Spoiler alert: If you’re reading to see if an upcoming market has been cancelled or changed its dates that’s not with this column is about. I promise, if we hear anything about any change at any market or tradeshow in the industry, you will be the first to know.
What I am writing about, however, is the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on the market and tradeshow environment. And so we’re clear on terms, when I say market I’m referencing an event taking place primarily in a showroom environment, such as High Point or the permanent showroom portions of Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas.
Tradeshows, such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Inspired Home Show (aka Housewares Show) or Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) utilize exclusively temporary exhibit spaces most often housed in large convention or exhibition centers.
These are important distinctions because in the age of COVID-19 they face distinctly different challenges and have largely different prospects. You’ve no doubt heard or read about major tradeshows scheduled for the first and even second quarter of 2020 going to virtual formats or rescheduling for the second half of 2021 or even 2022. And you may have presumed that markets would soon follow suit.
So far that has not been the case, and the primary reason is that markets with permanent showrooms are better equipped to handle social distancing requirements, control traffic and, in general, function similarly to outlet malls. They do not have one set of exhibitors setting up with all the human traffic that entails, have attendees walking down 10- to 15-foot-wide aisles for three days and breaking everything down and repeating that process again as new shows and new people move through the space.
That does not mean we’re not seeing changes to markets. The cover of this week’s issue features three stories that reflect, in one way or another, the changes impacting the market environment. High Point’s Premarket now has more than 200 companies that intend to exhibit in September. That is more than double the number from last fall.
In the past few weeks we’ve seen a growing number of companies announce plans to keep their showrooms in a market-ready condition for extended periods, in some instances year-round. The goal is to enable retailers or designers to set appointments at a time of their choosing and allow manufacturers even greater control of traffic and sanitation conditions.
It’s far too soon and the sample size too small to suggest this represents the future of “markets,” if they could even be called that in a year-round time frame. Trends are never so monolithic, nor do they ever proceed in such unbroken straight lines. And this is far from a one-size-fits-all industry.
However, the pandemic has spawned an increasingly wide range of options when it comes to retailer-buyer interaction, the ability to show product and transact business. Despite oft-heard complaints about the redundancy of markets, the pandemic has demonstrated the obstacles people will overcome to see product in person and interact face-to-face.
Are we seeing a paradigm shift in markets? It would certainly seem so. Only time will tell what that new paradigms will be.