Although it didn’t come as a big surprise, the postponement of SuperZoo until 2021 was nonetheless a disappointment for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Not only is SuperZoo one of the few times each year when industry friends get to meet up, it’s one of the prime opportunities for both large and small manufacturers to share their newest products and innovations and for retailers to get in on great deals on the top new products for their stores.
However, despite the disappointment, retailers and manufacturers are taking proactive steps to keep in touch with each other and stay current on the latest trends in the industry. Although many have lamented the lack of in-person contact with friends and colleagues, most people in the industry are taking advantage of technology, social media, and email to stay connected.
“I am disappointed because SuperZoo is like a big party for the pet industry,” said Christine Dawson is the owner of Paleo Pet Goods in Webster, Texas, located just outside of Houston. “I look forward to seeing all my reps and friends and making new connections with new and upcoming brands that help to meet the needs of our loyal customers.”
Other aspects of the annual trade show that Dawson will miss are taking in the sights of Las Vegas, including the animal celebrities who attend SuperZoo.
Nicci Cammack, founder of Northpoint Pets & Company in Cheshire, Connecticut, echoed Dawson’s feelings of missing out due to COVID-19.
“As an industry I think it’s sad because I see so many fellow retailers struggling due to various issues including COVID-19,” she explained. “The ability to meet in person rather than ‘death by Zoom meeting’ would have been a great opportunity to help redirect each other. To that point, dialog with manufacturers is lost and some of the ‘innovation’ is likely to be lost due to loss of inspiration.”
Manufacturers are also feeling the loss of not being able to have that in-person contact with customers and the chance for customers to touch and try their products. Alice Nichols is president of Up Country, Inc., a small manufacturer of hand-made, hand-sewn dog collars and accessories located outside of Providence, Rhode Island. She said she values her time at SuperZoo and is disappointed she won’t be able to interact with buyers face-to-face like they usually do.
“It is a time to catch up, hear what’s going on in the industry as a whole, and hear how our buyers’ businesses are doing,” Nichols said. “All of this informs our business going forward. In essence, we’ll miss the personal touch as well as hearing first-hand how others are faring.”
Taking Advantage of Technology
Despite the disappointment, retailers are doing their best to keep current on the latest trends and products with the help of technology and social media. “There are Zooms and Facebook Lives, which give us group opportunities to receive training or have some Q&A time with our reps and their company leadership,” said Dawson.
She’s also taking steps to do more telephone contact with the reps for all the brands she carries in her store. Dawson said she has also seen an increase in the number of emails she’s receiving from new companies who won’t be able to benefit from attending SuperZoo to help launch their companies and their products.
Cammack said there hasn’t been a lot of change for her company in regards to digital communication with suppliers and manufacturers.
“We’re still doing phone, Zoom and in-person meetings as situations allow,” she explained. “None of that has changed, as we have always been proactive with communicating with vendors.”
Manufacturers like Up Country and others are also taking proactive steps to keep in touch with retailers because they won’t get the chance to see them this year at SuperZoo. “We have our trusted reps who keep our retailers informed. We’ve also been manning the phones throughout and providing email updates. It is important that we keep business running as smoothly as possible to minimize the impact financially for both us and our retail partners.”
The Fall/Winter Season
Although many states began to open back up in June, retail around the country is still far from “back to normal.” Without the benefit of SuperZoo and with some retailers experiencing challenges in getting products, many wonder how retailers are going to ensure they have the newest products going into the holiday shopping season and beyond.
Additionally, with some states seeing a recent increase in COVID-19 cases as a result of re-opening efforts, many consumers are still playing it safe when it comes to going out in public, leaving retailers wondering what the fall and winter months will look like for their businesses.
“Before, when I would receive an email about a new product or brand, I wouldn’t really give it much of my attention,” said Dawson. “Now, I take a moment to look at the emails and do a little digging by visiting their website or Facebook page.”
Because the Houston area is still experiencing a high threat level from COVID-19 and people are being encouraged to stay home much as possible, Dawson said she’s building an online store to help customers access her store’s brands and products from home. Additionally, she’s relying on industry magazines to help her identify new products that might be a good fit for her customers.
“I am keeping my reps close to me as well so they know they can always call or email to let me know what new products their companies are launching for this fall,” noted Dawson.
As a manufacturer, Nichols said her company has been working hard to get production ramped back up now that Rhode Island has opened up.
“We were already working on finalizing all of the 2020 new items before the pandemic hit, so we’re in good shape to deliver come the Fall.”
Cammack said she doesn’t worry about or focus on trends and new products.
“The key to sustaining our business through COVID is the same as it is for us during any other part of the year: Communicate clearly and regularly with your consumers,” she concluded. “Be candid, be honest and offer great products with impeccable customer service. Because of that we actually saw an increase through the initial stages of COVID and sustained above average business growth throughout. That is 100 percent due to the effort and passion of my team, our honest and open communication strategy with customers, and the fact that we aren’t ‘sales associates.’ In short, retailers need to stop focusing on the short game and focus on the long game. Stop gap measures aren’t sustainable and will burn you out.”