What do you do with 400 pounds of Utah trout?
Jonathan D. Greenband didn't know, either. All those fish sure wouldn't fit in the freezer section of his fridge. And the 60-foot-long aquarium they were swimming around in probably wouldn't look so great in his living room, either.But this fish story has a happy ending. A relief organization came up with a very large ice chest, and 200 needy families had a feast on fresh rainbow trout.
It was all in a day's work for Green-band, president of Edward Greenband Enterprises, the largest producer of consumer retail shows in the state.
The aquarium, as you may have guessed, is one of the main attractions at Greenband's annual Boat, Sports and Travel Show, which comes to the Salt Palace each spring just in time to prod Utahns out of their winter blahs. The tank, billed as the world's largest mobile aquarium, is used to demonstrate the fine art of angling to fishermen eager to hit the local waters.
Greenband has spent all of his adult life thinking up new ideas for making his "wish list" shows bigger, better and more exciting. His father, Edward, originally of Ogden, and mother, Lar-ene, of Huntington, launched the company in 1952, and the family has been trying to top itself every year since.
The roots of the company, said Jon, go back to the years following World War II when Ed Greenband ran a small publishing business that specialized in printing theater and symphony guides.
Later, he got a contract to print materials for the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake. That job eventually paved the way for his entry into "show biz" in the early '50s, when he was asked by the association to put on a home improvement show at the old Terrace Ballroom.
The show was a success, and from there things "escalated," as Jon terms it. First came a mobile home show, then an auto show, then a boat show, then recreational vehicles, then computer products . . . first in Salt Lake and then all over the West the Greenband family trucked their "flat shows," as the industry is termed.
Ed Greenband was a pioneer in the business in Utah, among the first to organize multiday retail exhibitions in which groups of merchants - usually in the same industry - would show off their products in a single location. If you think about it, the shows were a precursor of modern shopping malls.
Initially, Greenband used the old Terrace Ballroom and the Utah State Fair Grounds for the shows. Today, the Salt Palace is "home" for Greenband productions.
The shows usually attract 75,000 to 100,000 visitors over their three-to-five-day run, says Jon, generating an estimated $1 million in spinoff revenues for the local economy, not including advertising and promotional dollars, merchandise sold and sales taxes.
Jon doesn't like to toot his horn, but he believes the economic benefits the shows bring to the community have been overlooked.
"Some of our shows lose money for us and some are profitable, but they all benefit this area," he said. "We attract 75,000 people downtown with our shows and they don't just come from Salt Lake City. Ten to 15 percent come from outside the local market - Idaho, Nevada, western Wyoming - and these people usually make a weekend of it. They stay in local hotels, rent cars, eat in restaurants and shop downtown. The positive economic impact is enormous."
Although Greenband praises the Salt Palace as a fine facility, he says some of his larger shows, such as the Utah Boat, Sports and Travel Show and Utah Auto Show, have grown to the point where they are now squeezed for space. New exhibitors must go on a waiting list and hope for cancellations from other exhibitors. This is both good news and bad news for Greenband, but in any case it has made him a solid supporter of current plans to enlarge the complex.
Despite being a little small for major conventions, says Greenband, the Salt Palace is one of the most expensive convention facilities in the United States in which to rent space. Among other things, he believes, this is because the Salt Palace is owned by the county but located in the heart of the city, with the latter reaping the spinoff benefits. This prompts the county, he contends, to make sure it gets its money "up-front" and directly from the exhibitors.
Despite the Greenband family's long track record in producing Utah shows, the company is not without competitors - including this newspaper, which annually produces the Deseret News Home and Summer Living Show. On top of that, Green-band has to be careful he doesn't go to the well too often.
"There comes a saturation point in a market the size of Salt Lake," he said. "You can't put on the same type of show too often or the public gets tired of it and exhibitors won't support it."
Still, he notes, the concept of consumer trade shows is now a proven alternative - not a replacement but an additional resource - for certain kinds of retailers to allocate a portion of their advertising dollars.
The proof, he said, is the heavy turnout by consumers who clearly find it preferable to driving all over the city to comparison shop several stores.
"In essence," said Greenband, "what we do is put together a shopping center for an entire industry for three days. People can go to a show, park one time, and find all of the latest cars or sporting goods or home improvement products available in one location. They can talk with experts, get prices and bids, even sign contracts, all in one place."
Anyone who has prowled the crowded aisles of a retail trade show might question the ability of consumers to actually buy a car or boat or contract for a new family room in their home in such a carnival atmosphere, but they do, assures Greenband.
"What the salesman is trying to do is tell the `A' client from the `C' client - the buyer from the looker - and they will usually do that even in a crowded situation. Somehow, they find each other. Actually, that's what the exhibitors want, crowds of people. That's what they pay us to produce."
And produce Edward Greenband Enterprises does. More than being in the selling business, Jon prefers to think of his family as being in the wish-fulfillment business.
"We cater to dreams. We're the harbinger of spring for many people. They come out and look at 65-foot yachts and then maybe buy a 6-foot rubber raft. It's actually the ultimate family entertainment. We give them what they might fantasize owning in their wildest dreams but also what they need - and can afford - in real life. "
Seventy-five thousand people agree, several times a year.
The next Greenband Enterprises show is the 10th Annual Home Improvement and Modern Living show at the Salt Palace next weekend - Oct. 13-15. See you there.