NMBS’s Virtual Exhibition took place last month and focussed on the power tools, tools, fixings and workwear sector, bringing 25 suppliers from across the industry together with 421 individuals from 328 independent merchant businesses. It was sponsored by Draper Tools, Makita, Stanley, Forgefix and Toolbank.
NMBS Commercial Director Andy Hextall said: “It’s great to be able to meet up on a platform like this. It’s a new way to catch up, learn and identify opportunities, and we’re delighted with the support we’ve seen from our Members and Suppliers. We really wanted to put on an event for them in a year when so much has been put on hold.”
He continued: “We were conscious that we missed out on our usual exhibition through having to cancel it early on in the pandemic in April. A number of suppliers in those particular categories suggested that, if we were to do something as an alternative, then they would be keen to be part of it. The suppliers in that sector tend to be quite heavily promotional in the lead-up to Christmas so we thought if we focussed on power tools, workwear, fixings and tools it would give us range of suppliers who were willing to engage at a time of year when they are promotionally driven anyway.”
Hextall says: “This gave us that first taste of how a virtual event would be received, how it would work and how we could proceed with the format in the future.”
During the day-long exhibition, merchants were able to log on to the Exhibition platform from the comfort of their home or office. Once online, they could browse all the different suppliers to learn about the very latest products and services. Many of the suppliers also had exclusive Spot Buy offers and promotions available to online visitors, such as additional discounts on multiple purchases, or free products for offers over a certain amount.
Although the physical NMBS Exhibition could not be held this year, NMBS was keen to make the Virtual Exhibition as beneficial to merchants as possible, and so visitors also enjoyed the same rebate deals that they have become used to at the physical event. Exclusive rebate for those who logged in to the Virtual Exhibition ranged from 1% to 7.5% from selected suppliers, with these rebate deals extended to all orders placed in November.
On the Exhibition platform, each supplier was given a dedicated web page where they could post information about the company. Members could then browse the pages and arrange one-to-one meetings with the company’s sales and account managers, as well as watching video demonstrations of the latest products. A wide range of brochures and marketing material was also made available to view and download. Once merchants were satisfied with their choices, they were able to place their orders directly with the supplier via a dedicated email address.
To encourage members and suppliers to engage with each other as much as possible, the Exhibition’s Live Chat function allowed them to search through and contact a full database of everyone who had signed up to the event.
The NMBS team was also available throughout the day to offer help and guide members through the Exhibition.
Although it was headlined as an Exhibition, Hextall says that it was important to get across to members and suppliers that it wouldn’t be a traditional exhibition as normal. “What we essentially created was a platform that allowed members and suppliers to engage with each other and arrange those appointments and meetings that that they might have set up over the course of the year.”
NMBS partnered with events management company First Events whose virtual events team provided a choice of off-the-shelf platforms. ” We thought about what we really wanted from the event: suppliers wanted to engage and talk to members and the members wanted access to offers and to talk to suppliers, so the platform we chose was the best way of facilitating that and making it happen,” he says. “We built an appointments system into it to allow suppliers to manage the flow of their meetings with the members who wanted to talk to them.”
Although the Virtual Exhibition was in response to the unprecedented disruption to the industry caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Hextall says that, NMBS may well do similar events in the future.
“I think there will be an element of virtual still ongoing as we get back to normal. Not just in what NMBS does but the rest of the industry as well. We do all miss the networking side of things, and you’ll never replace that, but virtual platforms do allow for a kind of halfway house. You can have quicker meetings for those times when you need to talk but you don’t necessarily need to all be in the same room. If members or suppliers want to engage with a number of people for a short amount of time, they can do it very quickly and easily through a virtual platform. So, I think that virtual platforms will be part of the industry’s toolkit going forward. How big a part remains to be seen.”
As an exclusive treat for those Members and Suppliers who attended the Virtual Exhibition, entertainer and broadcaster David Meade took over Zoom on the afternoon before the Exhibition for an hour of magic, mindreading and entertainment. Meade was originally a hit at the 2018 NMBS Conference, where his keynote speech inspired the audience with his ability to read behavioural traits and tell what people were thinking. He joined the Virtual Exhibition to host a live, interactive event where he revealed that his mindreading tricks could even extend through the screen. He took the audience through a series of interactive tricks and mindreading exercises, where he was able to accurately predict what delegates were thinking.