Trade Show Cancellations Mount in Face Of COVID-19; KBIS 2021 Plans Proceeding

authors Eliot Sefrin | August 13, 2020

NEW YORK — The COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to have a dramatic impact on the kitchen/bath and housing industries, has forced the cancellation or postponement of 14 trade shows and conferences, while organizers of upcoming live events scramble to either convert to digital-only formats or establish groundbreaking new protocols in order to safeguard attendees, exhibitors, contractors and vendors.

Among the latter group – those not cancelling but rather aiming to establish new safeguards – is the NKBA and Emerald Expositions LLC, organizers of the annual Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). In interviews with Kitchen & Bath Design News in late July, NKBA and Emerald executives laid out their commitment to retain the in-person event scheduled for Feb. 9-11, 2021 in Orlando.

For decades, trade shows and other live events have afforded a prime opportunity for kitchen/bath dealers, designers, remodelers, home builders, fabricators and other key industry players to visit product exhibitors and attend educational programs, as well as networking and social events – often in appealing, destination-type getaways.

However, that longstanding calculus is being affected by health concerns tied to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as potential show attendees weigh risk/reward relationships and potential exhibitors weigh the wisdom of making significant financial outlays – often tens of thousands of dollars, due well in advance of show dates – for booth-related costs, travel, lodging, meals, corporate functions and myriad other expenditures.

Among the most recent major cancellations or postponements have been the following:

IWF 2020: The premier live event for the cabinet manufacturing, fabricating and woodworking markets, previously scheduled for Aug. 25-28 in Atlanta, had been expected to draw more than 1,000 exhibitors and 30,000+ attendees.

CEDIA Expo 2020: The annual five-day expo, aimed at the home-technology market, had been scheduled for Sept. 8-12 in Denver, and was expected to draw more than 20,000 attendees and 500+ exhibitors, many with links to the kitchen and bath market.

The National Hardware Show: The 75-year-old event, originally set for the spring, had previously been postponed to September prior to its recent cancellation. Instead of an in-person event, organizers said they plan to host a virtual trade show later this year.

Cersaie: The world’s largest international exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings originally postponed until Nov. 9-13 from its original Sept. 28-Oct. 2 dates has been canceled, according to Confindustria Ceramica and EdiCer SpA, organizers of the event.

2020 Remodeling Show: The physical portion of the 2020 Remodeling Show has been cancelled, according to Informa Markets, organizer of the event, previously scheduled for Oct. 13-15.

Other cancelled, postponed or reformatted live events include EuroCucina 2020, Salone del Mobile.Milano (widely known as the Milan Furniture Fair), the 2020 Architectural Digest Design Show, Coverings 2020, JCL LIVE 2020, NeoCon, the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, the 2020 Realtors Conference & Expo, the American Institute of Architects Conference on Architecture 2020 and CES 2021.

KBIS Plans Proceeding

In the midst of all the cancellations, other major live events – including the 2021 KBIS – are proceeding with plans, even if the shows are literally being “re-imagined” in the face of ever-changing safety guidelines.

KBIS officials told KBDN that although there are no plans to cancel the 2021 show, it, like others, is facing unprecedented challenges resulting from the coronavirus, currently rising throughout much of the U.S., including Florida. KBIS 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.

“Clearly, the biggest challenge we’re faced with is that this is unknown territory, and it’s changing in a real-time format,” said Brian Pagel, executive v.p. of Emerald Holding, Inc., longtime KBIS producer. Staging a trade show in the current fluid, uncertain environment, Pagel observed, “is a very complex and comprehensive process that’s one-part science and one-part common sense.”

“One of our biggest challenges is keeping an open dialogue with our members and the industry, to ensure that people have guidance about the best practices they can follow to create a safe environment for everyone,” said Suzie Williford, executive v.p./industry relations for the National Kitchen & Bath Association, which owns the show.

“Circumstances,” Williford said, “are constantly changing. Each week, we have to review our plans and see if anything needs to be revised, which makes putting on a show a whole lot more work, because things that we’d normally plan once, we’re having to relook at all the time.”

KBIS management, according to Emerald, continues to “closely monitor” the COVID-19 outbreak, while undertaking a coordinated effort to implement health and safety controls based on guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and World Health Organization, as well by as federal, state and local governments.

