With attendance down by about three-quarters, social distancing requirements were easier inside showrooms, including in the Pendulux space where Steve Papevies, right, worked the line with David Fisher, left, and Lee Manuel of ZaZoo’d of St. Petersburg, FL.
ATLANTA — They came, they saw, they bought. They also wore masks. There were just a lot less of them than usual.
On the opening day of the Atlanta Market on Thursday — the first in-person trade event in the home and gift industry in more than seven months — it was clearly not business as usual as at least a quarter of the showrooms at the AmericasMart complex remained closed and those that were open were sparsely manned. That was appropriate as attendee traffic was severely restricted, running about 30% of a normal opening day, according to show officials.
For exhibitors and attendees alike, the process of working market was a very different experience. IMC, which owns AmericasMart, had put in a rigorous health and safety protocol that included temperature checks, plexiglass dividers at all registration areas and color-coded wrist bands to identify those who had been cleared. Showrooms and elevators had maximum occupancy signage at their entrances while social distancing and safety warnings were posted throughout the complex.
Clearly this was a market environment nobody had experienced before. But a sampling of exhibitors across the gift and home décor floors reported that if business wasn’t normal it also wasn’t non-existent. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said David Hinson, owner of Bougainvillea and David Jeffrey, which showed together in Building 1 of the Mart. He said they had seen both retailers and designers from several Southeastern states, including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
“They want to be prepared for the fall and Christmas,” Hinson said, indicating as others did that some customers were asking for post-dated orders and deliveries. Most attendees appeared to be from these and a few other Southeastern states.
“The reality is that people are spending money and we have to give them a way to do it,” said Steve Papevies, head of business development for Pendulux, the retro-inspired décor line. “Retailers and designers have to have product and they want to buy.”
Papevies said he had just worked a local antiques show and had his best event ever. “There were 50% less vendors and 40% less customers but we did more business.” Like most exhibitors interviewed he confirmed that anybody coming to the Atlanta show was there to place orders, not just look around.
One such customer was ZaZoo’d, a retailer in St. Petersburg, Fla. ‘We’ve got to buy for Christmas,” said partner Lee Manuel. “We need to see new vendors, that’s very important for us.” Along with his partner, David Fischer, he said, “People will still have Christmas and still need happy. We’re determined to make it happen.”
Manuel and Fischer said they were disappointed the temporary booths at the show, where new vendors often get their starts, had been canceled and they wished more showrooms were open.
One showroom that was open was the brand new Ivystone space, which shared its new Building 2 11th floor home with fellow rep agency Appelman Schauben. Both companies were debuting their new showrooms, moving down from the 18th floor and exhibiting in expansive spaces with wide aisles and open layouts. Kelly Wenzel, national sales manager for Beatriz Ball, the gift and tabletop resource repped by Ivystone, said that while traffic was clearly off, it gave the company more opportunity to spend time with those buyers who were there. “We can do quality connections because this is the first time we’ve had in-person face time with them in eight months,” she said, laughing at the irony of having face time with everyone wearing masks (which just about everybody was throughout the Mart).
She said the company had an extensive product introduction, consistent with previous seasons and “we didn’t cut it back because of COVID.” The orders it did write were “good-sized,” she added, consistent with what others said that buyers who came to market were serious.
“If anyone was here, they were buying,” confirmed Mark Weinstein of Golden Oldies, showing vintage products in its large showroom. “We’ve had a good day so far,” he said, adding that he celebrated his birthday last week in the best way possible: “by being back at work for the first time in six months.”
Overall first day numbers were in line with expectations, Bob Maricich, president of IMC said. “We were expecting about half of the showrooms to be open and we believe about 70% were. And we planned for the attendee count to be about 25 to 30% year-over-year. As of the afternoon of the first day, we were at 31%. And the people that are here are writing business.”
If the market did have its drawbacks, there were some benefits. The Mart’s notoriously crowded elevators were mostly empty and easy to summon and anyone driving in was greeting with nearby parking lot rates at a fraction of usual market week prices. And getting a table at the food court, even with just two stands open, was a piece of cake.
As the first of the three rescheduled summer markets in gift and home — Dallas follows next week with Las Vegas later in the month — Atlanta may set the bar for what both exhibitors and attendees can expect: like nothing any of them have ever seen before.
Atlanta Market runs through Aug. 18.