Do you miss attending trade shows? I know I do. Seems odd to admit now, but it wasn’t all that long ago I would’ve answered that question very differently. But just like countless others, maybe almost everybody, I miss being with people, and trade shows are a great place to scratch that itch.
It’s human nature to miss what we once had but are now denied, to experience the truth behind the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Nowhere is that more acute than when it comes to our hardwired need for social interaction. As frustrating and disappointing as other people can be from time to time, when it comes down to it, we are not at our best when isolated. We do, in point of fact, need each other.
We’ve all learned in a painfully big way that “sheltering in place” does not bring out the best in us. It leads to unsavory habits including the excessive wearing of sweat pants, questionable hygiene choices and the avoidance of one’s own reflection in the mirror. But it’s been no laughing matter: Rates of suicides, divorce and addiction have dramatically elevated over the past year, and there can be little doubt that all the forced isolation has put pressure on relationships, livelihoods and overall psychological well being.
RELATED: Orlando Pulls It Off
The fact is, forced sequestration is not a good look on anybody. Anthropologists sometimes describe humans as pack animals, a species that thrives by organizing in groups for survival at our most primal core. We are truly tribal beings. From nations to religions to trade associations, along with fan clubs, bowling leagues, sewing circles and, yes, families themselves, we are self-evidently gregarious by nature.
HOLING UP & HOLDING ON
In one way or another and to varying degrees, that’s all part of why the forced separation and isolation of the past year has been so maddening. It runs counter to our basic instincts, and it’s kind of spooky and disorienting when forced to confront that fact. It’s why solitary confinement in prison is such a nasty punishment. Isolation hurts in a way that transcends physical discomfort and pain.
Most everyone I know has had a taste of that torment in one way or another. I remember the eerie feeling when hearing the news last March that the Western Pool & Spa Show had been suddenly and unceremoniously cancelled due the pandemic. In a surreal instant, a convention center of exhibitors and seminar rooms full of attendees were told to pack up and go home. The world was shutting down, and there was nothing we could do about it except hope.
From then until now, the annual ritual of attending the big shows like the International Pool | Spa | Patio Exhibition, The Pool & Spa Show in Atlantic City and the roster of smaller regional events, has been suspended. There have been attempts at holding online “virtual” events as placeholders, but to be frank, those have been only marginally effective at best and decidedly unsatisfying.
Event organizers did put up a brave face and deserve credit for trying. The idea that people could get the same kind of information remotely seemed to hold some merit in terms of convenience of not having to travel. They set up virtual show floors and presented both synchronous and asynchronous educational offerings, but there was nothing they could or will ever be able to do about the true missing ingredient: the need to be together.
Indeed, most of us have found out and been reminded over and over again that gathering via the internet can never truly replace the value of being together in the same place and time. Despite the cultural dominance of social media, the vital importance of face-to-face can never be truly diminished. And this past year, we’ve seen that concept pushed to the breaking point.
PIPES AND DRAPES BECKON
Now, with the pandemic seemingly winding down, our trade shows should be back on track for third and fourth quarter this year, and by that time, after another brutal summer of unrelenting demand, some of these events might just be the breather everyone needs.
Of course, there are some brutal ironies at work here. For many years, when it comes to attending trade shows, the exact opposite of the “heart grows fonder” principle has been true. Familiarity can and does breed contempt, and I’ll admit that after decades of a recurring slate of annual events, I became one of those people who, shall we say, fell victim to the ennui.
It’s true. I was often bored and, on occasion, became something of an arrogant snot about it. Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing friends and associates, but it all had become so rote and so unendingly predictable that it was easy to become cynical. And I have been far from alone. Shows have always been hosts to all sorts of kvetching about thin attendance, repetitive educational programs, shopworn social events, dirty drapes and drafty convention halls.
Naturally, there has always been the complaint that our shows “just aren’t what they used to be.” Funny thing is, I remember those good ol’ supposed halcyon days of trade shows, and back then, people complained just as much as they do now. It’s been the same story. Year-in, year-out, convention bashing has been something of a popular preoccupation.
In that sense, we might even look at this forced hiatus from conventioneering as something of a blessing in disguise. Maybe, just maybe, missing these enduring events is exactly what we all needed to reinvigorate our interest and participation in professional gatherings. And maybe we’re about to find out just how good it feels to return.
THE WAY BACK
It’s interesting to consider this in the context of what’s been happening in our industry during the pandemic. The pool industry, particularly the construction segment, has been anything but “locked down.” As has been widely reported, the industry has been experiencing unprecedented demand from homeowners looking to improve their at-home environments. Many builders are reporting backlogs already stretching well into next year.
It’s been a monstrous wave of activity that has pushed the industry’s workflow limits to the breaking point. Builders are reporting extreme exhaustion as a result of work weeks that consume nearly 100% of their waking hours, a pace that has been ongoing for a solid year. Add to that supply shortages and delays, and you’ve got an exhausting mashup of existential proportions.
Some might be tempted to ask, who needs to attend a trade show in the midst of all this frenzied activity? There is no need to work on developing a business when the hay is flying into the barn at break-neck speed, or so the notion goes.
Perhaps all of that adds up to the perfect time to take a break and attend a show. Maybe road-weary industry members can exchange ideas and encouragement and come away with renewed energy and fresh perspectives.
For my part, I’m eager for the impromptu conversations on the show floor and exhibit booths; the hugs, the stories, the dinners, the meetings, and I’m curious to see the new products that may have been introduced while we’ve all been away. When I think of all the friendly faces I’ve missed, all the humorous and serious discussions, I already feel a sense of growing excitement. Suffice it to say, those past feelings of futility I once carried into convention halls seem like they were from a different era, which in some ways is true.
When you add it all up, the upcoming show season might just be the happiest set of events the industry has ever seen. Perhaps going forward, we’ll remember how it felt to miss being with each other, and that might just turn out to be a truly beautiful silver lining. Ultimately, we do truly need each other, more so than most of us probably ever realized.
Look forward to seeing you soon!
Eric Herman is editor of WaterShapes Magazine and vice president of communications for Watershape University. He is a former senior editor with AQUA Magazine, a position he held for nine years, and a long-time member of the pool, spa and aquatics industry dating back to 1989, when he started as an associate editor with Pool & Spa News.
This article first appeared in the June 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.