What will industry events look like this fall and beyond?
- After last year’s hiatus due to COVID-19, in-person events are back.
- Live industry events are essential for the industry as the basis of distribution, sales, is face-to-face interactions.
- The comeback of live gatherings is happening, in part, because of the high vaccination rates among business travelers, but mostly because of the industry’s desire to connect.
- Look for masks and social distancing, but associations are trying to make their events as normal as possible.
After a hiatus in 2020, industry associations are moving forward with their annual conferences. Even MDM will be back with our first In-person sales GPS conference since 2019.
A few things have happened in recent months, and many more are happening this month and beyond. As the industry comes together for the first time since the start of 2020, questions remain about the size and mood of upcoming events.
Will masks be mandatory? What are the social distancing guidelines for an industry that thrives on handshakes and happy hours? And the most burning questions of all: Are distributor gatherings always necessary and will they ever be the same?
We caught up with some of the groups that are preparing to host their annual conferences for the first time since late 2019. Here’s what we learned.
The return to life
Returning to live events is going to be different, of course. Events could be smaller than they were before the pandemic. The Power Transmission Distributors Association, for example, expects around 300 members at its Industry Summit in Atlanta later this month. That’s about half of her regular attendance, says PTDA executive director Ann Arnott. Still, any top of the industry is better than nothing, she notes.
“It has been a long time since the power transmission industry has been able to come together,” Arnott told MDM. “They are delighted to be able to have face-to-face conversations, even if the faces are obscured by masks. We had a few small meetings over the summer. The in-person interaction was far too valuable to let something like masks or a little distance between the participants get in the way. “
The mask requirement is interesting. The associations and purchasing centers with which MDM spoke for this report say they rely on regulations issued by local authorities. The PTDA industry summit, for example, is held in Atlanta, which currently has a mask mandate. PTDA says it “may require masks depending on the circumstances at the time of our event.”
And while the PTDA does not require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, it will have other notable regulations, given the current reality.
The facilities will have protocols such as “adequate spacing, hand sanitizing stations, etc.” – all the protocols which are now considered as standard ”. A change from the typical gathering of distributors: PTDA says that “during general sessions, the seats will consist of four people per round table to allow a three-foot gap between individuals. Accommodations may change if circumstances require.
Talbot Gee, CEO of Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), the Columbus, Ohio-based trade group representing the HVACR chain, is another leader of the association as they prepare for the return to live events. . HARDI, which will host its annual conference in Palm Desert, Calif., In December, expects a return to pre-pandemic levels, Gee said.
“We have always been ahead of the 2019 numbers for bookings and sponsorships and our hotel is at over 90% capacity, so our expectation remains for record or near record attendance,” he told MDM.
Like PTDA in Atlanta, HARDI relies on the regulations in place for Palm Desert when it comes to whether attendees will need to wear face coverings or social distancing. According to Gee, one of the benefits of any association event is that business travelers are more likely to be vaccinated.
“We will, of course, follow all local government and hotel policies and encourage adherence to CDC guidelines and we have made accommodations at all of our live events to facilitate greater distance,” he said. he declares. “However, we will trust our attendees to choose the measures they deem appropriate for them and their fellow attendees. There is now ample evidence that conferences and face-to-face meetings are not significant sources of infections. in large part because business travelers are overwhelming responsible and conscientious participants with extremely high vaccination rates. ”
One caveat: business travel in general remains blocked. Only 62% of business travelers say their company plans to travel by plane in the next 12 months, while 38% say their company has no plans (20%) or has not specified any plans ( 18%), according to a recent OAG survey. published in September. Learn more about business travel in MDM’s recent article, Sales Travel Will Continue to Be a Mixed Bag for Distributors in 2022.
The future of in-person events
The term “new normal” has been used so much over the past six months that it has become a cliché. Nothing will go back to the way it was before 2019, of course, but retail is an industry that thrives on normalcy. Face-to-face events are a vital part of the normal cycle of an industry built on this face-to-face connection.
That said, it will take a few events under our collective belts before industry summits and distributor sales meetings and buying group gatherings look like they once did.
“As an association leader, I would like to say that everything will be back to how it was when our members meet again in Tampa in March 2022 for our spring meetings,” says Arnott. “But, as the pandemic persists, my practical side says it will take some time. I think we will return to live events closer to what we experienced before the pandemic – possibly. “
As Arnott notes, “In-person meetings offer so much: the extra context that comes from body language, the emphasis on conversation in the moment without the distraction of the dog barking in the background, the smoother conversations without speaking. clumsy on each other (or “you’re on mute”). Most importantly, face-to-face meetings cement relationships. The conversation naturally shifts from business to people and back again, creating better understanding and trust between partners. We delayed our strategic planning – for both PTDA and the PTDA Foundation – because we knew it would be a more efficient process with a better outcome when we could have these difficult strategic conversations in person.
Gee echoed these comments, adding that HARDI has been hosting and attending live events since the end of June, and “each of them felt a lot closer to normal than not. Fortunately, if there is one thing we have learned from all of this, it is that we cannot control everything. But if we are smart and conscientious, we can handle almost anything.
HARDI is not alone with his return to various events. The AD buying group recently hosted a few live events, including its North American Industry and Safety meeting last week. The North American Association of Flooring Distributors (NAFCD) and the North American Association of Building Materials Distributors (NBMDA) will host a joint conference November 2-4 in Dallas. The National Association of Electricity Distributors (NAED) will host its Eastern Region Conference November 8-10 in Austin. And the National Association of Wholesalers-Distributors (NAW) is holding its first executive summit since early last year, January 25-27, 2022, in Washington, DC.
All have their own regulations, which can be viewed on their respective websites. Everyone also understands that returning to meetings and in-person events is essential for this industry. We thrive on seeing each other, shaking hands, breaking bread, toasting and feeding on each other’s energy.
“The virtual has its limits in business and relationships, which is why the demand for in-person events is so exceptionally high now,” said Gee. “On the contrary, the effectiveness of virtual meetings has actually made face-to-face meetings more effective and efficient, as they are more focused on what is best accomplished in a non-virtual environment, and what can be accomplished virtually is done in. advance. “
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