Love Zoom conferences or hate them, the design industry’s pivot to virtual events has largely gone off without a technological hitch. That was until this week, when a “catastrophic server failure” caused large parts of the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show’s virtual edition to crash. In a press conference this afternoon, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, which owns KBIS and puts on the annual event in partnership with Emerald Expositions, announced that it would be suspending the exhibitor aspect of the show and issuing refunds to exhibiting brands as well as attendees who purchased expo-only passes. (The tech problems also plagued sister event the International Builders’ Show, which is hosted by the National Association of Home Builders, and its IBSx platform.)
“After a deep dive into the exact sequence of events and consequences that occurred, we have learned that these are unresolvable technical difficulties,” said Brian Pagel, an executive vice president at Emerald. “We understand the gravity of the situation for our exhibitors and attendees, as the KBIS platform is critical to accelerate their business for the year.”
The programming aspects of KBIS, including the NKBA Voices From the Industry events, the Design + Industry Awards, as well as the KBISNeXT Stage and Pavilions programming will continue as scheduled and will be available to ticket holders on the NKBA website through June.
The conference was intended to offer an exhibit floor function through a platform called KBIS Connect, where attendees could visit digital “booths.” But when the show began on Tuesday, that function started to falter, with the site intermittently crashing. Designers clamoring to log in to the platform were locked out; some exhibitors also reported that they could not access their own booths.
Initially, the problem with KBIS Connect was thought to be tied to the chat function on the platform. Once that was removed, it was revealed that the issue was with the third-party servers that KBIS had enlisted. Although organizers attempted to migrate servers overnight on Tuesday, Pagel said it was clear by Wednesday morning that the problem was too significant to be solved immediately. KBIS officials said they plan to reopen the function at a later date, but they cautioned that it was too early to speculate when that might be.
Pagel added that while the booth function crashed for many exhibitors, others experienced no issues at all. Ensuring fairness for all exhibitors, he said, was part of the reason NKBA decided to shut down that aspect of the conference entirely.
For some exhibitors, the platform’s failure is a major blow. “They sent a note to vendors and said they are working on it and going to get back to us, but we don’t know when,” lamented one exhibitor this morning. His brand, which was relying on KBIS to host its virtual experience, had assembled nearly two dozen staff members across time zones to staff its booth and take appointments—but it needed the platform to connect with visitors.
Another brand was taking press appointments on Zoom using a draft of the booth experience in order to display product imagery, though videos would not play; others created makeshift presentations once their booths were rendered inaccessible in an attempt to maximize prescheduled meetings, or began publishing their new debuts on social media.
Meanwhile, many of the bigger industry players like Signature Kitchen Suite and Kohler had developed their own platforms and were simply using the KBIS platform to link to their virtual experience elsewhere. Though they will miss out on potential new customers exploring their virtual booth, scheduled appointments can continue as planned.
KBIS is the annual epicenter of the kitchen and bath industry. In 2020, the event attracted some 2,000 exhibitors and more than 90,000 design and construction professionals to the Las Vegas Convention Center. NKBA announced in October 2020 that the show’s 2021 edition—originally scheduled to be hosted at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida—would be virtual.
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