With the goal of eliminating any guesswork as to how exhibitors and attendees might be feeling about returning to the trade show circuit this summer, International Market Centers (IMC) tapped Stax, an independent global strategy consulting firm, to conduct a survey to provide a real-time representation of buyer and vendor perspectives.

The survey was sent to IMC’s universe of gift, home décor, furniture, and apparel buyers and suppliers who participate in the Atlanta and Las Vegas Markets. With those show dates (July for Atlanta, and August for Las Vegas) fast-approaching, IMC CEO Bob Maricich said in a press briefing that he wanted the IMC’s decisions for potential postponement to be based on “data versus conjecture.”

The survey results showed a low percentage of buyers and exhibitors are likely to embark on airplane travel and hotel stays in June and July. Those percentages increased in comfort level as the months progressed further out from where the country stands today with parts of the nation only recently lifting shelter-in-place executive orders. Survey respondents indicated they would be more willing to travel and attend a market held in August, September, and October.  As a result of these findings, IMC is postponing both the Atlanta and Las Vegas markets accordingly: the Atlanta Market will now be held August 13-18 and the Las Vegas Market is slated for August 30-September 3.

“We believe that with modifications to Atlanta Market and Las Vegas Market’s timing and format and implementation of rigorous health and safety protocols, IMC can deliver the markets our buyers need and are willing to attend,” Maricich noted. “While we cannot currently gather in person, we look to meeting again at our markets this August.”

The Temporaries for each show will be as follows: at Atlanta Market, it will run August 14-17; at the Las Vegas Market, the Temporaries will be shown for the first time at the newly constructed Expo at World Market Center Las Vegas from August 30 to September 2.

The Las Vegas Market will offer the added benefit of running concurrently with the National Hardware Show (September 1-3) at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Both the Atlanta and Las Vegas markets will have a new trade show layout designed to enable social distancing and traffic control. In line with buyer sentiment, neither market will host at-market social gatherings for the summer editions. All seminar programming and trend features will be presented through digital market channels before and after market.

With health and safety a primary concern, IMC’s COVID-19 response and remediation task force will develop thorough and detailed protocols designed to ensure the health and safety of all those attending market. All back-to-business operating plans are being vetted to verify efficacy and identify best practices by Dr. Carlos del Rio, the Chair of the Department of Global Health and Professor of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. Safety procedures are expected to include: the required use of personal protective equipment (PPE), temporal monitoring, social distancing, occupancy control, hand sanitizing/cleansing stations and significantly enhanced housekeeping protocols for cleaning and disinfecting the facilities. IMC is also collaborating with hotels and food and beverage partners to confirm and communicate special protocols; planning new pre-registration requirements to enable contactless market entry; and preparing for arrival and departure strategies to facilitate social distancing. Comprehensive details around onsite health and safety protocols will be promoted in advance of each market and will be updated regularly at its own web site www.togethersafely.com.

“We recognize that our decisions do not impact just our business, but the business of the hundreds of thousands of manufacturers, sales organizations, retailers, designers, logistic managers, hotels, restaurants and more who are a part of our markets,” Maricich added. “We approached our decision through sound research and will give our partners the same opportunity by releasing the results of our survey through a detailed white paper next week. We hope this survey can bring some clarity to the current state of the industry and allow for better planning as we all move towards recovery.”

In addition to sharing their need for new product and preferred timing for trade shows, survey respondents also indicated a desire for increased use of digital tools to support product sourcing and enrichment of their market experience. While they do not see digital markets as a viable replacement for physical markets, buyers are interested in tools that will allow for additional brand discovery and more efficient at-market purchasing.

Over the next several weeks, the open-daily resources at each Market are expected to reopen to the retail and design communities with enhanced health and safety protocols.

The dates for the October High Point Market stand as originally scheduled for October 17-21.