As the National Demolition Association (NDA), Washington, was putting together a plan for Demolition Austin, its 2018 annual convention and expo held Feb. 22-24 in Austin, Texas, convention organizers knew they wanted to shake up the standard conference experience.

Traditionally, the event’s convention center houses an exhibitor hall where vendors showcase their company’s heavy equipment. While this setup allows contractors to see what’s available on the market, it doesn’t allow for a tangible experience that’s conducive for operating and vetting a piece of machinery before purchasing.

With this in mind, the NDA’s convention committee started brainstorming ideas that would allow professionals to see, interact with and test the industry’s latest equipment free from the confines of a convention hall. That’s when the idea of hosting a live demolition event at an off-site location was conceived.

“We’ve always wanted to do a live demolition event, but we never really had a place where we could do it,” Scott Knightly, president of NDA and of Epping, New Hampshire-based EnviroVantage, says. “So, when we knew we were going to be down in Austin as the host city for the event, we figured that could be the ideal location since we had a good team in place and we were intent on making it happen.”

Led by Andrew DeBaise, convention chair for Demolition Austin and executive manager of Commerce City, Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Recycling, and NDA Executive Director Cheryl Caulfield, the NDA convention committee set out to bring the idea of the Live Demolition event to life.

The first order of business for the committee was finding a suitable location that would be close enough to the rest of the show to make it easy for showgoers to participate, while also being remote and open enough to host all the equipment and attendees.

After multiple trips down to the host city, DeBaise and his team settled on Texas Disposal Systems' Exotic Game Ranch in nearby Buda, Texas. The 1,175-acre site, which serves both as an exotic animal refuge and waste processing site, was ideal for the event thanks to its on-site metals and concrete recycling facilities. The proximity to these C&D materials was a prerequisite since NDA wanted real-time access to resources that could be cut, moved, shredded and crushed to showcase the capabilities of the equipment.

After confirming that holding the event at Texas Disposal Systems' Exotic Game Ranch wouldn’t disrupt the show and would allow for easy transport of attendees back and forth by bus, NDA got to work outlining what the event would look like.

Putting it all together

Anyone who works in construction or demolition knows that safety and compliance are more than industry buzzwords when it comes to operating heavy equipment. When there is a lot of heavy equipment being run in close proximity, different vendors on-site, contractors working with unfamiliar equipment and hundreds of spectators, the potential for complications requires some serious oversight.

In all, 19 vendors participated in the Live Demolition, bringing with them a range of equipment that ran the gamut from excavators and material handlers to the latest attachments on the market. This equipment was lined up in two rows parallel to each other, with a large tent in between to house attendees.

To ensure safe operations, NDA committee members and vendors worked together to establish a uniform set of practices and an open line of communication.

“One of the biggest things we had to be mindful of was how we set everything up so we could meet all the safety regulations,” Knightly says. “We knew OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) was going to be there, and we had all this equipment lined up. If there is an incident, what is the protocol for having safety horns, what kind of time frames are you enforcing to shut everything down at once, and what are you doing for spacing between vendors? We put up barriers that nobody could cross, and we had monitors for each piece of equipment, but this was a big challenge because you had a line of vendors maybe 300 to 400 feet long on both sides of the spectator tent, and you had to monitor that and keep everything safe.”

During the event, contractors and operators took turns testing out equipment of their choice, with vendors and NDA staff overseeing operation. According to Knightly, the event, which went off without incident, was a game-changer in how it allowed industry professionals to test various pieces of equipment all in one place.

“The feedback that we received after the event was over the top,” Knightly says. “The one thing that stuck with me that I heard from an NDA member was, ‘It would take me 10 years to see all of what I saw today. I’d either have to get a vendor to come down to me and bring their equipment, or I’d have to find time in my schedule to fly out to them. To see all these vendors would take years.’ He told me that he was able to see and try out everything on the market in a matter of three hours. That was probably the biggest takeaway that everyone had.”

Tony Frattalone, president of Little Canada, Minnesota-based Frattalone Cos., echoed Knightly’s sentiment, saying the Live Demolition experience offered him the unprecedented ability to see and interact with different pieces of equipment all in one place.

“I was an operator before moving into the business side of my company,” Frattalone says. “I believe the best test of new products is to run them yourself in the application [you intend to use them]. I was able to test the machines and tools that I was interested in at the show, and I thought it was a great success for the NDA. I also liked the opportunity to talk with other businesses in different parts of the country to see what they are doing and how they are handling their machine and tool selections.”

Being able to use the Live Demolition event as a testing ground for prospective equipment purchases was not only useful for contractors, it gave business owners a reason to rethink who they brought to the show.

“I think the biggest thing for myself and other business owners, rather than showing up to the convention by ourselves and walking the show floor like normal, the prospect of the Live Demolition event changed that,” Knightly says. “We brought our operators and mechanics to try stuff out. If they wanted to test out three shears, they tested three shears in a matter of a couple hours. So, the people who are actually using this equipment on a daily basis could touch, feel and use the equipment, talk with the vendors, find out what differentiates one product from another, see what might be safer, etc. And with everything 25 feet apart, you could vet things like the guardings and undercarriage protection, and they were all demo-package-type stuff for rugged equipment. So, it was spot-on what we needed to see.”

According to Joe Vendetti, vice president of decommissioning and demolition at Houston-based Remedial Construction Services (RECON), the Live Demolition format allowed contractors to take the uncertainty out of the purchasing process by giving them the capacity to test equipment for their unique needs.

“In the past, if something new or larger was coming into the market, we were taking the brochure’s word, the salesperson’s word and taking the vendor’s reputation into consideration. Now for a live test, we can actually get into the machines and run the attachments. Seeing is believing,” Vendetti says. “In a brochure, a company can tell you about the appetite of a shear or its response, but shearing up I-beams, for example, let us really see what the capabilities are for ourselves.”

According to Bill Moore, a consultant at Malvern, Pennsylvania-based ERM Inc., this more thorough approach to vetting construction and demolition equipment is not only a better way to test equipment, but it also allows contractors a better way to find vendors they can trust.

“A lot of buying is now done from what's seen on the internet,” Moore says. “The Live Demolition concept takes the sales process a step further. Dealer support, warranties, availability of parts and the ability to provide prompt maintenance and repairs in the field are also important. Many smaller contractors only have one piece of each type of equipment, and they can't afford to have something not working. The live event was important because contractors could compare different brands and talk to the manufacturers directly to build that familiarity.”

Looking forward

With the success of the inaugural Live Demolition event under its belt, NDA is already working on upping the ante for next year’s show. According to Knightly, Demolition Rockies, which is taking place March 23 to 25, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado, will feature a revival of the Live Demolition concept. While details are still being finalized, Knightly is confident that the second iteration of the event will provide contractors with the same forum as its predecessor to bring certainty to a traditionally uncertain purchasing process.

“The one thing we took away from the event, and what we want our members to take away, is that this is the only place you can do this,” Knightly says. “You’re not going anywhere else where you can see a machine move some scrap, a machine do some demolition work, and a machine do some crushing and cutting or other types of jobs all in one place. I don’t think there is any other place in the country you can see and experience something like that.”

The author is the editor for Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be contacted at