November 16, 2000 3:10 PM PST

Lifestyles of the not so rich and famous

LAS VEGAS--While the money and attention at Comdex focuses on the main convention floor, scores of smaller companies and niche markets spend the week pitching their wares in comparative obscurity across town.

Officially, the giant tech trade show takes place at both the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo and Convention Center. In reality, all the big names congregate at the city's namesake convention center. It is at the Sands where lesser-known companies sit out the show, organized by category or country of origin.

Comdex 2000: Back to the future While the traffic at the Sands is good, conversations with reporters have been limited, acknowledges sales manager Garrett Gruher of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Computer Liquidations.

"I've seen some (press) badges, but they walk by," Gruher said.

One of the biggest crowds at the Sands congregated around the iLearning booth, although people appeared more interested in the free cappuccino than getting a pitch on online corporate training.

"We don't get to talk to everyone," admits Chris Montgomery, executive vice president of the Baltimore, Md.-based company. Still, he said, Montgomery has been getting 3,000 people to at least stop by each day.

"I've been surprised how valuable the show has been," said Montgomery, sipping a coffee of his own.

The products at the Sands range from mundane components, such as fans and power cords, to the truly bizarre.

One of the wackier is something from Taiwan's WayTech Development called the SmartBox, a miniature mailbox that attaches to a PC and whose handle pops up when a customer gets email from the mailbox's sponsor. Another button on the device takes the customer directly to the company's mailbox.

Equally intriguing is Azpac International's Flightable, a $129 piece of carry-on luggage that can morph into a laptop computer table, complete with cup holder.

"While your flight is screwed up, you have a place to store your coffee," said Azpac vice president and pitchman Ben Lee, as Flightable's infomercial played on a nearby television.

Of course, not all the curiosities are limited to the Sands. Showing on the main floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center is a personal scent synthesizer from an Oakland, Calif.-based company called DigiScents. The idea of electronic smells is itself odd and the name of the product is even more dubious: iSmell.

The Sands show floor is also notable because not everyone is pitching technology. There are credit card offers and various generic vendors attracted by the size, rather than the interests of the crowd.

Perhaps the most welcome presence at the Sands, though not on the main floor, are several companies pitching massage chairs and other relaxation gear.

Computer accessories manufacturer John Steel said it was a relief to get a foot massage after hauling around way too much stuff for nearly a week.

"What a great i-d-e-a-a-a-a," Steel said, his voice muffled by the vibrations.

 

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