retail watch | Jul 9, 2020 |
As coronavirus surges in some states, trade show planners hedge their bets

Though the home furnishings trade show circuit will certainly return, it’s not clear when. Live, in-person markets are still on the calendar for August in Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas, but other shows across the country are being canceled for the fall and even into the first part of 2021.

The resurgence of COVID-19 cases across most of the country in the past few weeks has caused show organizers—and the exhibitors and visitors—to rethink their business and travel plans. With so many show cancellations starting this past March, entire sectors of the home and gift retail markets could go eight months or even a year without in-person events. And while some organizers have moved to online events in place of physical markets, the virtual stand-ins are mostly viewed as temporary fixes rather than permanent solutions.

The latest cancellations came yesterday, when NY Now and Shoppe Object announced they would not hold their October gift, home and fashion accessories shows in New York. Both were originally scheduled for August but had been pushed back in the hope that the city would be returning to more normal conditions by then. And though the Northeast is not one of the areas currently experiencing massive spikes in coronavirus cases, New York City has been very slow to reopen. Most offices and stores remain closed, with a tentative return date of mid-September. This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that in the fall, public schools would open only part-time, with students attending in-person one to three days a week and the balance of classes held online.

The International Casual Furnishings Association also announced yesterday that it would cancel September’s annual Casual Market Chicago, citing both safety concerns and state and local restrictions.

Announcements continued this morning, with the National Hardware Show canceling its September show in Las Vegas (which was originally scheduled for May), in favor of a virtual event. The National Retail Federation also announced that its January conference will now be online; its next scheduled brick-and-mortar event will be the Big Show, scheduled for June 2021 in New York.

Some gift and home shows are still scheduled for August: Atlanta Market at AmericasMart (August 13–18), the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market at Dallas Market Center (August 19–25), and Las Vegas Summer Market at the Las Vegas Design Center (August 30–September 3), all postponed from earlier summer dates. However, Georgia, Texas and Nevada are among the top states seeing a resurgence of cases, and even if the shows go on, they will likely be severely truncated in comparison to the usual attendance and participation numbers. Likewise, the New York shows for the textiles and tabletop sectors are still scheduled for September and October, respectively, after each was canceled in the spring. The organization that oversees the textiles event expects to make a decision on its fall event by July 15, and industry speculation—particularly in light of the October gift cancellations—is that it, too, will be pulled.

The other big home furnishings show on the fall calendar is High Point Market in mid-October. It had postponed its spring event to June and later canceled it. The High Point Market Authority has issued a detailed plan for the Fall Market, which will stretch from five to nine days and divide attendees by region and assign them three-day blocks to visit, but with North Carolina seeing a huge coronavirus uptick, the fate of that show may also be in jeopardy.

Perhaps most telling about the longer-term future was the announcement earlier this month that the Domotex USA floor coverings show, scheduled for March 2021 in Atlanta, was postponed by its German organizer. A relatively new event, a spinoff from the huge floor coverings show held in Hanover, has had a modest start. No new date for the U.S. iteration has been announced.

No other shows have yet signaled cancellations or postponements into 2021, but the situation remains in great flux, as does the coronavirus itself. What it means for the future of physical trade shows and the virtual events that have risen in their place is undoubtedly going to be one of the biggest questions for the industry coming out of the pandemic.

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As coronavirus surges in some states, trade show planners hedge their betsWarren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

Homepage photo: World Market Center in Las Vegas | Courtesy of Las Vegas Market

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