When the pandemic halted the trade’s exhibition circuit, a new breed of show sprung into action, promising a wealth of sourcing opportunities unavailable elsewhere, and striving to scratch the trading itch many were acutely feeling. In May's Furniture News, we look at how virtual shows have attempted to meet that demand, and whether or not they delivered. One of the interviewees featured is Mike Ogle, marketing & design lead and director of The Online Furniture Show, which runs until the close of Friday this week (30th April) …
Give us a brief summary of your event …
The Online Furniture Show is the immersive online solution for the furniture trade, by the furniture trade, helping all areas of furniture and interiors showcase products to just under 2000 retailers and growing. Our spring show ran from 26-30th April.
When and why did you get involved in the online event business?
The idea of an online show was brought to my attention by my fellow directors at The Online Furniture Show. In the mid-part of 2020, the possibilities for shows and field sales were lowering and delaying every day. With this ever-extending lockdown causing more shows to cancel and replan, David (one of our directors) began speaking with Peter (another director) about how it would be possible to create an online show platform that was as close to the real thing as possible, to help get furniture moving again.
I came on board shortly after that initial discussion between David and Peter, with Peter’s recommendation of my knowledge of front-end web design and marketing.
As well as technical knowledge, I also work with both suppliers and retailers in the furniture trade to help deliver online and physical print marketing. My ‘ear to the ground’ approach helped us to gauge opinion on both sides of the trade and to get a better understanding of what we should add into the show to further increase the engagement from retailers.
From exhibitor roster to content, interface and engagement, there’s a lot to consider – but which aspect is most crucial?
In my opinion, the most important part of our online show was the reporting functionality that enabled our exhibitors to see in-depth information about their presence at the show.
At the end of each day of the show, each exhibitor receives a report as to who had viewed their stand, what ranges they had viewed, and other key information. Following this, our exhibitors then distribute these to their sales teams, who have an accurate and updated list each day of the show, to call and discuss new ranges with.
This concept is something that helped set us apart from physical shows, and further increased the engagement of exhibitors using the platform.
Should online shows try to mirror physical events, or go their own way?
During lockdown, the purpose of our show as well as others was to fill the void created during the Covid crisis. Our aim was to create a platform that emulated as much as possible the physical shows – even going as far as to copy terminology like ‘halls’ and ‘stands’ to create a likeness retailers and exhibitors knew.
In the longer term, I think without doubt that online shows that persevere and continue post-2021 will need to adapt and change their offering to flourish when we eventually return to normality. To do that means to offer something the physical shows cannot – be it instant updates, international shows with less floorspace, or something else entirely.
What do you do better than anyone else in the virtual furniture show business?
Interactivity was our goal from day one, with key features like live chat and live visitor reporting being the main elements we knew would make our show the one to be at.
The different ways of putting together an online show have left the new category a bit of an unknown to both suppliers and retailers. We’ve seen platforms released that are almost a noticeboard with not a lot of detail or attractive content to keep visitors interested in the show.
We’re making more improvements to our platform to further boost our initial success, with features such as video chat and further visitor connectivity to improve the ‘show’ feel of our site.
Do you think physical exhibitions will ever be the same again – and what future do virtual shows have?
I think we will easily fall back into old habits not long after the last restriction is lifted. However, I would like to think people will begin to question why they do things the way they do them a lot more in the future.
Those who are travelling from afar to visit a show in the Midlands or London, not really knowing what they’re going to find when they complete their day of travel, might just start to believe there is a better way to what they’ve always known.
The future of virtual shows varies depending on who you ask, of course. For us, it’s moving more towards data and stock systems that can complement both physical shows as well as being of everyday use for retailers and exhibitors. The idea of being able to virtually browse a show stand before going and seeing it in person means people can make more informed decisions before they set foot in the trade halls.
Our future lies in DataHouse, our new data and product management system that powered our spring show. We’re excited to be bringing it to some physical shows this summer, with an aim of making it the universal home of furniture product data and pricing for the UK – as well as further afield, too.