OK, first things first: industry trade shows and market events are not going away. They will be different and will serve new purposes when they return as the pandemic starts to wind down and we return to something resembling normalcy.
But in the meantime, we remain in no-man’s land when it comes to in-person events in the home and gift industry, uncharted territory that is nearly impossible to forecast how it will play out in the short term.
That said, here’s what we know right now on what is most accurately called The Now Normal:
- The trade shows and markets that have physically taken place over the past six to nine months have been characterized by their regional nature and taking place in fixed, permanent market center facilities which are doing good jobs monitoring health and safety procedures. They have mostly been attended by retailers who can drive in, perhaps for just the day, and don’t have to get on airplanes, rent cars or even stay in hotels. National accounts have generally not attended, their corporate bans on travel remaining in effect for the foreseeable future. On the vendor side, many company principles are not attending and sales rep head counts are lower than traditional levels. Sadly, there are few tote bags or mimosas available for show attendees.
- Shows that are traditionally held in convention center locations are for the most part being cancelled, or at least postponed indefinitely. Show organizers don’t have the fixed overhead costs of market centers so they can make the hard decision not to go forward. But for some industry sectors it will mean two years, at least, without a physical show and there’s no way to know how that will play out in the long term.
- Virtual shows and online marketplaces continue to gain in importance but frankly haven’t exploded in a way some might have thought given the vacuum in the marketplace. A number of players are offering different platforms and not all of them will succeed but it seems likely that these online services will find their place in the B2B process as things start to settle in over the next 12 to 18 months.
- Most importantly, shows will be back. Retailers have overwhelmingly said they want the in-person experience of seeing products first-hand, talking face-to-face (as opposed to mask-to-mask) with their suppliers and working the full market trade show experience with its chance meetings, serendipitous stumbling upon a new resource and just the comradery that comes with being someplace other than your store or office.
We are in the middle of something we’ve never seen before. But we will return to seeing some very familiar things when it’s over.
Award-winning Journalist & Consultant for the retailing and home furnishings industries with extensive business media experience in both fields.