less white. By the time I hit Provo the weather was even more intense, and I couldn't see beyond 50 yards. The weather didn't ease up until I hit the middle of the state, then the southern portion of the state was as beautiful as it was while driving north. I snapped this picture while driving through southern Utah. (I totally pulled over and didn't take this while driving!)
Overally, attending RootsTech was a wonderful learning experience. It's also therapeutic to have some time away from family and go on a solo roadtrip. The heart grows fonder with absence, and it's great to be back home with my family. I have a ton of follow ups and videos to send, and strategic partnerships to explore. I'm leaning heavily towards attending the event next year.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.