It almost goes without saying, but 2020 came and went in a manner that no one could have potentially forecasted. So many of the plans and methods that we took for granted prior to COVID-19 were utterly flipped on their head, as every industry had to find new ways in which to operate on a day-to-day basis. However, as the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine progresses, the possibility of returning to certain routines seems like it may be much more feasible than in 2020. Though 2020 has been a challenging year, industry events and shows have adapted to serve the communities and their customers.
Few arenas of the pet industry took as hard a hit as pet shows and conventions, which all but had to shut down in-person events and were forced to scramble as they moved to all-online, partially-online, or otherwise adjusted events. While the pet industry’s shows were hardly unique in this regard, the changes made have changed the face of what such shows might look like going forward. The pet industry’s largest events — Global Pet Expo, the Pet Industry Leadership Summit and the four events run by the WPA — all weathered the changes 2020 brought, either through rescheduled dates, online presence or in a temporarily reduced presence.
Being curious to see another perspective on these shows — and on COVID’s effect on business overall — we extended a hand to Sandy Moore, president of Central Segrest Inc., to get her perspective on the past year. She was quick to note how pet shows and conventions have adapted to an online model.
“My supposition is that the conversations during trade shows will be more relaxed as well as productive, as buyers and sellers won’t have distractions or interruptions,” Moore surmised. “The virtual experiences will be customized to buyers’ needs and will provide the best use of their time.” While we might miss the face-to-face interactions of a crowded dealer hall or a well-earned after-show drink, the speed and productivity of an online gathering certainly has its appeal.
Moore continued, expanding on her business’s adaptations to COVID: “While we miss seeing our friends and colleagues face to face, it challenged us all to pivot to virtual meetings (and virtual meeting protocol) quickly. We can pull our sales and marketing teams around the country into a quick virtual huddle in minutes versus scheduling out an in-person meeting days or weeks out. It’s forced our teams to become proficient at PowerPoint, and to perform virtual training. The retailers have been tremendous partners as we all navigate these challenges, and are the true heroes of COVID.”
That addition of new, technology-based skill-sets is of particular note. As we wait for full vaccine rollout, these few months provide a perfect opportunity to train your staff on new systems and procedures, especially if you’re using video-conferencing technology or any sort of new program. And, even if your staff is up-to-date, a refresher course on often-used software, such as database or spreadsheet software, can go a long way towards fostering efficiency and productivity within your staff.
You may also want to consider purely-online training for your staff; Moore notes that the epidemic has allowed her to “attend a number of online trainings that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to under previous circumstances, like a fish health veterinary seminar out of Australia with colleagues from around the world.”
A familiar refrain throughout many industries, Moore’s greatest challenge has been that of shipping.
“After stores were able to start taking livestock again, our largest challenge continues to be unprecedented demand, complicated by air cargo freight capacity on international inbound flights,” she noted. Luckily, Central Segrest’s location aided in this complication, as their location in the middle of the United States’ fish-farming community “kept animals flowing through the supply chain by relying heavily on Florida-raised fish.”
As this column has expounded in the past, relationships with local dealers, wholesalers and retailers will bring nothing but dividends for you and your company. That demand, though, belies a pure silver lining within all the mess of 2020. Moore expects that “this will have a positive effect on the number of households keeping pets for years to come, as working from home affords the new pet parent the time and opportunity to educate themselves on the proper care and maintenance of their new animals.”
While supply may still outstrip demand for pets and pet supplies, COVID-19 has hardly put a dent in the boom that the pet industry has experienced over the past five years.
There’s a lot to look forward to as 2021 rises and we find some semblance of “new normal” after a year filled with fear and anxiety. As in-person shows reopen and things start to resemble the pre-2020 world, we echo Moore’s final thoughts: “I’m so proud of the front line workers throughout the industry, who helped bring some comfort via new pets and their ancillary supplies to homes across the nation, thereby bringing comfort and happiness to an otherwise anxious situation.”
As an industry we all have seen growth providing individuals and families with much needed companionship, a connection to nature and fun during a difficult time.