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Jump-Starting 2021 with New, Exhibitor-Friendly Policies

by Jeanne Brei

As one of the largest service contractors in North America, Fern Expo is best known for its personalized approach to service and has been looking for ways to help the tradeshow industry come roaring back once the government gives it the green light.

Fern 1Rate flyerFern has announced in the last couple of weeks that they have changed their exhibitor refund policy to make it “much more comfortable and exhibitor-centric” (guaranteeing 100 percent refunds if a show cancels after the client makes a commitment) and they have debuted Fern 1Rate, simplifying their material handling costs so that it is now completely inclusive and based on a per-pound rate. They believe that “calculating material handling charges should not require an advanced degree,” and their new 1Rate provides exhibitors a single per-pound rate that is predictable and provides certainty and budget predictability. With no minimums, no overtime charges, no marshaling yard fees, no special handling fees, no small package fees, no late fees and no warehouse fees, the new 1Rate is the actual weight multiplied by the rate. That rate may change from show to show as Jim Kelley, VP, marketing & industry relations, explains, “Pricing for 1Rate, as with most services provided by Official Service Providers, is adjusted based on local market conditions, the facility, and the contract with the show organizer; that will not change. However, the simplicity of the model will allow exhibitors to predict their expenses more accurately upon committing to an event and assist significantly in effectively managing their show expenses and budget. With the removal of weight minimums, overtime charges, special handling fees, and many of the other fees and surcharges typically associated with material handling, we have added a level of transparency that is important in business and in high demand by exhibitors.”

Jim Kelley Fern ExpoKelley (pictured right) continues that “the inspiration and shift to 1Rate are based on our internal discussions, conversations with organizers as well as exhibitors, and in large part, post-event surveys. A large part of our core business approach is the continual evolution of the service offering we provide to both organizers and exhibitors. The release of OneView evidences this, [one of] the industry’s first true Exhibitor Service Portals, in the spring of 2019. This year we followed with the announcement that we changed our Exhibitor Refund Policy to make it much more comfortable and exhibitor-centric. Then you add in 1Rate, which was released this month. While both the revised exhibitor refund policy and 1Rate were in the queue, the intentional release of both of these was primarily to help show organizers in their efforts to get exhibitors to commit to events as we head into 2021.”

On the hopes that tradeshows may be allowed to return as early as next year, Kelley adds that “1Rate is available now for any show organizer who would want to shift the Material Handling pricing model they are offering to their exhibitors. At the time of this announcement, the OneView Exhibitor Service portal for our remaining events through 2020 was already active and therefore utilized the traditional Material Handling model for those events. Moving forward, customers with events in Q1 of 2021 and beyond who we are in the planning stages with have overwhelmingly let us know they will be shifting to this model and having both Fern and NexxtShow offer 1Rate to their exhibitors. That said, we have had a handful of shows testing this model over the last couple of years and have proven its effectiveness from efficiency and customer satisfaction standpoints.”

Sherry Johnson AHort Sherry Johnson, VP, knowledge & business advancement at AmericanHort, the green industry’s leading association, has partnered with Fern for more than 40 years to produce Cultivate, their annual signature event. Says Johnson, “Cultivate is the horticulture industry’s premier professional development event with the largest all-industry tradeshow, best-in-class tours and workshops, and the most comprehensive professional, technical and staff development opportunities. We have had the pleasure of partnering with Fern for more than 40 years. We truly look at Fern as an extension of our staff, a true partner in our success.”

Regarding Fern’s new policies, Johnson says, “We are very happy with the new offerings Fern is providing and plan to share them with our exhibitors who will be very appreciative after enduring such a tough year. We are very optimistic that we will have the ability to conduct face-to-face events at least by the second quarter of 2021. I hope there is a quick return to normal,” adding that “we believe a virtual event and even a hybrid event will bring several positives to attendees that may not be able to travel and we plan to incorporate some aspects to our conferences after having a very successful Cultivate virtually in 2020. But we know, for our green industry, they will never replace the value of human connections at a face-to-face event. We will bring this much needed platform for our members to conduct business as soon as we can.”

Diane Vidoni eMerge Americas

Another Fern client, Diane Vidoni, COO, eMerge Americas, produces the annual eMerge Americas tech conference—which convenes more than 16,000 attendees from more than 40 different countries to connect startups, investors, higher-ed, corporate enterprises and government officials to spur investment and innovation, and to help create a sustainable and thriving tech hub. Says Vidoni, “In my current role with eMerge Americas, we’ve been working with Fern/Nexxt since 2017. However, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the team as early as 2014,” adding that “the upcoming eMerge Americas conference is scheduled for April 26-27, 2021, in Miami Beach. We did not hold our event in 2020, as our original dates were March 30-31 and then pushed to early November (needless to say, this was very disappointing all around).”

Vidoni continues, “I’m confident we’ll be using 1Rate, OneView and the updated cancellation policy. These impressive new policies provide a sense of assurance when engaging sponsors and exhibitors. We are very hopeful that we will be able to host our annual event in April 2021, and we know Fern/Nexxt will be with us and supporting both eMerge and our partners throughout the process.”

