By Reginald Tucker After a post-holiday COVID-19 surge threw a wrench in Market Maker Events’ initial plans to hold the 2021 Southeast Flooring Market (SEFM) in January, the organizer has announced it’s full steam ahead for the rescheduled event. The event is now set to take place March 11-12, at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta.
Show management cited declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, pent-up consumer demand and a growing sense of excitement among exhibitors and retailers as the primary reasons to move forward with the in-person regional event.
First and foremost, show management said it wants to assure attendees that it is indeed safe to attend the show. “We stay in constant contact with other event producers to learn what works and what hasn’t,” Lori Kisner, managing partner, Market Maker Events (MME), told FCNews. “There have been 13 major industry events that have taken place since COVID-19 hit (mostly since September 2020), and no major outbreaks were reported. What’s more, all of those events are much bigger than ours. This shows that people really can convene safely, but they have to be smart about it. It’s no different than going to the grocery store; you’re not going to take off your mask or get too close to anybody.”
To demonstrate just how serious MME is about providing a secure environment for show attendees, management has instituted a number of critical safety measures. First off, all attendees must pre-register for the event—at which time they will receive a paper badge in the mail that they will use to display for scanning at show entry points. This, according to management, will prevent the usual crowding typically seen at on-site registration areas. In that same vein, vendors are scheduling in-person meetings with retail attendees to avoid lines and overcrowding on the show floor. On top of that, aisles on the show floor have been widened to increase distance between attendees.
That’s not all. As part of a broader “Safe Visit Initiative,” MME said it will employ a HealthShield Bot, a mobile COVID-19 health screening tool, as an additional safety measure. Upon entry to market, all attendees and exhibitors will be required to complete a screening on their mobile devices. Once the screening is complete, a pass or fail score will appear based on the answers submitted. Attendees and exhibitors must show a passing score to enter the market.
“Our team is working diligently with convention center executives, vendors and state and local authorities to design a market that will be comfortable and successful for everyone,” said Barbara Stroup, managing partner of MME. “The health and well-being of our attendees, exhibitors, staff and vendor partners is our top priority, and we have strategically crafted our Safe Visit Initiative to ensure everyone’s safety.”
Additional safety measures to be taken: Masks will be required inside the venue. (Extra masks will be available upon request at the registration desk.) In addition, graphic reminders will be in place throughout the markets to remind attendees to comply with safe physical distancing standards of 6 feet, frequent and proper hand washing and controlled traffic flow. Furthermore, sanitation stations will be located in key areas around the show floor while daily cleaning of all public spaces, exhibit halls and registration areas will be enforced.
The ‘new’ normal
While it’s not the usual trade show atmosphere that attendees are accustomed to, it represents the so-called “new normal” of how people interact in the age of COVID-19. The key to allaying attendees’ potential concerns, according to MME, lies in properly managing their expectations. “On our website we put together this awesome safety video—culled from other industry events—that gives people an idea of what a market today is going to look like,” Stroup explained. “Make no mistake—it’s going to be different than past events. Most shows today are not generating the numbers they’ve done in the past in terms of total attendees, but those people who plan to come out are serious about buying.”
Based on early pre-registration numbers, management said it is expecting to see a strong contingent of buyers at SEFM. (MME shared data showing registration was up 33% in the past two weeks alone.) While retailers plan to bring along fewer people as a whole, those who are planning to attend have buying power and influence in the product-selection process. “We’re not expecting a lot of tire kickers in Atlanta,” Kisner stated. “Those who have committed to come are realizing that they’ve got to move on and get out there. Flooring is something that cannot be sampled online; you have to see it and touch it. Retailers tell us they are very busy this year, and they’re looking for new products.”
Another consideration in MME’s favor is the fact that, by and large, most people who attend the company’s regional events typically drive to the venue. Beyond Georgia-based retailers, hundreds of flooring dealers from Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas are registered to attend.
The convenient location of SEFM is a big selling point among those people who still have reservations about: a) getting on a plane with strangers; and b) staying at a hotel with travelers from different regions. Given the relatively close proximity, format and manageable duration of the SEFM, none of those issues should be of concern for attendees, organizers said. “Most people drive to our regionals, which has been the case for a long time now,” Kisner explained. “They don’t have to get on a plane or stay in a hotel. I will say, though, that hotels are very safe these days. Hotel operators really have done a good job of making sure the rooms are clean and sanitized.”
Incentives to participate
Improved safety measures are not the only reason specialty flooring dealers should attend SEFM, organizers said. For one, the timing of the show allows retailers to sample product up close while previewing what they might eventually add to their offerings for the new selling season.
In addition, and perhaps more important, retailer attendees who make the trip will be privy to show specials and deals that they might not otherwise enjoy. “This is really going to be a product showcase event,” Kisner said. “It has been 14 months since most SEFM attendees have met face to face—that’s a long time. The industry has done very well in spite of the pandemic, and we keep hearing buyers and dealers are very eager to see the new products. You’re not going to see a big party at this event. This is going to be a very serious buying show.”
And that suits vendors like George Forte, executive development director of Stanton Carpet, just fine. “This has always been a well-attended show for us, and we are looking forward to another great Atlanta market,” he said.
Buyers, too, say they are happy to see the SEFM show moving forward. Dave Sterne, founder and CEO of The Inside Track—a company that specializes in providing flooring for companies that build exhibits and produce events—applauded MME’s efforts. “As the owner of a 23-year-old flooring company, I know how important it is to see and learn about new products in person,” he said. “I look forward to attending SEFM this spring.”
For MME, it’s all about seizing an opportunity in a critical time during the pandemic. “At the end of the day, we want our vendors to be successful and we want our buyers to be happy,” Kisner said. “We’re all doing the best we can to survive this crazy time, but I also think people in our industry need to show leadership and start moving ahead instead of sitting stagnant.”