THE RETURN OF THE TRADE SHOW - REUNITING IN-PERSON AT CONNEX2021
Prior to the pandemic, industry trade shows were an important part of our business strategy at NEST. They afforded in-person opportunities to visit with our partners from across the country, strengthen existing relationships, and forge new ones. We would share, collaborate, learn, and educate. We replaced the trade shows with webinars, Zoom meetings, and virtual everything for a year and a half. The goals were the same, but the experiences were much different.
In August 2021, we returned to an in-person format when six NEST representatives traveled to Maryland to join hundreds of others at CONNEX2021, the largest multi-site retail facilities management conference. As we reunited, the conversations initially veered to the past, then quickly looked toward the future. We took the opportunity to ask others in our network, including partners and friendly competitors, a series of questions. With permission from each speaker, we set out to learn from others and share their insights with our greater network beyond the trade show.
TRENDS THAT ARE HERE TO STAY
We asked fellow CONNEX2021 attendees and ConnexFM leadership about the way the pandemic changed organizational operations. Here is what they told us about the trends and procedures they think are here to stay in the facilities management industry:
“Remote working is going to be the one thing that's going to stay with us the longest. As always, doing more with less,” explained one attendee.
“I think how we're working now will be how we stay going into 2022. The hybrid remote system seems to work well,” explained another attendee.
Almost all the individuals we spoke with responded with similar sentiments that remote working or hybrid remote schedules were successful for their organization and will continue to be part of their organizational structure for the foreseeable future.
CEO of ConnexFM Bill Yanek said, “the use of technology in the hybrid environment is one thing that will stay. I don't think we're going to go completely virtual, but the technology and the remoteness are going to remain part of how we communicate.”
Ross Merkling of ASSA ABLOY noted, “So what I see going forward is that people are going to be much more focused on cleaning and ways to keep people safe. Because that will impact your customer returns.”
POSITIVE TAKEAWAYS SINCE MARCH 2020
As discussions continued, we heard about positive changes from the last 18 months. The CONNEX2021 attendees had a lot to say about the best takeaways since March 2020:
“It [the pandemic] brought our people together as a team, and we found ourselves being flexible and adaptable,” said one of our longtime partners. “We've always prided ourselves on being flexible and adaptable, but when something like the pandemic comes around, and the chips are down, people step up. There was the uncertainty of when things were going to happen. We’re in our 30th year in business, so we feel confident we are going to pull through anything, whether it be a recession or a pandemic.”
Another attendee noted their growth during the pandemic: “It created opportunities for companies like ours to grow. So, for us, the biggest thing is that we adapted and now we're benefiting from that growth.”
Our conversation with Matthew Whelan, CEO and founder of W Services Group noted, “Myself as an owner, along with our leadership team, looked at every single process. We figured out where we were having a positive impact on the future growth of the organization, and where we needed to modify, shift, and change. I think every company, every small business owner and entrepreneur, took it as an opportunity to better themselves and their organization.”
Yanek (of ConnexFM) added, “It [the pandemic] accelerated our use of digital technology. It's something we talked about, literally for years, that we wanted to digitally transform, and it forced us into high gear.”
The pandemic was difficult for many industries, but there were unique challenges to retail and facilities management. We asked the CONNEX2021 attendees about the complications and struggles they faced as a company during the pandemic:
From W Services Group, Whelan told us, “We were trying to keep people safe and healthy. It was a stressful time. We tried to make good decisions with the forefront goal of keeping employees safe and healthy."
Another attendee described their struggles with finding vendors during the height of the pandemic, stating: “By far, those first 90 days were really, really rough. And as a long-term result, 30% to 40% of the local vendors are basically gone. It’s a long-term effect that'll linger for years in the industry I think.”
Merkling (of ASSA ABLOY) added, “As we advance through the pandemic, it’s important to really focus on quality; yet there are times when a company is more focused on the budget. It's hard to see a customer that goes a cheaper route, knowing that they're going to have struggles because it’s not the right fit.”
With the holiday shopping season approaching, we asked CONNEX2021 attendees to share their predictions with us. Most responses noted the increased importance of e-commerce and how retail locations are adapting to the higher e-commerce demand. They also stressed how retailers must adapt to the consumers’ renewed interest in retail as entertainment:
Yanek (of ConnexFM) explained: “I think there will be an intense holiday shopping season. There is some optimism, and you see it around retail. So, I think people are going to be optimistic to spend and to shop. I think consumers want to feel the holidays.”
One CONNEX2021 attendee noted, “I think what we're seeing as it relates to vibe and traffic is that people want to go back and shop. They want to be out, and they want to be social. There are a lot of opportunities inside the facilities.”
Merkling (of ASSA ABLOY) explained, “So, I foresee a lot of curbside pickups happening. A lot of retailers have done a model where they've changed part of their store into an online fulfillment area. I have some customers that cut their stores in half and use half of the store as online fulfillment and the other half at retail. I see that concept growing this upcoming holiday shopping season.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
The outlook for 2022 seems bright and CONNEX2021 attendees are hopeful.
One attendee told us, “It depends on where you're at in the space. You have to figure out how to be different. Big companies like JC Penney's and Macy's, all these big box companies, have to reinvent the shopping experience. I think those that are figuring that out, that are reinventing the shopping experience, are the ones that are going to make it. You have to adapt and figure things out. And the brands that are doing it are having success.”
When asked about what is to come in 2022, Whelan (of W Services Group) said, “I think people just need to continue to communicate and work with one another in collaboration. It's all about collaboration because if you don't have that, nothing else works.”
As the leader of the trade show and ConnexFM, Yanek told us his thoughts about the future of facilities management by explaining, “We want to elevate the industry for both the suppliers and the facilities managers. Our FMs ought to be central to the strategic operations of the business, not just a cost center and not just someone you call when something is broken. They need to be in that entire conversation as a long-term play. FM should be talking with the architects, the engineers, the consultants, and the construction teams. FM is so integral to all of that, and leaders need to automatically recognize the FM industry as a partner.”