Hershel, in business for nearly two decades, never visited a trade show before 2019 when he learned that a trade show can help grow his business. The pandemic shut everything down in 2020 and he stayed home. He, like most other trade show attendees, was still uncertain whether to attend in 2021 and in fact attendance was significantly down. In 2022 Hershel made the trip to Miami for the jewelry trade show and he hopes to be a regular. As one who in 1989 founded Kosherfest, a kosher foods trade show for the food industry, I have of late witnessed a dramatic embrace of trade shows and industry events in our community. It has emerged as an important vehicle for networking and new business development.
The popularity of trade shows is manifested in two major tracks. Members of our community attend general trade shows in significant numbers, occasionally resulting in special accommodation for tefilos and kosher food. It is no longer uncommon to see yarmulkes in big numbers at trade shows all over the country. They blend into the large audiences at these shows and come away with many new leads. Equally as trailblazing are the many trade events in our community further strengthening an unprecedented charedi commerce that is so dominant in frum neighborhoods. Many of these shows are professionally produced and are contributing big time to the growth of our communities. Of late several of these events have also focused on the end user, the consumer.
Trade shows make it much more comfortable for charedi business people, both men and women, to interact in a business environment. It proved once again that despite such technological advances as Zoom and Teams, there was no replacement for in-person “eyeball to eyeball” as many experts refer to trade shows. Many businesspeople I spoke to actually felt that their businesses suffered during the Coronavirus period and beyond. They felt that the inability to meet business colleagues and prospects in person actually set them back. This was true for many others in the business community 2020-2021. That is why trade shows returned as soon as it was safe to have people exhibit and visit trade shows.
In 2022, in-person U.S. trade shows enjoyed a steady comeback. Attendees and exhibitors returned to show floors to meet face-to-face again, event-related organizations went on hiring and promoting sprees, and industry professionals expressed a tone of optimism that hadn’t been heard since before the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the second half of 2023, trade shows are finally picking up steam. Cancellations for both exhibitors and visitors are down. Bloomberg reports that “Nationwide, about 11.5 million professionals attended business-to-business trade shows in the U.S. last year, a 55% jump over 2020.” Pre-pandemic attendance (2019) was at 35.3 million, with quite a bit of ground still to be made up.
One survey in 2022 found that 65% of businesses felt that in-person trade shows were an invaluable part of their marketing strategy despite the new technologies which might suggest that it wasn’t necessarily essential to conduct in-person business. However, 35% of respondents said that in-person trade shows needed to change to stay relevant with different business people providing different perspectives as to what needs to be changed. Some of the changes that were suggested were more individual meetings, focused seminars, better layout of show floor and better planning vehicles. Virtually none felt that in-person trade shows were no longer relevant and should give way to the new technologies.
At Chicago’s McCormick Place, attendance at shows in the second half of last year was down about 35%,” wrote Michael Sasso for Bloomberg. As one of the busiest show venues in the nation, the drop was noteworthy. But most experts feel that trade shows are back, and that attendance will go up in 2023 and beyond. In fact, the travel industry is readying for increased trade show attendance. Last month, Marriott brought corporate and association customers to New York City for their annual customer conference. “This year’s iteration focused on the optimism surrounding the return of in-person events, and the new ways Marriott is amplifying group business,” according to BizBash.
Despite a seismic shift in many business practices caused by the pandemic, it seems that trade shows are here to stay. But industry experts say that there will most definitely be changes. They predict smaller booths, less staffing in booths, smaller aisles, much smaller shows in terms of space, and better use of technology to capture prospects and leads. The experts also predict a better quality of buyers as companies are careful about mushrooming travel expenses, especially for “secondary” staff.
Trade shows are also a vital part of building industries and often the main source of revenues for trade associations. The pandemic shutdowns took a real financial toll on these associations, resulting in layoffs and lots of cost-cutting moves…not to mention dipping into rainy day financial reserves to stay afloat. Corporate and institutional restrictions on travel expenses will also have an impact, favoring shows that can be done in a day, preferably by ground travel, with maybe an overnight stay. Some corporations caution that they will not return to liberal travel policies of the pre-Covid era.
Trade shows can help build up a category. In the case of Kosherfest it added value to kosher food, encouraged companies to produce new kosher products and was responsible for the explosion of kosher independent supermarkets. The show ended its 33-year run recently because kosher food had become a dynamic industry. No longer were manufacturers reliant on a kosher show to introduce new items. With 62 large supermarkets of 10,000 square feet or more, there was plenty of room to showcase a large number of kosher products and put these products in front of consumers. For me, as a marketing expert, Kosherfest closed down, not because it was a failure but rather because it was a huge success. Yes, the children had grown up and were also extremely successful.