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The annual pilgrimage to Anaheim fell prey to COVID this year. For us on the east coast, the promise of balmy weather, a respite from winter and a generally invigorating event is just not in the cards. Instead, the industry is engaging in a variety of ways to communicate the important January messages concerning new products, programs, distribution changes and more. What’s fascinating is the lack of cohesiveness, despite NAMM’s effort to get vendors to coalesce around their “Believe in Music” online extravaganza.

Are trade shows even relevant anymore?

As technology has changed our methods of communication, and in many cases writing big orders at NAMM is a thing of the past, do we really need this show? Naturally, the retort here is to point out the need for human connection, rekindling relationships and seeing friends and colleagues not normally visited during the year. That part I will personally miss, but much of the rest has become an anachronism. Add to that the significant cost incurred by all parties, and it begs the question as to the necessity for this yearly confab. My ears will not miss the cacophony of the drum hall, and my feet are relieved at not having to walk miles each day between the North Hall and Musical Instrument booths. Could there be a better way to convey information, start the year off on a good foot, and allocate this budget elsewhere?

Inconsistency among suppliers…

Within the community of manufacturers and distributors I work with, there appears to be no consistency in how to best approach a cancelled “physical” trade show. Some are being highly proactive, convening pre-NAMM online events, clearly laying out their sales and marketing plan. Others are working within the “Believe in Music” virtual show, and several are doing nothing at all. While it is understandable that exhaustion has set in for certain suppliers, especially those involved with Live Sound, this is the time of year to provide clear and concise information about the months ahead. I have already picked up on “Zoom Meeting Burnout” amongst several of our retail customers, which again reflects the times we live in, grappling with a still-uncertain marketplace, and a shifting set of retail circumstances to contend with.

Where did that money go?

Some suppliers are consciously taking the money saved and spending on marketing and consumer promotions. One distributor we work with used the savings to fund an aggressive free freight program, welcome news that will yield dividends. Another top name is offering instant rebates and allocating budget for signage, online training, content marketing and in-store events later in the year. I am sure some of our partners simply are relieved and shoring up financial reserves, as last year was tough to navigate for many. But despite all the upheaval, the general consensus is that “the show must go on”; we all hope by 2022.

I will miss our annual Korg-Ensoniq-Casio alumni breakfast at the Marriott – let’s plan on next year!

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