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Trade Show Organizers Consider Plan B Options, Expect to Scale Back

Calendars that would ordinarily be filled with flight times and trade show meetings are being rebooked with Zoom calls and digital events as companies scramble to stay connected with clients during the coronavirus crisis.

No industry knows this better than the trade shows—a sector that has been responsible for building community and fostering business. With most organizers being forced to cancel or postpone their events for the first half of the year, the industry is working to rewrite the playbook of how they can maintain that sense of community in an economical, safe and effective way.

In a recent roundtable hosted by trend forecasting firm Fashion Snoops, executives from global fashion, home and beauty trade show organizations shared the steps they are taking to stay plugged into the industries they serve and how the trade show landscape may change in the near future.

Lost summer

Last week Informa, the organizer of fashion events like Project, Magic, Coterie and more, announced plans to consolidate its July and August New York trade shows into one marketplace Sept. 22-24, however, Kelly Helfman, president of WWD Magic, Project Women’s, MICAM Americans and Sourcing, alluded to more changes in the pipeline.

Though some states are beginning to establish plans to reopen their economies, players across the fashion supply chain may not have the product or team in place to get back to business.

“There is a hangover effect right now, so even if we’re back to business in July, I think we all feel that potentially we’re not going be ready to go to shows as soon as August,” Helfman said, referring to the Magic event scheduled to take place in Las Vegas Aug. 16-19.

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Though the event is currently still on, Helfman noted that the company is monitoring and looking at plan B. “I think that in the next couple weeks we will be able to say with absolute confidence that we are postponing the event, but I’m not there today,” she said.

Likewise, Sam Ben-Avraham, owner of Liberty Fairs, which will hold its New York event during the same dates as Project in September, is doubtful about summer events.

“I really don’t see anything happening during the summer,” he said, adding that he’s uneasy about September events, too. “I really don’t believe anything is going to happen until 2021.”

In the interim, Liberty Fairs is accelerating conversations about digital opportunities. “Digital is definitely going to take a major effect in relationship between us and the customers, the buyers and brands,” Ben-Avraham said. “Hopefully by June we’ll have something in place to share with our customers.”

Pitti Immagine CEO Raffaello Napoleone is hopeful that his company can hold Pitti Uomo in Florence Sept. 2-4. The show was originally scheduled for June. The men’s wear event will focus on Spring/Summer 2021 collections, which Napoleone acknowledged feels unsettling as Spring/Summer 2020 collections are currently going unsold.

On top of that, with most of Italy’s garment manufacturing industry currently closed, Napoleone isn’t sure if brands will even have collections to present in September. “We’re trying to find a way to help our exhibitors, vendors and visitors [navigate] this very difficult moment,” he said.

Napoleone, however, remains optimistic about the role of the trade show. Pitti Uomo, he reported, has received 47 percent of its applications for the September event, primarily from small exhibitors that rely on the show to make an impactful and international statement to buyers. “They are waiting for Pitti,” he said.

Less is more

Trade shows need to survive the pandemic, too. As a result, Helfman said exhibitors and visitors should “expect events to be less sexy, a little less glitz and glam.”

The reality, she said, is trade shows will be looking for ways to cut costs and it will begin by eliminating big ticket expenditures like concerts and experiential activations. A trade show like Magic, she added, can spend a half a million on carpet alone.

“We too are having issues because our business is going to shrink tremendously,” Helfman said.

However, by scaling down productions, trade shows have an opportunity to be more sustainable and produce less waste—which may be anyway the more modern approach to business.

“Events will look very different,” she said. “It might look slimmer, but it’s because those things all are suddenly not very important. We’re just going to do a lot of what’s right for business and cut out the hoopla.”