How Bulk Material Handling Trade Show can (safely) return, using PACK Expo’s Framework

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How trade shows were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is something we’ve covered heavily on the AZO blog, but now it seems the whole idea of getting together to discuss ingredient handling solutions is finally getting off the ground again. 

Even after creating our own online tradeshow, AZO made it clear over the summer that we were excited to be collectively moving forward with the “new normal” associated with in-person industry events. Still, acknowledging potential Delta variant concerns and taking into account the stereotypical view of Las Vegas, those representing AZO weren’t sure of what to expect on the trade show floor at PACK Expo 2021. Fortunately, expectations were more than met, according to AZO vital sales engineer Mike Miller:

“At no point did I feel unsafe about the experience,” he said. “I only saw a handful of people choosing to not wear a mask. Most everyone was observing proper public health protocols. And that was encouraging because if there was just a complete disregard, then I would be wary about the future of trade exhibitions. Because PACK was such a positive experience, I’m not worried about going to another show. In fact, I’m more than willing to go.”

As the rest of the AZO team who traveled to PACK will tell you, there were many actions the show itself and the city of Las Vegas took to ensure the safety of those in town for the event. In this blog post, we’ll list the major actions industry trade shows can take to keep B2B connections thriving and the future of bulk material handling a cooperative and safe environment:

1. Mask mandates actually encourage masks

There are a lot of variables and decisions that individuals and their families can make when it comes to COVID-19, and getting to the purely factual data to make these decisions in a world of abundant information can be difficult. Still, experts from St. Jude Research Children’s Hospital (located in the same city that AZO Inc. is located) have weighed in with easy-to-understand question and answer blog posts we find extremely helpful. 

Though some voices online have tried to discredit the use of masks in preventing the spread of COVID, fact-checking by reputable sources explains the role they do play. Especially when it comes to traveling, many feel that mask mandates are currently the “most important aspect” trade shows can keep in consideration. 

“Las Vegas and PACK Expo required masks to be worn at the expo,” AZO application engineer Megan Wilson said. “I did see several booths not following this, but for the most part masks were worn and enforced.”

The difference between “encouraging” masks and communicating a mask “mandate” arguably will play a huge role in whether attendees actually wear masks. Similar 2021 trade shows in the industry have heretofore not required masks, and AZO sales manager poly/chem Dave Pippert said he felt safe at PACK.

“This was my 4th show since August of 2021,” Pippert said. “The only show that had a mask mandate was PACK Expo. At the other shows masks were recommended, however very few people were wearing them.”    

As tired as we all are of wearing them, masks remain an important means to communicate that an organization is mindful of safety in the COVID era, if nothing else. Still, there are certainly other ways to ensure safety at trade shows, which brings us to our next point:

2. Offering a large enough facility for conversations is critical

Striking a balance between well-attended, but not overly crowded is a tricky endeavor for trade shows in 2021. Miller estimated that attendance still was about half of what manufacturers might expect in pre-pandemic times. Still, in spite of the pandemic, AZO can report that it was a successful show based on the quality of the leads that we were able to talk to. The feedback from the AZO team about the flow of traffic at PACK expo was also positive. Here’s a picture of our booth at the event:

Most of the conversation took place around the perimeter of the space. As far as we could tell, no one felt that they were cramped and the conversation was able to commence from comfortable distances. Attendees could connect with our team, but also felt safe about their surroundings.

3. Air quality of the building is essential during gatherings

IAQ, or “Indoor Air Quality,” is something more important than ever in the COVID age. Healthy building certifications, as well as ventilation recommendations from the CDC, are more than worth looking into.

4. Providing hand sanitizer is another way to ease concerns

Reports from the team indicated that some sanitizer was present at PACK. Still, there could have been more. Those in the bulk material handling industry might be glad to know that bulk ordering options, as well as advancements in technology, exist for the world of hand sanitization.

5. Support from the surrounding city makes a difference

A final point that really makes a difference in the safety of a trade show these days is the surrounding city’s involvement and commitment to enforcing important protocols.

“People typically behave as if they’re far less inhibited than they would normally, so you might expect there to be a fair amount of shenanigans in Las Vegas,” Miller shared. “One of my big concerns was the likelihood of me getting COVID as a result of just being in a place that is geared toward unwinding, relaxing and letting go.”

Still, he found that nearly all in the service industry were prepared to keep the city safe.

“If someone was walking through the hotel without a mask on, the staff would hand them a mask and say ‘You need to wear this,’” he said. “They were enforcing it pretty well. Even around the city, in the casinos and restaurants and on the street people weren’t acting insane. This was encouraging. I was pleasantly surprised by that.”

All in all, the fears and concerns the AZO team might have had for visiting Las Vegas during pandemic times felt like a “tempest in a teapot,” in the words of AZO Sales Manager for Food Group David Wall.

“Most attendees wore masks and were respectful of distance,” he said.

In fact, AZO was more than excited to finally return to meeting and greeting anyone with questions or concerns regarding bulk material handling. We also have free, downloadable material on a variety of topics (including how to decipher the proper discharge aid for your application). AZO has more than seven decades of experience in the ingredient automation world and we’ve covered tons of other topics at length on our blog.

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