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What Would a Post-Covid Tradeshow Look Like?

In this podcast, host Warren Shoulberg interviews Guest and our partner Jesse James on thoughts about the trade show of the future.

Warren Shoulberg:

You are building a show, it was growing quickly, it was pretty amazing. I went to every one of them, and just watched the progress every time and it’s just got bigger and more interesting and it’s just had a vibrancy that a lot of other shows around the county didn’t have, and then COVID hits so what was your first thought and how long did you take it to figure out a way to keep this thing going virtually, or any way.

Jesse James:

We were lucky because we had already started to develop a concept around a parallel online component to our show.

We recognized it really at inception at Shoppe Object that it’s going to be necessary to move forward into the future and I think that that became extremely obvious when covid hit.

But it was already clear that the world was moving in a certain direction. That people were becoming more and more accustomed to shopping at any time from any place whenever they wanted, they needed to.

And that, you know, people were moving in the direction of printing fewer catalogs, doing things more digitally, and then it would be smart and thoughtful to have a digital component to our trade show.

So the conversation was already underway but wasn’t necessarily intended in the beginning to be eCommerce immediately and so we had to pivot to add the wholesale eCommerce element to our platform.

"We felt like not being able to take orders through the platform was not smart long term and we jumped in headfirst."

So you know was a misstep for sure and really a significant one and probably one of the hardest things that I have ever done but the groundwork and the and the spark was already in place.

Warren Shoulberg:

And you decided to developed it internally or independently from some of the other virtual marketplaces that have been coming along.

Jesse James:

Ohhh yeah, I think that it was not going to be possible for us to find something that pre-existed that was designed in a way that we would love.

I think we just can see that we had an idea of how this would work that we needed to have in hand while developing it. And we found partners that believed in our vision enough to join us in that process.

Now if you ask me right away after the launch of our first season was the right choice, I might have questioned myself.

I’m used to building spaces. I’m used to putting up walls, painting them and hanging shelves, and then going to the flower market, putting together a physical space that is fun and dynamic and interesting but in this particular project, a huge part of it the success was out of our hands.

It was in the hand of our tech partners Ribbon and you know it was stressful in the beginning because there was so much and it was so new but then we started to see how quickly you can make adjustments and begin to change things and to respond to the activity of the day.

"We ended up having an incredible first season where we sold Millions of dollars of the product."

Then I think in the beginning there was this uncertainty of what is meant to be, I think people sort of were imagining a trade show within a tight window of time that was translated from the physical to digital were in fact what we are creating was a platform that’s 24/7 365 days a year.

And so the first 3 days of its launch was not the bulk of where the business happened.

"Our best months were October, November even after Christmas. What happened is people got comfortable with the reality of the new world we are living in and started to recognize that they can be back to this resource."

January at that time was our busiest month ever because we were really appealing to people that needed to get product back in-store quickly. There was that learning curve of getting people comfortable and getting ourselves comfortable what was this gonna look like in the field.

But it was, it was well worth it.

Warren Shoulberg:

So, next month in September, you’re going back, and doing your first physical live show in New York. What’s that like, how weird is that, and kinda how do you see, the physical and the virtual plan with each other, are they both gonna continue kinda parallel tracks, how do you shake out, I don’t think anybody really knows, but I care what you think.

Jesse James:

I think the hybrid model is here to stay and I think we enter this new season committed to approaching it that way.

We want people to recognize that having that digital component as part of the big picture going forward was going to be critical to our platform at least and I think that it’s here to stay.

"Having that digital component as part of the big picture going forward is going to be critical to our platform and it’s here to stay."

So we all want and need and are so excited to be gathering again in physical spaces. I just came back from the Atlanta market which was really wonderful. It was wonderful to be in rooms and spaces with all the people that I’ve been missing and to do really good business in that physical space, but there’s no question that the digital component adds something to the mix that would be valuable from here and out.

"What we’ve done is really design a platform that integrates the digital components that we’ve built with the physical shows that we are once again going to be putting on."

So that you have an enhanced experience at the physical show, instead of gathering pleasant catalogs and writing here and there, you have the ability to access the show with the QR Code that you have as a registrant of Shoppe online which is our Digital marketplace and you can scan QR Code in every booth around the show which immediately mark them as a saved vendor within the platform so that you easily access everyone you’ve seen or like at the show and go back to it.

You can take notes within the system, you can develop and write orders on your own within the platform while walking around the show or vendors will do it for you within the platform that you can access as a draft order later when you go home.

