OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. - Every year, before the 1 p.m. opening of its trade show, the Chicagoland Sheet Metal Contractors Association board gathers for a celebratory luncheon.

They have good reasons: their central Illinois trade show is one of the largest regional HVAC events in the country, filling up the Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace convention complex and turning it into a makeshift sheet metal shop for one afternoon.

This year, almost 100 companies took up 176 booths - matching a record set in 2006 - and greeted more than 3,000 contractors from the greater Chicago area during the eight-hour March 27 event.

Jack Baer of Air Comfort Corp. in Broadview, Ill., serves as the association’s current president. He said the event’s continued success is no surprise. This was the 30th Chicagoland trade show.

“The show gives contractors and suppliers a chance to meet face to face, outside of the hectic work environment,” Baer said. “The relaxed atmosphere of the show gives people an opportunity to see and ask questions about a wide variety of products at one time.”

And the Chicagoland show is more relaxed than many similar events. Unlike more formal trade shows such as the AHR Expo that visits the Windy City every three years, the CSMCA’s show is laid back. Ties and jackets are rare on booth staff or attendees. Many contractors and apprentices stop in after work or class. Beer flows from the cash bars set up on the show floor. Tickets include a buffet dinner.

It works well for show organizers. More than 3,000 have attended the event every year since 1997. This year, organizers noted that more than half registered in advance online, tripling the number who did so in 2006 and presumably shortening lines for those who did register on-site.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.