Exhibit companies are struggling. Some are reassessing their businesses, since being affected by the pandemic, to determine best how to move forward. Some are deciding whether to try to rebuild after the pandemic; others are trying to rebuild and are struggling to find enough people. Industry veterans that are considering the possibility of closing are not only forced to think about themselves but also their employees and their customers. The best answer will be different for everyone in this industry, but ultimately, there are really only two options: retire and sell or remain and pivot.
Exit Strategy: Finding a Buyer
When it comes to finally making the difficult decision to exit the exhibit business, finding the right buyer can be as thorny. For well-established companies with loyal customers, it’s especially important to find a buyer whose goals and vision for the company will somewhat align with the existing customers. It can be difficult to transition without ensuring that the new buyer will care for your existing clients the way you did, and that’s not always easy to do.
Remaining Requires More than Rebuilding
For exhibit companies choosing to remain in the industry, there are challenges that go beyond simply rebuilding. Some of the changes that have accelerated during the pandemic include sustainability. If you’re remaining in the industry as an exhibit company post-pandemic, you’ll likely need to review your supply chain, your source materials, and your own contributions to sustainability. While this can be a difficult transition for some companies, for others it will present a profitable opportunity in which sustainability can be leveraged to attract new and retain old customers.
Supply Chain Issues Aren’t Going Away
All hope of supply chain issues abating along with the pandemic have been lost. Not only has the war in Ukraine severely impacted the supply chain, but the continuing lockdowns in China have also slowed the expected return to normal. Availability of everything from paper products to electronics are being affected by global events. Baby formula is only the first in an expected line of everyday products that are likely to be in short supply – including toothpaste. For exhibit companies, obtaining the materials they need has continued to be a big challenge, with much longer lead times required.
Labor Shortages Abound
Hiring and retaining workers has evolved into another major struggle. And the labor shortage has profoundly impacted the event industry. Many workers had no choice but to leave the industry and find jobs elsewhere while the industry was shut down. For example, the two largest trade show decorators, GES and Freeman Decorating, lost more than half their staff during the pandemic. Employees couldn’t survive indefinitely with unemployment after being furloughed – hence, they found other jobs. Now, GES and Freeman Decorating are scrambling for workers, and because they’re not fully staffed, they can’t supply flawless service. Rebuilding has been made much more difficult by not being able to find enough people to operate their businesses. So, for exhibit companies, like so many other industries, remaining in business often means longer work hours or scaling back due to lack of people.
How has the pandemic impacted your exhibition company? Are you staying? Going? Changing?