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The Rebirth of In-Person Events

"Digital initiatives, regardless of their glowing possibilities, simply cannot replicate the personal interaction that takes place in an exhibit hall or a live meeting.”

There’s encouraging news on tap for a kitchen and bath industry that’s already witnessing a major spike in demand as the impact of COVID-19 recedes and virus-related lifestyles prompt consumers to redesign their homes in exciting new ways: In-person trade shows, educational conferences and other live events are making a long-awaited and welcomed comeback.

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that trade shows, educational conferences and other in-person events have faced unprecedented challenges in the past 12+ months. To wit, more than a dozen domestic and overseas industry-related trade shows were either postponed, canceled or converted to digital-only formats in 2020 and the early part of 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly resulted in travel restrictions, social distancing and widespread concerns over attending large, face-to-face gatherings. Among the events closest to home were the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) and the International Builders’ Show (IBS), both of which were forced to be delivered for the first time strictly as online events.

But things now are far different. Plans are underway to return the industry’s foremost trade shows to their traditional in-person formats, according to KBIS owner, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and the National Association of Home Builders, owner of IBS. The co-located shows are once again being planned to run concurrently in February 2022 as part of Design & Construction Week, the premier annual trade event for the North American residential design and construction trade.

And that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

An ambitious 2021 live-event calendar kicks off in July with both Coverings, North America’s largest international tile and stone exhibition, and the 2021 AWFS Fair, a leading show aimed at cabinet manufacturers and countertop fabricators. On the heels of those two events, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association’s 20th anniversary conference is scheduled for September in Austin, TX, while the 2021 CEDIA Expo, a major forum for smart-home technology, will be staged the same month in Indianapolis.

New protocols aimed at safeguarding the wellbeing of attendees, exhibitors, contractors and vendors will be implemented for the live events, show officials report. Facility cleaning, social-distancing and traffic flow revisions on the exhibit-hall floor are among the myriad issues being addressed, they say. So are health-and-safety protocols tied to hotels, airlines, restaurants and transportation services.

All this, of course, is highly welcome news – and not simply because it signals the continued ebbing of COVID-19 as a threatening, disruptive fact of life.

Indeed, while recent months have provided an illuminating, and even inspiring, peek into the kind of exciting experiences that state-of-the-art virtual programming can provide, they’ve also served to remind us of what we’ve missed.

Truth be told, digital initiatives, regardless of their glowing possibilities, simply cannot replicate the kind of unique personal interaction that takes place in an exhibit hall, a classroom, a networking event or a live meeting. Kitchen and bath dealers, designers, remodelers, architects, builders and other key specifiers need face-to-face connections. They need to see and touch new products first-hand; need to interface with manufacturers, sales pros and factory personnel; need to learn from industry experts at demonstrations, workshops and conference sessions; need to rub shoulders with peers at networking and special events.

In other words, while digital initiatives can – and no doubt will – continue to serve as valuable adjuncts to in-person events, they can never replicate the wealth of virtues that in-person events offer.

When all is said and done, the past 12 months, it’s hoped, will have proven a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly. In a similar vein, it’s hoped that the months and years ahead can usher in a return to the kind of robust, engaging, pre-COVID trade shows and other in-person events that, for decades, have been a critical component of our industry’s DNA, critical to its vibrancy and success. ▪

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