Even Fern’s competitors have begun simplifying material handling and refund policies. Freeman, one of the world’s largest brand experience Janet Dell Freemancompanies with more than 90 years as an industry leader, has also taken steps to simplify budgeting for the exhibitors. Janet Dell (pictured right), who was named president and COO on Nov. 1, says, “We applaud Fern for joining Freeman in taking these steps to make returning to live easier. Last September, we launched the most comprehensive customer service enhancements in the industry, designed to improve and simplify the exhibitor experience. In our two-year pilot and in the months before COVID, we converted 150 events to our easy, single rate per pound material handling, serving nearly 30,000 exhibitors and handling 65 million pounds. That, combined with our greater empty return visibility, priority empty return, exhaustive library of health and safety best practices, 100 percent refund on many standard exhibit rental offerings, and deep cancellation discounts on many other services, is meant to make tradeshow exhibiting more simple. In fact, since March, we have had over 2,075 events cancelled and have refunded over $45 million to exhibitors. The organizations we serve are faced with new challenges. Freeman is ready to help them be successful!”

The Pack Expo and the NAB Show were two of the frontrunners in transforming the exhibitor experience. They understood, even before the pandemic, that it was time to challenge and change old industry paradigms, like drayage. COVID-19 just made it even more critical. As ECN reported in July 2019, NAB ShowCares launched several new programs to increase exhibitor ROI and simplify participation.  Their new programs included:  Unlimited Material Handling, The Greatest Internet Pricing of the Decade, No Surprise Electrical Pricing and Hanging Signs Made Easy.

Amanda-Helgemoe-The Exhibitor Advocacy Group was established to advocate for exhibitors—to encourage the industry to work together to build better shows. Amanda Helgemoe (pictured left), Nuvista Event Management Services CEO and a founding member of The Exhibitor Advocacy Group, says, “This wave started with Tradeshow Logic and NAB ShowCares with programs that saved exhibitors 20-40 percent, and we’re excited to see Fern, Freeman and others joining the effort to drive change and increase exhibitor ROI. Exhibitors are looking for transparency and cost savings as they re-evaluate their programs moving into 2021.”

Tradeshow Logic CEO BJ Enright concurs and explains, “The combination of our divergent position in the industry and the Tradeshow Logic Multi-contractor model of producing shows gives us a unique view into the trends and directions of both the general contractors and the exhibit designers and producers. Within each community there are rising innovators. Amongst the general contractors, Fern is one to watch—1Rate for material handling and their new cancellation policy are definitely steps in the right direction. Tradeshow Logic has long been a proponent of simplifying and reducing (even eliminating) drayage rates. We have had TL Online for 20 years, which is an Amazon.com-like technology that powers our ‘multi-contractor model.’ Additionally, The Expo Group has been providing ‘one-stop shopping’ for clients for 20 years, as well.”

BJ-Enright-pixEnright (pictured right) continues, “As show producers, the power lies with us to drive change for our exhibitors. It is critical that we review our exhibitor order data to understand where our exhibitor pain points lie. One rate, while certainly simple and easy-to-budget, does not necessarily mean the rate is lower. Be careful to capture and analyze your show ordering data and customize your pricing and package strategies based upon the needs of your exhibitors.”
Looking forward to 2021, Enright adds, “Education, networking, and bringing buyers and sellers together have always been and will always be a cornerstone of the event industry no matter the channel: physical, virtual or hybrid. I hope that when we ultimately return to producing physical events, no matter when that occurs, we will look back upon COVID-19 and see it as the watershed moment that it is—the dividing point which forced us as an event industry to look inward and make changes that have been debilitating our industry for decades.”

Also looking towards 2021, Freeman’s CEO Bob Priest-Heck (pictured left) says, “We expect shows to open up gradually in different regions as restrictions change across the United States. Our proprietary data confirms this; confidence in returning to in-person events is trending up across all key segments (attendees, organizers, exhibitors and brand marketers), with Fall 2021 as the timeframe for most to return. Events may be smaller and more regional initially, as we are already seeing, which offers the chance to increase personalization for a truly impactful attendee experience. We expect to move away from the idea of live as a moment in time and space, and instead think of it as an ongoing, multi-platform conversation. We now have the opportunity to deliver greater value and deeper connections than ever before.”

eMerge Americas’ Vidoni is also “very hopeful that the industry will begin to bounce back in 2021. I believe we will have a gradual return, and hybrid meetings will be here to stay in some format. But I firmly believe that business is done face-to-face and our industry fosters this and we will do all we can to get back to some ‘sense of normal.’”

AmericanHort’s Johnson agrees and says, “We appreciate Fern taking a look at what they can do to help jump start the industry by introducing 1Rate and the new cancellation policy. Fern has stood by their clients and bravely taken the lead to help bring the event industry back up and get it running again. We are all ready to put 2020 behind us and get things back on track, together!”

Aaron Bludworth (pictured right), Fern president & CEO, sums it up by saying, “At its core, 1Rate addresses what is perhaps the most confusing and frustrating aspect of the exhibiting experience, that of proper calculation of material handling. We feel strongly that it should not be that way. The new model provides the exhibitor a level of predictability when it comes to calculating their expenses associated with tradeshow participation. This financial predictability will be incredibly important as we head into 2021, and exhibitors begin to return to live events.”

This story originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2020 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 22-24. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_nov-dec_2020

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