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KBIS, Other Shows, Being ‘Reimagined’ Due to Impact of COVID-19 Virus

authors Eliot Sefrin | June 16, 2020

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ — The 2021 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, facing unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is literally being “reimagined” from top to bottom, with show officials engaged in a comprehensive, coordinated effort to ensure the health, safety and financial viability of the industry’s most important trade event.

KBIS ownership, show management, convention center executives and municipal officials said last week that they are currently considering a wide array of tactics aimed at inspiring attendee confidence, securing exhibit space and enhancing the operations of KBIS, which – like the entire trade show industry – faces considerable uncertainty and logistical challenges due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on travel and live events.

A number of industry-related trade shows and live events previously scheduled for this year have already been cancelled or postponed in the face of social-distancing mandates, travel restrictions, corporate closures, supply chain disruptions and other issues impacting exhibitors, service providers and trade show attendees. Other live events face both short- and long-term uncertainties, in most cases revolving largely around whether potential exhibitors and attendees feel safe enough to attend – and, if so, what steps, if any, can be taken by show management to assure their safety.

As an example, KBIS’ longtime show-management partner, Emerald Holding Inc., which stages more than 140 live events annually, had, as of the end of March, cancelled 23 events and postponed another 14 this year due to COVID-19, according to the publicly traded, San Juan Capistrano, CA-based company. The potential impact on additional 2020 events was “uncertain,” the company added.

In a similar vein, according to a poll conducted by Kitchen & Bath Design News at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, some 55% of the kitchen/bath dealers and designers surveyed said they had cancelled, or were considering cancelling, plans to attend trade shows, conferences and other live events in 2020. A similar degree of uncertainty doubtless exists among exhibitors, who base show decisions largely on anticipated attendance, and must commit to a sizeable up-front investment in order to participate, including the costs not only of exhibit space and product introductions, but booth design, shipping, production and labor costs, as well as travel, hotels, marketing, meals and entertainment, sponsorships and the staging of special events.

KBIS, scheduled for Feb. 9-11, 2021, is conducted annually in conjunction with the International Builders’ Show (IBS) as part of “Design & Construction Week,” the premier trade event for the North American residential design and construction industries. More than 90,000 design and construction professionals, along with some 600 exhibitors, attended the co-located shows this year in Las Vegas, where Design & Construction Week has been staged for the past two years.

However, so many issues tied to the 2021 show “depend on the state of the virus,” said Bill Darcy, CEO of the Hackettstown, NJ-based National Kitchen & Bath Association, which owns KBIS and relies upon the trade show for the majority of its annual revenue.

“There are a lot of questions (regarding the show)…and no one has a crystal ball,” said Darcy, who recently hosted an hour-long webcast regarding the future of trade shows and other live events.

He was joined on the webcast by Brian Pagel, executive v.p. of Emerald; Bob Priest-Heck, CEO of Freeman, which handles booth-building, freight transport and related KBIS functions, and Mark Tester, executive director of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, scheduled site of the three-day events in 2021 and 2022.

BUSINESS MODEL REVISIONS

According to event principals, major trade shows like KBIS have operated under a longstanding business model that show officials are now being forced to rethink in myriad ways in order to safeguard exhibitors, attendees and workers.

Among the multitude of health-related measures being considered to manage KBIS include potential timed entry into the convention facility, zoning different areas of the show, requiring masks and gloves, and imposing social-distancing mandates at show registration, exhibit booths, food/beverage concessions, common areas and other congestion points.

Also under consideration, officials said, is badge-less registration; cutting down on counters; eliminating unnecessary gathering, congestion and touch points; using touchless transactions; rethinking how educational-conference, special-event and other meeting rooms are configured; creating wider or one-way aisles to ensure safer traffic flow; by-appointment booth visits, and ensuring cleanliness and safety of the hotels, airlines, restaurants, retail outlets, buses, cabs and other transportation services tied to the show.

“Everything starts and stops with safety,” Pagel said. “We think we have the framework (in place) of the optimal plan. We’re working toward a process that’s scalable based on what’s happening on the ground, because what’s happening today may not be the same challenges that we’ll face in February.”

However, Pagel said, “we do know that maintaining social distance and health and safety will be of the highest importance. Everything we’re doing is one-part science and one-part common sense.”

According to Priest-Heck of Freeman, trade shows like KBIS and IBS are considered a “controlled environment,” as opposed to a mass gathering like a sporting event or concert. As such, he said, Freeman has a “great deal of control” over how the company handles everything from marketing to registration, social-distancing, flow of crowds, design of public spaces and show floor.

“The world cannot replace the value proposition of live events,” Priest-Heck said. “Events are critical. But first and foremost, we want to ensure that everything is safe and that, once stay-at-home orders are lifted, we follow stringent safety guidelines and adhere to the best medically backed, scientific practices for protecting our workers and guests.”

Priest-Heck said that Freeman recently launched an online coalition, “Go Live Together,” that includes some 2,000 businesses dedicated to creating a safe environment for live events. He said Freeman is also pursuing legislation that would rebuild the trade-show industry by offering incentives to companies participating in events, and will adhere to CDC, state and local health guidelines.

According to Tester, the Orange County Convention Center is participating in the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) Star Accreditation program, a set of guidelines that provide for facility cleaning, disinfecting and infectious-disease prevention aimed at minimizing risks associated with infectious agents like the novel coronavirus.

The convention center, Tester said, is taking measures to encourage social distancing and will install hand-sanitizer dispensers around the facility. It is also working with a company that, nightly, uses ultraviolet-light technology to disinfect common areas, and will offer pre-packaged meals instead of buffet-style food service. In addition, the facility is working with a large, established health-care system in Central Florida to help prepare the space, share best practices, and maintain an onsite presence to provide temperature checks and advanced screening. Florida, like other states, has been staging a gradual reopening of its economy, including major Orange County theme parks and other attractions.

Pagel and Priest-Heck concurred that virtual and digital tools are “here to stay,” but said they are not meant to replace a live event but, rather, to enhance and augment a live event.

“The opportunity lies in how to expand the experience for the buyer and seller in unique ways,” Pagel said. “The live experience brings in shared connections and emotions, and that’s part of what makes the live experience unique.”

Pagel, who observed that Emerald has launched a “Register With Confidence” plan, said that show management will continue to provide updates regarding travel, hotels, local transportation, restaurants and retail services. He also said that KBIS “will benefit” from the experience Emerald will gain over the next nine months in producing several of their other shows. “We’re learning from each other along the way,” Pagel emphasized.

“As people, we’re not wired to be living in isolation,” he added. “These events mean so much, and shared experiences with peers are so impactful. It’s our goal to create a safe environment and we’re confident we can produce a safe event by making good, informed decisions and being transparent to our customers.”
— Eliot Sefrin, Publisher Emeritus

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