Mitigating Short-term Vendor Losses Amid Coronavirus

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Mitigating Short-term Vendor Losses Amid Coronavirus

By Allan Lynch | Mar 27, 2020

Cancelled and postponed are the dominant concepts for the first quarter of 2020. Life—and business—will eventually go forward, but in the meantime some groups are working to mitigate short-term losses for vendors.

A case in point is seafood company Kvaroy Arctic, which was booked to attend the Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March and the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels in April. These are two of the world’s leading trade shows for the aquaculture industry. The Boston show draws 22,150 industry professionals, 1,300 exhibitors and 600 key buyers from 49 countries. The Brussels show, which was seeing six percent exhibitor growth over 2019, had 1,622 exhibitors booked, making it the largest event in the show’s 28-year history. In early March both shows were postponed to an unspecified later date in 2020. Attendees and exhibitors were offered the option of rolling fees to the later show or the 2021 version.

When Boston was postponed, Jennifer Bushman sprang into action.

“When a trade show gets cancelled, most companies wipe their hands, cancel flights and go home,” says Bushman, whose company, Route to Market, provides strategic development consultancy to the aquaculture industry.

Kvaroy was launching a new product, had invested in a substantial booth to bring the sea farm experience to the show floor and had Top Chef contestant Adrienne Cheatham ready to cook fresh fish being shipped to the show.

Rather than hibernate until the replacement event was held, Bushman, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area where she knows many tech executives, wondered about a virtual seafood show.

Kvaroy’s longtime eastern sales manager, Bill Hewitt, told Bushman about the old days in the industry when companies couldn’t afford to attend shows. They would distribute fliers describing products and offering specials. Bushman says producers would take the flier and “call or visit their customer. They called that the No Show Food Show.” Hewitt suggested Bushman consider organizing a virtual No Show Fish Show.

Realizing that the industry could be in lockdown for a long time, Bushman looked to create longer legs than a one-week novelty. She developed the idea by arranging online tastings with selected clients who had fresh fish delivered to them. These clients then watched online as Cheatham prepared the fish as if they were at the trade show booth. The experience was further enhanced by asking taste questions borrowed from a sommelier’s wine test. Next she added panels with the James Beard Foundation and company CEO and added other product information. Then Bushman moved this and other content to Instagram, placed it on Facebook, created a LinkedIn community, pushed it via her social media contacts and let the media know.

“The response was fantastic,” she says.

Another client, Pacifico Aquaculture, followed a similar path promoting their farmed striped bass. Bushman says the result for some products has been a rise in retail sales of up to 70 percent.

“Videos and photos have in excess of 15,000 likes and chefs are reaching out for samples,” she says. “We found in this tactile world that chefs and F&B people live in they were already relying on Instagram more than any other platform, including email, in order to engage.”

With all of the issues surrounding the spread of the coronavirus and the impact on individuals, companies and the economy, Bushman’s bottom line is not to walk away but “to stay in sight.”

Another in the long list of cancellations was Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con. This four-day annual event normally draws 98,000 fans to the Washington State Convention Center. When it was cancelled, six vendors and buyers in Oak Grove, a suburb of nearby Portland, Ore., began organizing the PDX Pop Up Con.

“A bunch of shops said why don’t we try to hold a mini-con at each of our shops and then at least the men and women [who create comics] could make some money back selling their wares, their signatures or sketches at our shops instead of making nothing,” says Bruce Treat, who owns Comics Adventure, a shop with more than 100,000 comic books for sale.

It was a noble idea, but given the health issues which forced closure of the larger Emerald City event, they also had to abandon the pop-up idea. For now.

Instead, Treat has been inspired to revive his “eBay store, which I let lapse because I was busy running my brick-and-mortar business.” Facebook Live and Craigslist are other venues for him. 

To reintroduce his business to the market Treat is “offering curbside pickup. So if someone doesn’t want to come in they can call ahead, pay over the phone or give me their card when they pull up, we’ll swipe it and hand them a bag of comics. It’s not the best thing to do, but it’s better than nothing.”

These are far ends of the economic spectrum, but illustrate how social media can be harnessed to mitigate short-term vendor and attendee losses or inconvenience due to cancellations and postponements and perhaps also build long-term business relationships.

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Allan Lynch
Allan Lynch

Allan Lynch is a former newspaper publisher who chucked the office routine to return to his first love: writing. Based near the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy, he specializes in writing about the meeting industry.