Future of Trade Shows: A Critical KBIS Update

posted on May. 18, 2020, at 8:00 a.m.

NKBA Staff

Three key players in the production of KBIS and other trade expos discuss what’s being done to ensure a safe live-event experience in Episode 7 of NKBA Live’s “Brave New Business” weekly forum. By Dianne M. Pogoda

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced sweeping changes across all parts of the country and all parts of our lives, personal and professional.

Last week on the “Brave New Business” forum, NKBA CEO Bill Darcy hosted an important conversation about “The Future of Trade Shows and Events” — specifically the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, which NKBA owns and is scheduled for Feb. 9-11 in Orlando.

Joining him were Brian Pagel, EVP of NKBA’s longtime partner, Emerald, which KBIS and over 140 shows and events each year; Bob Priest-Heck, CEO of Freeman, the world’s the world’s leading live event and brand experience company, and Mark Tester, Executive Director of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, which is hosting KBIS in 2021 and 2022.

More than 900 people logged on to hear about the behind-the-scenes planning, precautions, adjustments and contingencies in play to ensure the health, safety and smooth logistics of the largest expo in North America devoted to residential design and construction.

Tester said the State of Florida and Orange County reacted quickly to the pandemic in issuing stay-at-home orders and curfews, doing substantial testing, and as of last week, the county had tested more than 40,000 Central Florida residents to keep the number of positive cases relatively low for a destination of Orlando’s size, and the number of positive cases began to flatten at the end of April. On May 4, the OCCC began Phase 1 of the State’s “Safe-Smart” step-by-step reopening program.

With safety the primary concern of all, the convention center is participating in the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) Star Accreditation program, an international standard of facility cleaning, disinfecting, and infectious disease prevention to minimize risks associated with infectious agents like the novel coronavirus; This program ensures proper cleaning and sanitizing techniques with specially trained cleaning professionals.

The center is also taking measures to encourage social distancing and will install hand-sanitizer dispensers around the facility, it’s working with a company that comes in every night and uses ultraviolet light technology to disinfect common areas, it will offer pre-packaged meals instead of buffet-style food service, and it’s working with a large, established health-care system in Central Florida to help prepare the space, share best practices and have an onsite presence to provide temperature checks and advanced screening.

He added that other attractions in the area, including Universal’s Citywalk, opened last week, and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) is slated to open this week, even though the theme parks remain closed for the time being.

Freeman, which orchestrates booth building, freight transport and a plethora of other functions as it helps clients design and deliver immersive live experiences, has been a longtime supporter of KBIS. Emerald is its customer in the production of the show. Priest-Heck said the company launched an online coalition called “Go Live Together” a few weeks ago and now includes about 2,000 businesses dedicated to creating a safe environment for live events.

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

He said Freeman is also pursuing legislation that would rebuild the industry and accelerate the economy by offering incentives to companies participating in events.

Priest-Heck considers a business event as a “controlled environment” as opposed to a mass gathering like a sporting event or concert. As such, Freeman has a great deal of control over things like how they handle everything from marketing to registration, social-distancing, flow of crowds into the building, design the public spaces and show floor, and adhere to CDC, state and local health guidelines.

Some of the measures being considered to manage every aspect of the event and control the crowds include staggering the flow of entry into the hall, zoning different areas of the show, improving the design and logistics of the show with safety in mind.

Guidelines will be posted at www.golivetogether.com and www.freeman.com.

Pagel added that Emerald has launched a “Register With Confidence” plan.

“Everything starts and stops with safety,” he said, noting that the impact of COVID-19 on the event and hospitality space has forced the company to re-think how it conducts business. “We are 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 we’ll face in February. But we do know that maintaining social distance and health and safety will be of the highest importance.”

Pagel said the company is providing — and will continue to update — broader information on travel, hotels, Uber/Lyft,  restaurant and retail, etc., on local and state levels as that information becomes available. Additionally, specific to individual shows, Emerald is considering badgeless registration; cutting down on counters; eliminating unnecessary gathering, congestion and touch points; using touchless transactions; rethinking how meeting rooms are configured; controlling crowd flow; creating wider or one-way aisles; ensuring cleanliness and safety of the buses that service the show, and so much more. He said that KBIS will benefit from the experience Emerald gains in producing other shows like CEDIA Expo, slated for Denver in September.

Pagel and Priest-Heck concurred that virtual and digital tools are here to stay, but they are not meant to replace a live event. Rather, they will enhance and augment a live event. The opportunity lies in how to expand the experience for buyer and seller in unique ways.

“The live experience brings in shared connections and emotions, and that’s part of what makes the live experience unique,” Pagel said.

“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 make sure that we can create a safe environment where our communities can still do that. It’s an important way for the market to set the tone for the year and continue forward.”

For exhibitor inquiries at KBIS, email show director Amy Hornby at Amy.Hornby@emeraldx.com; For general KBIS questions, email askKBIS@emeraldx.com; Direct questions for Freeman to Michelle Jones at michelle.jones@freeman.com.

Brave New Business livestreams on Thursdays at 2 pm (Eastern Time) and features thought leaders across all segments of the business in a free online forum. They’ll share best practices, experiences and advice on topics of critical interest to kitchen and bath design, remodeling, manufacturing and distribution, as well as survival tactics for small businesses and independent operators.

The next episode livestreams on Thursday, and will analyze the results of the NKBA/John Burns Real Estate Consulting Kitchen & Bath Market Index for the first quarter as well as the weekly NKBA Pulse that measures the impact of the pandemic on members’ businesses and changes in demand for their goods and services. JBREC’s housing analysis will also factor in,  and help project business in the months ahead.

To register for this week’s Brave New Business forum, fill in the form below.

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