International Market Centers puts COVID-19 safety protocols in place that leave manufacturers optimistic about the future of markets.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since COVID-19 shut down the United States. Remember how businesses everywhere started panicking about how it would play out?
Many in the industry expected sales to be down 30-40 percent in 2020, but that was not the case. Retailers and manufacturers across the country benefited from the number of people forced to stay home and furnish their homes.
Thankfully, many companies were able to stay in business because of this boom, but within the industry, there was a deeper question at play: what’s going to happen to markets and trade shows?
Back in March 2020 when things started shutting down, International Market Centers (IMC) quickly jumped into action with a plan to make the markets safe for everyone.
In partnership with a leading epidemiologist, Carlos del Rio, MD, IMC developed “Together Safely” protocols, which include daily temperature scanning, mandatory use of personal protective equipment (PPE), expanded sanitization, and the implementation of social distancing and traffic control measures.
Since June, IMC has safely and successfully produced 12 markets in Atlanta, Las Vegas and High Point, and served more than 75,000 attendees.
“One thing we’ve learned is the importance of optionality because buyers and sellers have different levels of comfort in regards to traveling and returning to a market setting.“ ~ BOB MARICICH
“Overall, we view our showroom tenants and trade show exhibitors as partners, and our success is inextricably linked with theirs,” says Bob Maricich, IMC’s CEO. “To that end, we addressed the short-term economic issues caused by the pandemic through a rent relief program, and as our industry moves toward recovery, we will continue to adapt our markets—in terms of timing and format—to best meet changing industry needs.”
The group also took advantage of its robust technology to help keep the industry informed and connected between markets. Aside from the market websites—where visitors can search by keyword or product category and view digital content libraries with trend and business information—IMC’s Digital Innovations division is developing Juniper, a full suite of B2B digital sales and marketing solutions.
Integrated with a B2B e-commerce marketplace, Juniper connects wholesale buying and selling across all channels—online, on the road, or at markets. The suite also includes sales and automation software, branded e-commerce websites, customer and product data management tools, and a multi-line B2B wholesale e-commerce marketplace.
The winter edition of the Atlanta Market took place at the end of January, and Maricich says buyer attendance was up 158-percent over the summer 2020 edition. He adds that exhibitors reported sales at 70 to 80-percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“The winter 2021 Atlanta Market felt much closer to a ‘normal’ market,” Maricich explains. “With a clear need for in-stock products, buyers and sellers alike reported a productive market experience that’s clearing the way for much-needed recovery in the home furnishings industries.”
And from the Atlanta Market, IMC has learned a few things that will shape their plan going forward.
“One thing we’ve learned is the importance of optionality because buyers and sellers have different levels of comfort in regards to traveling and returning to a market setting,” Maricich says. “For instance, because of local and state restrictions, we postponed the winter 2021 Las Vegas Market from January to April. But we worked with tenants who had previously scheduled appointments during the original January dates to allow them to honor those commitments to their customers. We will continue to be flexible in our approach.”
NAVIGATING THE MARKETS
Steve Roan, managing director at Rizzy Home, says the company will be showing in Las Vegas and High Point in their permanent showrooms, and they’re also experimenting with High Point First Tuesday, an event where retailers can visit High Point showrooms in a safe way on an appointment-only basis.
He’s not nervous about the upcoming markets but says that it’s difficult to know what to expect. “2020 turned out to be a very good year for Rizzy, like many others, once we got through the second quarter,” Roan explains. “The supply chain issues the home furnishings industry is currently experiencing will be resolved as we move into 2021.”
“The supply chain issues the home furnishings industry is currently experiencing will be resolved as we move into 2021.“ ~ STEVE ROAN
In the future, he says Rizzy Home plans to continue with High Point as their primary focus, and Las Vegas is open for evaluation. “We still have some time on our lease and will be evaluating the importance of a physical presence there as we go forward,” Roan says.
Oriental Weavers’ President, Jonathan Witt, says the company’s plan is to survey their top-tier accounts in the next few weeks before a final decision is made on attendance. “As summer approaches and more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we’re excited about High Point and look forward to the day when we are able to meet and catch-up in person with our staff and customers,” Witt says.
He also says the pandemic has forced the company to come up with creative ways to interact and share product with our customers.
“We have established a library of digital brochures to go along with our interactive e-Catalog,” Witt explains. “Instead of traditional face-to-face
market meetings, we continued to create new digital sales tools, including new product videos that can be reviewed virtually with an Oriental Weavers sales representative.”
The company also has a small showroom at their corporate office, which gives them the ability to showcase collections and schedule virtual sales meetings and live video reviews with customers who would like to view the rugs in addition to the new collection videos, digital brochures, and swatches.
Cameron Capel, president of sales and marketing for Capel Rugs, echoes Roan’s statement about evaluating the importance of a physical presence.
“There is more done electronically—even before the all-day video sales calls due to COVID,” Capel explains. “Retailers also aren’t stocking as many goods as they used to, and the expectation is for the vendor to have all sizes in inventory to ship out same/next day. Some buyers don’t need to come to markets two to four times a year to place large orders.”
However, Capel says markets are not a thing of the past. Rather, she thinks they will be a blend of in-person markets and continued video calls. “They are so easy, and it’s an inexpensive way to communicate and stay in touch with your buyers,” Capel says about video calls.
Capel Rugs does plan to attend both High Point and Las Vegas Market this year, and Capel says she felt very safe when she attended Vegas market last August. “They have protocols in place, and although there weren’t many customers, the ones that were there were buying,” she says.
“Markets are not a thing of the past. Rather they will be a blend of in-person markets and continued video calls. They are so easy, and it’s an inexpensive way to communicate.“ ~ CAMERON CAPEL
Maricich concurs, saying IMC saw optimism and confidence during the Atlanta Market and that they expect that outlook to continue through Las Vegas Market in April, spring High Point Market in June and into the summer markets.
“As recovery continues, it’s important we remain agile and prepared to connect buyers and sellers year-round whenever and however they choose to transact,” Maricich says. “We have a resilient industry that thrives under pressure, and with collaboration and transparency, we’ll continue to find new strategies for success.”
LEDE PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY HIGH POINT MARKET