Fever Builds for Tradeshows

March 12th, 2020 by Drew Vass

In the final hours of February, with a show quickly approaching in mid-March, officials for NürnbergMesse announced the postponement of Fensterbau Frontale—one of the world’s largest tradeshows for doors and windows. Days later, amid ongoing concerns over the outbreak of coronavirus, the event was rescheduled for June 2020. Now it seems that a roughly three-month postponement may have been too optimistic for some exhibitors, as at least two have announced they’re pulling out.

In between the time that show officials said they would postpone and the issuing of new dates, numerous exhibitors told [DWM] they backed the decision. But with the new dates too close for comfort regarding health risks, officials for Roto announced they will forego the show until 2022. Jim Thornton, president of Centor North America, said his company made its decision even before the show was officially postponed. And while Veka hasn’t backed out, the company’s North American division has decided it will not be attending in June, said Steve Dillon, marketing director. “This reflects feedback from our customers’ desires to also not attend,” Dillon said. “If or when the situation changes, we will make a decision at that time.”

Fensterbau is just one of countless tradeshows held hostage by the threats of coronavirus. By early March, Wall Street Journal reported that across Asia, Europe and North America, around 440 shows had been cancelled, spurring tens of millions of dollars in losses. March 9, officials for Fenestration Manitoba announced FenCon would be postponed until May 2021. Event chair Al Dueck said he believes the programming lined up for 2020 can largely be carried over.

Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic, after, according to data provided by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, 121,564 cases were reported worldwide—including 4,373 deaths. With Fensterbau set to take place in Nuremberg, Germany, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned reporters in a news conference Wednesday that up to 70% of the country’s population could become infected. With public anxiety mounding, still clinging to the June dates, officials for NürnbergMesse said they’ve been in “constant exchange” with exhibitors regarding participation in the show. “Their feedbacks are quite varied,” said Stefanie Haug, one of the show’s press representatives. “Some exhibitors are asking for some time to think about their participations. In some cases, we are informed of considerations regarding cancellations without receiving official cancellations in the end. In other cases, we even hear about a cancellation first from the press.”

In a press release formatted as questions and answers, Marcus Sander, chairperson for Roto’s board of directors and head of Window and Door Technology, cited specific reasons for his company’s decision to cancel. Regarding the choice by show officials to postpone, “It was absolutely the right decision, it was completely understandable and there really was no alternative,” he said, adding that up until that point, his company was “greatly looking forward to meeting customers and prospects from all over the world face-to-face.” But those plans closed partly over concerns for the health and safety of Roto’s employees. “For Roto, putting people’s health at risk is absolutely out of the question,” Sander answered.

Sander said that based on the contact his company had with show officials in the days ahead of postponement, there were indications that the new dates would land in June, which gave his company time to, “weigh up the arguments against each other,” he added.

Martin McVicar, CEO of Combilift, praised show officials for their quick actions, giving companies time to make those decision. While he admitted that it was risky scheduling for just three months later, “You have to give Fensterbau credit,” McVicar said. “At least they called it off quite quickly, giving everyone at least a few weeks to plan. What I’ve found with some other trade shows is they let it run on closer to the date before they called it off.” In those cases, companies not only lost the cost of participation, but, “The big headache for exhibitors is in pre-booth accommodations and all that goes with that,” he said. “Accommodation costs can be almost as expensive as booth costs, in many cases.”

Of course, no cost is worth it if customers aren’t in attendance to allow for business. In the moments between the shows postponement and the announcement of new dates, Roto conducted what Sander described as an “urgent survey” worldwide of its sales offices—the results of which he said were “sobering.” That feedback, “gave cause for concern that the number of our international visitors in June would drastically drop compared to the previous event in 2018.”

But there were other factors at play for the company.

“We also have to consider the business side of things,” Sander said. “The fact is, we have already spent a seven-figure sum … Attending the trade fair in June would have led to further significant expenses. We don’t think this would be acceptable for Roto, particularly at a time of major uncertainty worldwide regarding future business development.”

Other impacts witnessed by the company include production, he said, as Roto is currently losing revenue in China, adding that, “It remains to be seen whether we manage to offset the decrease again in the course of the year,” but assuring, “although there definitely are consequences from the coronavirus crisis, they are manageable for Roto at present.”

Mike Pauly, vice president of sales and operations for Ventana said his company is far more focused on the ramifications of the virus for business, rather than the show.

“The main concern from our prospective is the health of our employees,” Pauly said. “How do we mitigate the fear and potential spread? How do we handle production if we have a large group out?” In terms of how the pandemic might affect business, “Will homeowners let people in the house to sell and/or install windows?” he questioned. “Are they willing to spend money with the fear factor the way it is now? Are commercial construction sites considered mass gatherings? Will they be shut down?”

Regarding his company’s supply chains from Europe and China, it prepared early, but, “if it lasts for more than half the year there are potential supply shortages.”

With those thoughts in mind, everyone has their fingers crossed for an outbreak that’s short-lived in the U.S.

“From the news reports it looks like we are about 50 days behind the outbreak in China,” said Timothy Minne, president of Mecal. “The media appears to indicate that China is somewhat on the mend at this time. Ideally, we are through the cycle of this virus in the next 50 days as well.”

For now, show officials are holding onto June.

“So shortly after the announcement of the new date, we are unable to give a solid forecast regarding the participation, also taking into account possible global developments regarding Corona, which are out of our hands,” Haug said.

This article is from Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine's free e-newsletter that covers the latest door and window industry news. Click HERE to sign up—there is no charge. Interested in a deeper dive? Free subscriptions to [DWM] magazine in print or digital format are available. Subscribe at no charge HERE.

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