I just got back from the Southeast Flooring Market (SEFM) in Atlanta, which in essence was the first live trade show in more than a year. Yes, we had the National Floorcovering Alliance fall conference in Savannah—the industry’s first live event since the onset of the coronavirus—and we had four Mohawk Momentum Roadshows across the country. But as far as trade shows go, this marked their official return to our industry.
Credit Market Maker Events for its commitment to go forward with SEFM after a two-month postponement (see story on page 3). All recommended safety precautions were followed. Of course, pulling off a regional event is much easier than something like Surfaces. Fewer exhibitors allow for more distance between their spaces along with wider aisles. Plus, most attendees come from Georgia or neighboring states. Safe to say 95% of them made the trip by car.
When the dust cleared, what was the sentiment? Whether exhibitor or attendee, the unequivocal response was that it is time to return to the live events to which we are all accustomed. Everyone felt safe. Everyone felt it should be their choice whether to attend a live event. If you were an exhibitor at SEFM, you wanted to see customers. Live. Not on Zoom. If you were an attendee, you wanted to see new products. Now. Live. In time for the spring selling season. This is when I was talking to Michel Vermette, president and CEO of Armstrong Flooring, the other day. He put it all in perspective. He said flooring retailers first and foremost are entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurs are accustomed to taking risks. Taking risks are inherent in building a successful business. So, the idea of coming to a trade show right now is not something with which they’re uncomfortable.
Ted Gregerson, one of the largest Abbey dealers in the country, is a prime example. He made the trip from Anniston, Ala., to Atlanta for the second time in a month—first for the Mohawk Momentum Roadshow and then for SEFM. He expressed a desire to see everyone live and shake people’s hands again. (By the way, I know that people believed at the beginning of the pandemic that shaking hands would go the way of the dinosaur. Well, I can tell you firsthand that if you believe that you are hitting your stash of your Alice in Wonderland candy. Oh, and while we’re at it, if you think people are going to be wearing masks when they are engaged in long conversations, well, let’s just say Rochelle Walensky would be choking on her restrictions.)
Other retailers told me it’s about touching and feeling product. It’s about relationships. You can’t do that on Zoom. And the other thing on which they are in agreement: Virtual events don’t provide the same value as live events do.
Shifting gears…not a week goes by without someone asking me about Surfaces, which is scheduled for June 16-18. We reached out to the management team at Informa to provide some answers. We were reassured that show management has been working diligently behind the scenes to get Surfaces up and running for the industry in June, and Informa has indeed confirmed the show will happen. Registration will open soon, and you will see marketing in the trade press in our upcoming issues.
While Surfaces will look and feel a lot different this year (and, yes, some of the larger companies will be waiting until the February 2022 show to exhibit) there will still be hundreds of vendors on the show floor. I would implore any retailer to make the trip to Las Vegas. You’ll get to spend more time with some exhibitors you may not have visited at a traditional Surfaces. Plus, it will feel good to be back in the game. Besides, at least half the country could be vaccinated by then. Just don’t be afraid to shake hands with people. they make decisions on what to take on and what to stock for the year.