ProMat 2015: Celebrating 30 Years of Change and Growth


In addition to 2015 marking the 70th anniversary of MHI, it is also the 30th anniversary of MHI-sponsored ProMat. At its core, ProMat provides attendees with access to the latest material handling, logistics equipment and technologies. But it has also evolved to become an internationally revered brand that represents the largest expo for manufacturing and supply chain professionals in North America.

“When the show started, it was on the B-level in the North Hall of McCormick Place,” says Tom Carbott, MHI’s Senior Vice President of Exhibitions. Carbott has been with MHI for the past 24 years, and has participated in MHI expos since 1979. “ProMat 2015 will have more than 800 exhibitors and 35,000 attendees. The event sold out all 330,000 square feet of exhibit space in McCormick’s South Hall—which is the largest space available in the facility.”ProMat is consistently named to the Trade Show Executive Gold 100 list year after year, and has seen consistent growth over the last 30 years in both exhibit space and attendance.

While ProMat’s longevity, size and success can be directly attributed to a number of factors, there is a single resounding theme that unites them all: change.

“What has made ProMat exceptionally successful and a very reliable investment for both exhibitors and attendees is MHI’s commitment to challenging itself each year to constantly re-evaluate the event,” says Brian McNamara, President of MHI-member Southworth International Group. McNamara currently serves on the MHI Board of Governors as chair of the ProMat and MODEX show committee, and first got involved with the organization in 1998.

“MHI contracts annually with an outside agency that conducts in-depth interviews of both attendees and exhibitors at the conclusion of each show,” he explains. “They ask more than 100 questions, then prepare a report and PowerPoint presentation that exceeds 200 slides.”

MHI and the show committee take the findings very seriously, reacting by making adjustments to ProMat (and MHI’s other expo, MODEX) based on that information, McNamara says.

That commitment to analysis, reflection and improvement began in earnest prior to ProMat’s debut in 1985, when it replaced the annual National Material Handling Show (which had been in existence since 1948). Just changing the event’s name spawned intense debate, recalls John Nofsinger, who previously helmed MHI as CEO for 26 years prior to retiring at the end of 2011. Nofsinger now serves as an Executive Advisor to the organization. Before his stint as MHI’s leader, he was an industry member.

“In the early 1980s, MHI decided to refocus the show and the industry away from product features and specifications and instead highlight productivity,” he says. “The name ‘ProMat’ is an acronym for ‘productivity through material handling.’ We wanted to take a ‘here’s why these solutions contribute to your business’ success and profitability’ approach.”

Not everyone at the committee level was ready to take that leap. Others had concerns about the event’s prospective new name. Discussions got so heated at times that Nofsinger likens the process to a war.

Among the name change dissenters were John Hill, Director of MHI-member St. Onge Company, current MHI Director at Large, and one of MHI’s longest serving leadership members. “The name ‘ProMat’ sounded to me like a wrestling show—and it still does,” he laughs. “But it’s a brand now that resonates, and people worldwide know what it is.”

By Jeff Woroniecki, MHI Chief Operating Officer

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