retail watch | Feb 17, 2022 |
Industry trade shows will never be the same after COVID

The business of buying and selling in the home furnishings industry has always been a moving target as shows and markets grew or receded, often suddenly. Last year’s “must-attend” event can quickly become this year’s “Nah, I’ll skip it” show.

But never before have so many shows—in so many cities, and in so many sectors of the industry—been the subject of massive upheaval as they have during the past two pandemic years. Major events around the globe were canceled, postponed, merged, downsized and otherwise turned upside down in ways we’ve never seen before. As we start to come out of what everyone hopes is the last terrible wave of COVID, some industry benchmark events are returning to some semblance of what they used to be. But for many others, the changes are dramatic, and the shows’ schedulings remain in suspense pending industry acceptance of new formats, timing and configurations.

This stress is happening to both domestic shows in the U.S. as well as overseas events in Europe and elsewhere. For many shows, such as Maison & Objet in France, Heimtextil in Germany and Salone del Mobile in Italy, cancellations and postponements have created havoc, even as all of these events insist that they will return to their previous schedules and formats in 2023. Perennial events stateside, such as High Point Market, the gift shows in Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas and New York, and the housewares show in Chicago, are all starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy this year, but for the entire show and market sector of home, it's a brave new world.

Here are some of the big changes:

Perhaps the biggest reconfiguration on the show circuit is what’s happening in the builder space: The International Builder Show (IBS), the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) and the National Hardware Show (NHS) announced they will do a joint event in 2023. Scheduled for Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 in Las Vegas, the merge brings together three key events in this space following an earlier combination of IBS and KBIS under the Design & Construction Week banner several years ago.

Ambiente, Christmasworld and Creativeworld
Another combination is happening in Frankfurt, where three fairs that had been operating separately up until COVID will now be jointly presented in 2023. Ambiente is of the most interest to the home space, serving as the main European event for the tabletop and gift sectors. The three shows will be held together Feb. 3 to 7 at the giant Messe Frankfurt venue.

Shoppe Object
For some shows, the outcome of the pandemic era has been a change of ownership. Earlier this month, International Market Centers, which owns major shows in High Point, Atlanta and Las Vegas for the furniture, gift and home industries, announced it had bought Shoppe Object, a breakaway show from the NY NOW event held twice a year in New York. IMC’s future plans for Shoppe are unknown, but working with NOW might be at the top of its agenda in an effort to return New York to its previous role as a major show destination for gift and home accessories.

41 Madison
The pandemic has also claimed some victims. This month brought the news that, after this April, the owners of the 41 Madison showroom building in New York will no longer sponsor and organize the twice-a-year tabletop show. Rudin, the giant real estate company, has been the guiding force behind the tabletop event for decades, and while individual showrooms remain in the building, the fate of the organized market week is now up in the air.

Other shows in Asia, particularly in China, are still settling into new patterns, and are largely dependent on international travel restrictions eventually being lifted. Some smaller, regional events back in the U.S. are being resurrected to mitigate local travel requirements as well. No matter the size or scale or location, when the pandemic conditions finally recede, show calendars will look very different than they did just two years ago.

The show must go on—just not the way it used to.

Homepage photo: The Trend Space at the 2020 Heimtextil fair | Courtesy of Heimtextil


Warren 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.

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