Emerald’s recently unveiled “Preparedness, Prevention and Response Plan,” according to the company, represents a “comprehensive approach” aimed at assuring “the safe reopening of live events…while aimed at achieving an “overarching standard for health and safety.”

Heavily involved in developing the plan, aside from Emerald and the NKBA, has been Freeman, the company that handles booth-building, dismantling and related functions on the show floor, as well as officials from the Orange County Convention Center, scheduled site of the co-located shows in 2021 and 2022.

Among the multitude of health and safety measures under consideration are protocols for infectious-disease
protection, including facility cleaning, sanitation and disinfection, masking requirements, staggered entry to the convention hall and imposing social-distancing mandates at show registration, exhibit booths, food/beverage concessions and key common areas.

Also being considered, KBIS officials said, are such measures as badge-less registration; using touchless transactions; rethinking how conference and other meeting rooms are configured; creating wider or one-way aisles to ensure safer traffic flow; establishing by-appointment booth visits, and ensuring cleanliness at the hotels, airlines, restaurants, retail outlets, buses and other transportation services tied to the show.

Pagel said that show management will continue to provide regular updates regarding travel, hotels, local transportation, restaurants and area attractions. Show organizers have also established a COVID-19 Resource Center on the KBIS website.

Participation Uncertain

With KBIS 2021 still seven months away, Pagel and Williford said that, given the unpredictability of virus-related issues, it is far too early to offer attendee or exhibitor projections for Design & Construction Week, which this year drew some 90,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors to Las Vegas, where the event was staged for the past two years.

According to Williford, officials won’t have a handle on KBIS attendance until six to eight weeks from the show, since many attendees typically delay travel decisions, while others will likely take a “wait-and-see approach” to the 2021 show.

The total number of show attendees “will certainly be impacted,” Williford observed, “but it’s a little early to determine to what degree.”

“I suspect that there’ll be fewer attendees (at the 2021 KBIS), but it’s important that we don’t mix the quantity of audience with the quality,” Williford said. “The quality of attendee is going to remain very high (and) we intend to have a really robust event.”

“We’re an environment where the design community is constantly looking for new products, and in that respect it’s business as usual,” she added. “I think that the ‘influencers’ are still going to be at the show, because they’re very much in need of education and they want to see what brands are being brought to market.”

In terms of exhibitors, Pagel acknowledged, “there will be an impact, although it’s difficult to predict what that will look like because, for one thing, we’re going to Orlando, a new destination.”

According to Pagel, there has been “very little falloff” thus far with respect to exhibit-booth commitments, although he noted that show officials will have a far better handle on the status of the exhibit floor in the near future. Exhibitors have been granted a twice-extended deadline for the balance of payments owed for booth-space commitments. The current deadline is Sept. 1, the same day attendee registration is scheduled to open.

“We’ve had some fall-off (of exhibitors) for a variety of reasons, and COVID has been cited,” Pagel told KBDN. “But in terms of brands that are saying they’re unable to come, it’s actually not that different than in a normal cycle. To this point, we’ve not seen any indicator of large-scale cancellations, but I think that we’re also looking at a market that, going into this pandemic, was fundamentally very strong, and all the indicators suggest that it’s going to rebound strongly. So, we’re seeing brands that are staying aggressive.”

KBIS exhibitors, nevertheless, face several obstacles and key decisions, including the need to overhaul booths to accommodate social distancing and other safety guidelines or to sit out the show entirely, based on concerns for the health and safety of personnel, customers, sales reps and others.

Trade show owners and producers typically carry comprehensive insurance policies that protect them against potential loss of revenue in the event of a show being cancelled by circumstances, including natural disasters and public-health emergencies that are outside their control. While details remain confidential, Pagel said that the NKBA, which has a long-term revenue-sharing agreement in place with Emerald, “is protected (and) so are exhibitors.”

“I believe we’ve put together everything to assure a safe environment,” Pagel said. “We’re very much pressing forward with the show, and I think we’re going to have a very good show because the market is in a positive place, people are eager to get back to business, and there’s going to be a huge premium on a face-to-face component.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to make the show as safe as possible,” Pagel said. “And we’re going to make sure that people leave having made it a worthwhile show.”

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