CEDIA Expo 2021: Score One for the Smaller Guys

Exhibitors at the Indiana Convention Center represented the custom industry’s roots, exemplified by local manufacturer Draper’s 119-year success story.

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CEDIA Expo 2021: Score One for the Smaller Guys

CEDIA Expo 2021 in Indianapolis offered nearby venerable manufacturer Draper a chance to extend a factory/headquarters tour visit and tell how it grew from humble beginnings in 1902.

For my October CE Pro print issue editor’s note, I wanted to cover CEDIA Expo (this was written shortly upon return, for our deadline) and take a detour from the normal show floor “hoopla” … but I couldn’t help but have hoops stuck in my head during my visit.

After all, Indiana and basketball go hand-in-hand. It’s classic smalltown Americana, it’s the lore of Indiana University, Notre Dame, Purdue and other collegiate hardcourt history … it’s Hickory High and the legend of “Hoosiers” based on the real-life Milan High’s 1954 unlikely boys basketball state title run captured in the award-winning film that premiered 35 years ago.

There’s no sugar-coating it, this year’s CEDIA Expo at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis was not quite what we anticipated it would be when the industry was clamoring for a return to in-person events. The show floor looked sparse after many exhibitors decided to drop out, and with them many of their dealers who had otherwise planned to attend.

This was a CEDIA Expo where the small companies had their chance to shine, had their opportunity to hold attendees’ attention for longer than a typical tradeshow, had their moment to stand out from the shadow of the industry’s big boys.

Draper an Example for the Industry Just Outside Indy

CEDIA Expo is always loaded with success stories of integrators and manufacturers that grew from innovative ideas and only a handful of folks believing in them at one point or other. Just like the Hickory High boys basketball team in “Hoosiers,” whose basketball scenes were filmed just a stone’s throw from Indianapolis in a building transformed into a 1950s-era gym.

In conjunction with my trip to CEDIA Expo, I had a chance to visit exhibitor Draper, a smalltown company that’s made a big impact in the custom industry for many years and as the main employer in Spiceland, Ind., less than an hour outside Indianapolis.

Established way back in 1902, Draper, like many of the companies in the industry, was a small company at one point – just like the majority of this year’s exhibitors that did populate the show floor at the Indiana Convention Center. Now Draper is big to the point where residential integrators might not realize the breadth of its overall solutions that beyond motorized shades and screens extend to gymnasium equipment and large-format printing.

Draper invited a handful of media members to tour its nine-building, 400,000-square-foot facility, which of course was not always nine buildings. And the company did not always employ nearly 800 people in a town that according to the 2010 census had a population of just 890.

The manufacturer arguably brought the richest industry heritage and residential/commercial product reach to this year’s show, appropriately enough for the locale. Penny Sitler, director of marketing at Draper, mentioned how she and others in the company go back generations. On name plates of office walls going down the hall leading from the company’s reception desk, experience at Draper in numbers of years — in the 30s and 40s — speak to the company culture and local impact.

Newer Expo Exhibitors Can Look Positively to Future

Meanwhile, Sitler chauffeured a few of us from downtown Indy to Spiceland and decided we had enough time for a quick detour. The memorable “Hoosiers” basketball scenes were shot in Knightstown, and that was just a short way off the main road we took to Draper.

As she mentioned the filming, she recalled the efforts and challenges to bring the filming to the town. Bottom line, she said, was that procuring the production essentially saved the town as it revitalized the local economy.

Draper was among a handful of companies whose representatives told me during the show that they enjoyed spending extra time with the attendees this year. I’m glad they did, as well as the other exhibitors who might be small now. And who knows, maybe just like Draper those companies might be around 119 years from now in 2140 to share the same kind of success story.

Hope to see everyone next year in Dallas!