"You can write orders on your own within the platform while walking around the show or vendors will do it for you within the platform that you can access as a draft order later when you go home."

It’s just a way to consolidate all of that information that you get when you go to a show and see hundreds of hundred of brands in one easy place. That’s something valuable to other people who love to walk the aisle of trade shows and it’s valuable to people who are still shopping from home.

And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

"I think anyone who doesn’t sort of integrating that into their forward vision is making a mistake really."

Warren Shoulberg:

You are allowed to a 30 seconds commercial, the show is when and where?

Jesse James:

The show is September 19 to 21th at pier 36 which is our waterside home at lower Manhattan known to some as basketball city it is in heart of a thriving exciting part of our City and its right in between the Manhattan and the Brooklyn bridges and it’s a place that I can’t wait to get back to.

Warren Shoulberg:

As physical shows return, do you see a ratio of how much business you expect to be done in-person versus online, or is that a fair question because of some of the things you are doing it’s fuzzy you know where was that order actually created but I mean do you see any kinda balance settling in there?

Jesse James:

Well we’re still really in an interesting time and there are unknown elements to how everything will shake out for us and the world.

Part of what you’ve planted out at the beginning of this conversation about the supply chain really figures into what we are going to experience this season.

I think we’re riding and expected to ride a lot of business physically at the show because people want to know the availability in real-time they want to talk to brands face to face and understand what they can anticipate receiving and by when. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the supply chain that people will have better answers to by September and I also see from the experience we have from the showroom side so far, that people are buying a lot right now.

Part of the reason buying so much, is yes, pent up shopping desire but also because they don’t know exactly what their gonna get and they are willing to take what they can get when they get it.

Some buyers say if they don’t sell everything this season then have some leftovers for next, and that’s an orthodox approach. But it is where some smaller retailers’ heads are at right now because there is so much unknown.

So I think we’re gonna have a season at the end of this year where there are lots of orders written at the physical show.

And I think that over time it will shake out differently.

Physical shows are the place where people come to see new things. To talk to people in person to imagine assortments of how the products from this brand might sit nicely from that brand. To talk about in real-time or physically touching things.

"Physical shows are the place where people come to see new things. To talk to people in person to imagine assortments of how the products from this brand might sit nicely from that brand. To talk about in real-time or physically touching things."

A lot of those orders all over the past 5 or 6 years have started to come in, in the weeks after the show rather than after-show itself. Certainly, it will continue but the thing about this moment is that we’re creating opportunities and I think we have to.

To work with individual buyers the way they want to work and everyone is different.

Some people work for larger companies where there are moments of open to buy that you need to spend those dollars right then, or on very specific needs that they are approaching.

Other stores, more independent stores, are really open to what they might access and see their vision and their idea for what the stores gonna look like as the season develops so they’re out there hunting for products.

Other people can’t or don’t want to travel yet and they’re shopping from home and that makes sense for them, and I think is our job to be there for them in any way that they wanna be shopping.

Warren Shoulberg:

Yeah, well I think you’ve used the word hybrid, and I think that’s a good explanation as anything and I agree with you on the overbuying, you know I just wanna be with Elon Musk who compare all of this hoarding wholesale level to what people were doing with toilet paper 18 months ago that they were just go and crazy, hoarding it and stockpiling it and I think so we’re gonna see retailers doing this so absolutely agree. So anybody who’s right knows trade shows you would say not so much that the physical trade shows really important people of doing business.

Jesse James:

Absolutely and that might be different for different product categories for different kinds of companies. Certainly, I’ve always worked in a bit of niche space and in the world I live in that is something that is always to be wanted and needed

Warren Shoulberg:

Thanks Jesse can’t wait to see the September show, for our listeners who have not been to a Shoppe Object show it’s very different, it’s very special and has certainly flavor and vibe I just don’t see anywhere else in a gift and a home trade so if you’re looking for a show to attend in September, I think it is good as anyone looked Folks! to see in there and Jesse thank you so much for your time and will see you next time

Jesse James:

Thank you so much Warren is a pleasure

Warren Shoulberg:

Well that’s our show, thank you so much for listening, If you like what you’ve heard be sure to leave a review on Apple podcast it helps the others to discover the show and if you have a question or some feedback or complaints shoot me a note its and if you’re interested and keep at home industry, in general, make sure to check out, you’ll find free newsletters, job posting, and more great podcast. Retail Watch is produced by Warren Shoulberg and Fred Nicolaus. This episode is edited by Fred Nicolaus. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you or hear you in two weeks bye.

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