How to Navigate Trade Shows in the COVID Era

September 27, 2021|In SD Blog|By Danine Alati

Trade shows are back—from High Point Market to Maison&Objet in Paris, Milan Design Week to NeoCon in Chicago! After a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the design industry collectively is breathing a sigh of relief as in-person meetings and fairs are once again taking place, despite the recent surge in variants of the virus. Is it safe to return to trade show atmospheres at this point? What’s some critical information to keep in mind as we endeavor to return to normalcy now that more than half of the U.S. population is vaccinated against COVID-19? Studio Designer consulted with a couple of industry pros to find out the best ways to navigate interior design trade shows in this COVID era.

“Although this year’s NeoCon will be in October (not June), have lighter attendance than a normal year, and we will be wearing face masks, it will still be the time and place when and where the industry comes together to share innovations, ideas, and inspiration—and to do business,” urges Lisa Simonian, vice president of marketing, consumer and trade shows, for theMART. “After more than two years without an industry event, we know that the NeoCon community is craving the opportunity to be together again in-person.”

Know Before You Go

NeoCon is taking place at Chicago's theMART | Image Courtesy of NeoCon

This year’s NeoCon—held at theMART in Chicago October 4-6—will undoubtedly look and feel different than in years past, as precautions are being taken to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of show attendees. Adhering to CDC guidelines, as well as requirements by the city and state, theMART has implemented the following protocols for NeoCon 2021:

  • Mandated COVID screening in the form of proof of COVID vaccination or negative COVID test within 72 hours of show
  • Masks or face coverings required indoors
  • Low-contact registration
  • Elevator monitors to manage capacity
  • A 60 percent capacity for temporary booth floors to allow for social distancing
  • A vast outdoor lounge area and low-contact food service on the new River Park 
  • Hybrid programming with virtual CEU sessions and live on-site keynotes also available via livestream

Additional Safety Precautions

NeoCon Plaza | Courtesy of NeoCon

Also, theMART worked with infectious disease specialists and mechanical engineers to increase the amount of fresh air that is being circulated in the building, and the building will be flushed with outside air two hours before the doors of the show open each day. Aggressive cleaning regimens will take place daily with frequent disinfection of high touch surfaces, elevators, and other public spaces. And hand sanitizer stations will be scattered throughout the show floors.

And theMART partnered with CLEAR Health Pass, which provides a secure, digital proof of COVID vaccination. Show attendees are encouraged to download the app ahead of time to expedite the NeoCon check-in process.

Simonian is confident that every precaution is being taken to ensure a safe and worthwhile event for all participants. And now that NeoCon programming is dispersed among eight floors of theMART, she says, it will be highly accessible for all registrants, and it will also be livestreamed via NeoCon Hub, NeoCon’s new virtual platform and online tool. While Simonian acknowledges that living with the pandemic has taught us all much about connecting online, there’s nothing quite like interpersonal networking IRL. “We will continue to offer and evolve our virtual offerings, but nothing can replace the in-person event and the ability to see, touch, and experience product and to be in the same space with colleagues, collaborators, and clients,” she offers. “This is especially true when it comes to design that’s oriented for physical spaces.”

Why Attending IRL Is Worth It

NeoCon Plaza | Courtesy of NeoCon

“NeoCon is also all about bringing a community together,” Simonian adds, “Coming together on Zoom only goes so far.”

While the A&D industry anticipates its first NeoCon in two years, some design professionals are still reflecting fondly on the 2021 edition of Salone del Mobile.Milano, held September 5 through 10, after an 18-month wait. Curated by architecture dynamo Stefano Boeri, “supersalone,” as this year’s show was dubbed, had a distinct vibe with a smaller scale and new format, but it still delivered the very best in international furniture design. 

Christine Abbate, president of New York-based Novità Communications, which has a satellite office in Milan, expects that this year’s fair will inform future events. “There were so many new ideas: The entire exhibition was built with recycled and recyclable material. There was no paint, glue, or carpet used. There were so many plants and trees creating a biophilic setting. The exhibitors really created fantastic exhibitions on this sustainable palette,” she explains, adding that the energy about attending the show in person was palpable. “Everyone attending was so excited to be in Italy again and to see beautiful presentations of inspiring ideas and products. lt was very emotional for some.” 

Salone del Mobile.Milano | Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano + Andrea Mariani

Although show participants were masked and socially distanced, supersalone nonetheless proved to be a valuable experience for its attendees, as well as the city of Milan and the design community at large. Maria Porro, president of Salone del Mobile.Milano, told an Italian journalist: “We couldn’t have done more to send out a signal to the city and the country—being there, despite everything, in a different and smaller guise, not comparable to the 2019 edition, but by no means inferior.”

“[At supersalone] I was reminded about why I love the design industry so much!” —Chris Abbate, president of Novità Communications

Abbate appreciated reconnecting with so many interior design clients and journalists and seeing new product launches in person. “I was reminded about why I love the design industry so much!” she says, adding that the rewards outweigh the risk of attending in-person shows. “I think it is really important for designers to see new things—and especially great for them to see them in a new way. Exhibits in Milan are always very thought-provoking and fresh.” 

Salone del Mobile.Milano | Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano + Diego Ravier

Keep in Mind

As for NeoCon, Abbate, whose firm is the publicist for the show, says she’s very much looking forward to seeing the latest innovations in commercial design. “It is only at NeoCon that all verticals in the contract design industry come together to learn and do business. ” says the trade show veteran, who adds a few tips: “Be sure to have your vaccine card and any recent testing, wear comfortable shoes, and be ready to smile a lot—even with your mask on. The eyes still say a lot.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: NeoCon Plaza | Courtesy of NeoCon