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How Regional Tradeshows Are Making A Post COVID comeback

During the fall of 2021, NY NOW one of the world’s largest home gift shows, made its way back to a real convention hall.

The digital only stint was over. On one hand, it signaled a return to normalcy.

However, with only a third of the space sold, and most exhibitors opting out, buyers who made the trip couldn’t shake off the feeling of emptiness and despair at the cavernous Javit’s Center.

Smaller shows weren’t immune to this downturn but were better equipped to make a comeback. Shoppe Object New York, a home and gift show on the Lower East Side, hit 90% capacity and tripled their revenues.

And this season was back up to 100% capacity despite a last-minute Omicron scare.

They not only combated the crisis but increased their business and reach to international vendors. Even the new strain didn’t rain on their parade.

What did the smaller shows do differently?

As the platform for a range of smaller regional shows, we’ve seen firsthand what’s worked and after speaking to hundreds of organizers and vendors have come up with a few key insights.

These are some of the tactics show organizers applied towards making a successful post-COVID environment for themselves and exhibitors.

1. Touchless Commerce at the Physical Shows

Shoppe Object developed a hybrid model, creating a full end-to-end e-commerce experience, live at the physical space. Instead of gathering catalogs and writing orders willy nilly, buyers had the ability to start their buying experience with a QR code which they’d receive as a registrant of Shoppe Object.

"You can scan a QR Code in every booth around the show which immediately marks the vendor as saved within your profile. So that you easily access everyone you’ve seen or like at the show and go back to it and make a purchase”

-says Jesse James, co-founder of Shoppe Object

The innovation was to adopt a hybrid model in partnership with a tradeshow software Ribbon, that created an Omnichannel shopping experience.

It cut down the need to exchange business cards and catalogs which would accumulate in one of the free tote bags they were tossed into.

Contrary to some organizer fears, Digital commerce isn’t designed to replace physical shows but complement it with an added level of convenience and efficiency.

"From very beginning while partnering with Shoppe Object, we believed the buyer needed to be able to complete the transaction online and not just view products. Or else it would feel like a half-baked experience."

2. Introduce Remote Consultants

Physical spaces offer buyers the opportunity to touch and feel and speak to a real person, an experience that’s difficult to replicate online. So where does that leave buyers who cannot attend?

Art Dusseldorf, an Art Fair with over 120 galleries, is closing this gap in with an ingenious solution.

The remote art consultant.

It’s an idea that’s worked successfully in high end retail with stores like Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmannbut that offer shopping assistants who can shop for you via live video.

The Art Fair page will offer a choice of remote personal art consultants. They’ll be knowledgeable, speak different languages, and comfortable juggling between different collectors.

On the show days, they’ll be available for access, by appointment on live video and using a Consultant App, also embedded in the Ribbon platform.

Remote consultants would have their own portal on Ribbon where they’ll login as a consultant, capture galleries and individual artworks via QR codes, and shop for collectors who could be thousands of miles away lounging on their credenzas or attending another art fair.

“It makes us pandemic-proof. Even if public safety concerns require us to go completely virtual, we know we can deliver an art fair experience”

- says Walter Gehlen, director of Art Dusseldorf.

With art shows happening at the same time, collectors can be at two shows at once just one step shy of teleportation.

3. Hybrid Booth Pricing

The hybrid experience is birthing new trade show models like The Edit, a curated experience of home goods in Canada.

Exhibitors who rent a physical space are automatically signed up for a virtual booth. Their entire collection is available online with a video chat and appointment scheduling functionality. This means, those who cannot be at the venue due to reasons like a travel restriction or budget cuts, can still participate virtually at a lower price.

While they miss the onsite foot traffic, they can take advantage of the digital promotions, video conference features, and networking opportunities.

Now the smaller shows can also access the data from the sales in real time because all the sales are recorded via the platform. Until now tradeshows never had access to this data.

“This is first time trade shows can accurately predict trends”

says Christina McDaniel, co-founder of The Edit.

4. Experimenting with Show Formats

The format could be shorter physical days and longer digital days.

Shoppe Object has their shows online all season long with weekly drops for new collections.

Art Dusseldorf is extending their online days for 3 months. VIPs also get an exclusive preview one day before the shows opens.

During the shorter exbibit days, the question is how to maximize the time there. One of the recent innovations by Shoppe Object is providing ALL vendors with the ability to write orders on the show floor.

When you have hundreds of buyers with a huge “Open to Buy” budgets, you want to write the order when they are at your booth. Once they leave and go home, the chance of making the sale reduces by 30%.

Typically this process entails handwriting orders on paper and then transferring them onto Quickbooks, a labor-intensive process.

5. Targeted Marketing

Rather than spending time and money on a large marketing campaign organizers are refocusing their efforts on regional targeting.

This could mean reaching out to specific industries or potential buyers who live within a 100-mile radius which is a drivable distance.

For the exhibitor outreach, the organizers could be more adventurous.

Buyers who stayed home didn’t feel like they missed out.

“I felt like I could do what I needed via my reps, sites and the online platform. Not ready to get on a plane”

-said Zoel Fages, owner of Perch, a specialty store in San Francisco.

Recap: how regional shows are making a comeback

- Introducing touchless digital commerce on the show floor

- Access to remote shopping consultants

- Getting creative with pricing with an online only option

- Experimenting with show formats: Reducing physical days, increasing virtual booth times

-Targeted marketing to local buyers with driving distance

Vinit Patil is the CEO/ Co-founder of Ribbon, a modern platform for Tradeshows, Art Fairs, and Showrooms. To request a demo visit meetribbon.com/digital-shows

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