Happy Birthday! Vision Expo West Turns 30

NEW YORK—It’s been 30 years since Vision Expo West made its splashy debut at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif. The very first Western edition of Expo was sponsored by the Vision Industry Council of America and the show organizer was Cahners Exhibition Group. Here are some vital stats from VM’s archives, the April 1988 issue to be exact, about the debut of Vision Expo West back in 1988: attendance was 6,199 with 287 exhibitors in 67,600 square feet of space with the educational program totaling 200 hours.

Oh my, how things have changed. Fast forward to 2017 and you can see how attendance figures have exploded. Show organizers crunched the attendance numbers comparing the percentage increases from 1988 to 2017 and here’s what they found:

Net Square Feet of Exhibit Space: 157.4 percent increase
Attendees: 75.26 percent increase
Exhibitors: 90.19 percent increase

To get a sense of what Expo West looked like back then I didn’t have to venture far—my colleague and seatmate, Andy Karp, covered the first Vision Expo West and has attended every Expo ever since. Here are some of his memories from Expo’s first venture out West.

“There was a sense of excitement about this Vision Expo. It was only the third one, following the two shows held in New York in 1986 and 1987. The location, Long Beach, Calif., was a refreshing change of scene from the Javits Center, especially for a New Yorker like me who hadn’t been to the West Coast in many years. It was fun going out in the evening to walk around downtown and discover new restaurants.

“In those pre-internet days, the suppliers all gave out press kits with printed press releases and actual photographs of products. I remember carrying around an armload of these kits—I had to ship them back to our office because I couldn’t fit them all in my luggage.

“You could sense a divide between exhibitors who took an old school, hard sell approach and those who embraced a more modern, sophisticated way of presenting products. Many of the old school exhibitors had female models in their booths to demonstrate products and attract male customers. Although some companies still employ models today, the approach in 1988 was more show business than professional.”

Blasts From the Past—(L) Luxottica head Leonardo Delvecchio in a thoughtful mood during the first
Vision Expo West. (C) Bill Vetri, Gemini’s VP of marketing, takes off in his Harley Davidson Shields.
(R) At the Orcolite booth, twins Adele (l) and Anadel Baughn.

Mitchell Barkley, vice president of trade shows for The Vision Council offered this perspective on how much the show has grown and evolved over the years. “I started in the industry back in 1988 and was at the very first Vision Expo West held in California. One notable change in the industry between then and now is the explosion of fashion brands into the eyewear industry. Companies started buying licenses for high fashion brands in the late 80s and have only expanded their portfolios over the years.

“We’ve also seen the quality and innovation of products offered at Vision Expo and in the industry grow over the years. It’s amazing to see how all of the technological advances over the past 30 years have impacted everything from medical equipment, to contact lenses, to frame and lens production.”


Co-owners of the show, The Vision Council and Reed Exhibition will be marking Expo West’s 30th anniversary in a variety of ways later this month as the industry gathers in Vegas. They’ve launched a contest to celebrate the 30th anniversary (see story below). Show organizers said, “For three decades, the optical community has come together in glamorous Las Vegas to evolve the scope of patient care, ensure business success, build relationships and find inspiration at Vision Expo West. This year, as Vision Expo West celebrates its 30th anniversary, we're highlighting the impact that attending Vision Expo has not only on your business but on the vision community.”

Some things about the first Vision Expo West haven’t changed, like some of the original exhibitors. They are known as the “founding exhibitors” and there are 73 of them that have been supporting Expo West since that very first year. Click here for a complete list of the founding exhibitors.

Expo, like everything else in life, is always evolving from year to year. Here are a few stories outlining what’s new at Vision Expo West 2018:

Vision Expo OptiCon Program on Track to Surpass Successful Launch at East

 Opticians and contact lens technicians will be able to experience OptiCon @ Vision Expo for the first time at Vision Expo West 2018 (Education: Sept. 26-29; Exhibit Hall: Sept. 27-29) in Las Vegas. Vision Expo’s partnership with OptiCon brings the optician and contact lens technician education program to the largest gathering of eyewear and eyecare professionals. At press time, more OptiCon @ Vision Expo packages have been sold as of six weeks pre-show for Vision Expo West than were sold by the close of Vision Expo East, show organizers reported.

Celebrity and Urban Driven Destination, The BLOCK, to Launch at
Vision Expo West

The BLOCK, an extension of the Galleria featuring celebrity-influenced and independently designed urban eyewear, will launch at Vision Expo West 2018 in Las Vegas. In this new Exhibit Hall destination, fashion-forward retailers will find a customized environment that complements urban eyewear and elevates the presence of celebrity designers through fashion shows, meet-and-greets and panels focused on style and design, according to an announcement from show organizers.

Vision Expo Launches Contest to Celebrate 30th Anniversary of
Vision Expo West

Vision Expo has released a new video and launched a social media contest to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Vision Expo West 2018 in Las Vegas. To watch the video, and to enter and share the contest, click here. The video highlights both exhibitors and attendees that look forward to Vision Expo West to network and grow their business. Followers on Vision Expo's Facebook page are asked to comment on the video with #IMREADY #VISIONTURNS30 to enter to win. An extra entry will be counted for every person tagged in the comment. One winner will be randomly selected to receive a $500 American Express gift card.

Vision Expo West to Introduce Expanded Education Programming

Vision Expo West will introduce an expansive scope of education, products, trends and solutions that will keep the industry updated on best practices in patient care, practice management, retail strategies and more, according to an announcement from show organizers. “What’s always great about Vision Expo is the diversity of educational opportunities; from retail to clinical all the way to private equity, ocular aesthetics and social media, we really do have something for every practice and their teams,” said Ben Gaddie, OD, co-chair of the Vision Expo Conference Advisory Board.

Vision Expo to Recognize Exhibitors through New Award Category
Vision Expo has announced that it has added a new category as a part of its Best Booth Awards. Along with Most Creative Booth Design, the newly launched category will be Best Brand Activation. The Best Booth Awards, first launched at Vision Expo West 2017, were formed to recognize the investments made by exhibitors to create unique experiences and memorable environments for attendees. An in-booth activation is a way for an exhibitor to increase awareness of their brand and engage with attendees through activities that include concepts such as interactive games, technology, sampling, giveaways, in-booth demonstrations and contests.

Vision Expo West Milestones 
1988: First Vision Expo West held in California.

2005: Vision Expo upgrades its Equipment & Technology Pavilion to create two new pavilions for Lenses + Processing and Medical Technologies.
1989: Vision Expo West relocates to Anaheim, Calif.2012: ODs on Facebook Party at Vision Expo West is held for the first time—today more than 1,000 ODs attend this popular event at TAO Nightclub. 

1999: Vision Expo West moves to Los Angeles, Calif.2013: Vision Expo signs on as a supporter of Think About Your Eyes.

2000: Vision Expo West moves to its present home in Las Vegas, Nev. 2017: Vision Expo’s social reach hits the 20 million impression mark—today #VisionExpo has over 27 million impressions.
1997: Galleria Pavilion launches. 2017: The Best Booth Award launches to recognize the considerable investments made by exhibitors to create a unique experience and memorable environment for attendees. 
2003: Suites open.  2018: Vision Expo West will bring the successful OptiCon @ Vision Expo program to Las Vegas and plans to unveil two curated neighborhoods in the Exhibit Hall including the BLOCK.