I’m not going to lie; writing the event article for each magazine is the most challenging part of the job. I started in this industry about a year ago, meaning that I haven’t had the chance to go to an actual trade show yet due to COVID. Luckily, I have fantastic co-workers and contacts who can help and direct me in writing articles that will hopefully come across as informative and interesting and not just repeating information you can find on the event’s website. But that’s only part of why I find it challenging to write these articles. There’s an ethical issue when it comes to writing about these events in our current climate.
I understand the importance of trade shows to the woodworking industry. I make an effort in every event article to highlight why these shows are essential to both exhibitors and attendees, but I wonder if the business benefits of these shows outweigh the health risks. I have a hard time writing enthusiastically about shows taking place in locations where masks aren’t required, vaccination levels are low, and the attitude is laissez-faire towards the pandemic in general. Living on an island where the vaccination rate is 94%, traveling anywhere seems like an unnecessary risk.
I started my Fall editor’s note saying I was excited that everything was opening up again and that I’d be heading to WMS in a few short weeks. Right after we went to print, WMS was postponed and ultimately cancelled due to Omicron. Now that spring is around the corner, numbers seem to be going down and several provincial governments have announced plans to ease restrictions. Hopefully, that means that soon we’ll have the opportunity to get back out on the show floor, safely.
Let’s face it, many people in our industry are old school. We publish so many articles about innovators and trailblazers because they are the exception and not the rule. Woodworkers like to get out there, shake hands, and press the flesh. Our business needs tradeshows. We want to see new equipment in action and touch the latest products. Relationships are built on and off the show floor, putting faces to names and sharing stories. It’s much more appealing to travel to a show and spend a few days soaking it all in than trying to learn how to use a new platform and troubleshoot technical glitches while sitting in front of a computer.
The verdicts on virtual shows are mixed. While there has been a lot of success for conferences and training sessions, attendee engagement is typically lower for virtual trade shows. Yes, it is less expensive for the exhibitors, but if they aren’t reaching attendees in the same way, is it worth it? It still comes back to considering the return on investment, even if that investment is smaller.
Statista shows that the trade show market in the US was worth 15.58 billion USD in 2019 and crashed down to 5.6 billion in 2020. As of mid-2021, it was projected to rebound to 14.5 billion dollars by 2024, which is fantastic news for us.
Don’t get me wrong; I can see that there have been a lot of efforts on the part of trade show organizers to make events safer and more accessible over the last couple of years – from safety pavilions to hybrid platforms. It’s allowed us to continue to have access to these events throughout the pandemic, even if it wasn’t quite the same. But I must say, I’m looking forward to getting out on a show floor and meeting our readers in person.