The annual Consumer Electronics Show was held recently in Las Vegas and I was there with my company to show products in suites on the 30th floor at The Venetian. Somewhat showing my age, this was the 29th time I've been to CES in Las Vegas. And it isn't getting any easier for me.
While the Consumer Electronics Association - the group that oversees CES - said that attendance was at an all-time high (170,000 attendees), the number of dealers from my part of the world was significantly down this year. Many said that they were too busy to come to Las Vegas, others said that CES has outlived its usefulness. We actually saw more consumers come through our suites at The Venetian than dealers this year. I know it's called the CONSUMER Electronics Show, but that was a misnomer for a number of years - consumers were never allowed in the show. A few figured out how to do it years ago, but it wasn't until the last ten years or so where there was a tremendous upswing in the number of consumers finding ways to get into the show. (Of which the CEA is not discouraging them to do so.) Thanks to forums on the Internet basically telling people how to get in, industry participation has been stagnant while attendance has risen due to consumers coming to the show.
And this year's CES really provided no big buzz. Mercedes-Benz and Audi both showed off driver-less cars, smart watches and programmable appliances were big, headphones continued their surge, and 4K resolution televisions - including Samsung's new SUHD curved-screen televisions - were a big hit thanks to more high-resolution content available to end-users. Compared to previous Consumer Electronics Shows, this was pretty low-key.
For the past few years, our company has been staying at The Mirage and when you're putting 10 to 12 guys in rooms up to $279 a night, it adds up pretty quick. Last year, one of our guys from Canada suggested we look into renting a large house for the duration of the time we'd be out in Las Vegas. My boss loved the idea because not only would it save us money, he loves the collegial feel of the sales staff getting together at shows.
The suggestion was met, however, with a derisive tone from the staff knowing that a combination of diverse personalities, close quarters, being together both day AND night, and - most importantly - alcohol consumption could spell doom for this social experiment. Plus, what were we going to do for breakfast? Could we hire a cook to come and make dinner for us? There were still a lot of questions and trepidation when we were told that we went ahead and rented a house in the northwest part of Las Vegas.
One of our guys found the house - a nine bedroom, nine bath villa - on a vacation rental web site. (Click here to see a description of the house and more pictures.) It was going to cost us $1100 a day for three days and $1500 a day for three more days. Doing the math, we figured that we'd be saving about $6000 bucks just on room costs. Then figuring in having meals like breakfast and some dinners at the house, we'd probably save another $3000 bucks.
The first problem was that there were 10 guys in our traveling party, so a couple guys were going to have to share a room. (There would have been 11 of us but the wife of my colleague Simon was ready to give birth to their first child. I accused him of purposely impregnating her back in April to get out of CES.) Secondly, of the nine bathrooms, there were only six with a shower. Bathroom sharing is almost as bad as room sharing in my book.
We all got in on the Sunday before the show - the Montreal crew was late by over 12 hours due to weather problems in Canada. But it gave us time to find the house and to get settled in. From the house's web site, we were promised a pool and hot tub, home theater, poker room with bar, a game room with a pool table and a gourmet kitchen. The pictures below got our hopes up for what promised to be luxury living for a week in Las Vegas.
Well, the pictures from the web site had to be taken 10 minutes after the house was furnished about 8 years ago. The pool was a wreck - it wasn't heated, nor was the hot tub working. The waterfall into the pool had long been dismantled. The gourmet kitchen featured a mish-mash of mangled pots and pans, a number of mis-matched dishes and glasses, and featured a gas stove that had to be ignited by a fire starter each time you wanted to cook on it. The television room featured couches that were split and dingy. The pool table had so many drinks spilled on it that the felt was permanently stained. The home theater room featured a projector that was well past its prime. Carpets were worn and stained. Rooms were tired and bland. Bathrooms were basic and featured some damage.
Other than that - it was heaven. I mean, the place was relatively trashed from 8 years of various people staying in the place, so we didn't have to worry much about accidental spills or broken glasses. In fact, we bought some items - steak knives, clothes irons, electric griddle - that we just left in the house for future renters to use.
One of the rooms on the first floor was basically a mother-in-law suite that featured its own outside entry. However, the owners put a bed in what would be the living room, effectively blocking access from the outside. It featured a small kitchenette complete with a dishwasher - which came in handy one evening when we entertained 18 people in the house. There was a true small bedroom with a walk-in closet in the room. And it had a private bath with shower for the room. That was the room and bathroom that my colleague Todd and I shared. I took the big bed in the pseudo living room and he took the private room with a smaller bed. I will say that the bed was rather comfortable. But the HVAC system in the house wasn't working properly and I was having trouble getting the temperature to a cool and comfortable level for sleeping the first couple of nights. I ended up opening a window in the room to allow for the cool night air to come into the room for better sleeping the rest of the nights.
We went to Total Wine and More (click here to see the entry on Total Wine) to buy wine, beer and liquor. That came to about $1200 bucks. If we were drinking in the bar at The Mirage, that would be about 2 1/2 days of bar tabs for us. We went to a local grocery store to buy stuff for breakfast, dinner and snacks. That was a $700 tab - much less than what we'd spend on breakfast alone during the week.
My colleague Ian and I found a meat market on line - Larry's Great Western Meats (I'll have a specific entry on Larry's later on) - where we bought some excellent steaks for dinner on successive nights. And we had four gargantuan pizzas delivered for dinner one evening. We went to an old standby - Lindo Michoacan - for excellent Mexican food one evening (click here to see the entry on Lindo Michoacan), and we were tired enough after the show was over to stop in to In-N-Out Burger for a basic take home meal.
It turns out that we overbought a lot of food and booze. Each of us had access to a spread sheet where we could add food items and alcohol requests to the list. We bought 5 gallons of orange juice - that was about 3 gallons too much, even with Todd making a punch concoction one evening. We bought 2 gallons of milk - which was about a half gallon too much. But other food items - bread especially - we way overbought. Loaves of bread and bags of buns were never touched. A dozen bagels along with 24 ounces of cream cheese - never used. We had a little less than a case of beer that wasn't consumed, various bottles of scotch, vodka and Cointreau had more than half of the bottle left. We made note the last night we were there to make sure that we wouldn't overbuy again next year.
And we'll do this again next year. It all turned out pleasantly well. It was a nice, relaxed atmosphere getting home around 6:45 after a long day at the show with a cold beer, a rum and Coke, or a glass of wine waiting as we unwound. Nearly everyone pitched in for breakfast and dinner, no one seemed to be invading anyone's personal space, there were a couple of late-night alcohol-fueled disagreements, but for the most part it was the type of harmonious atmosphere my boss predicted - or hoped for at the very least. It definitely made the experience in Las Vegas much more palatable than dealing with casinos, long waits and terrible service for a large group of diners, and just the overall septic atmosphere that I've come to despise about the city. It was like we were natives - even for a week - where we got up and went to work, where we shopped like the locals do, and stayed in the relative comfort of a house that had a lived-in feeling to it. It just made the annual Las Vegas experience much easier to handle on this trip. It actually made me want to look forward to my 30th CES next January.