Emerald and Clarion Events Join Forces to Produce Safe and Successful Gift Events in Tennessee

December 17, 2020

Sometimes a little teamwork can go a long way. Emerald, owner of the International Gift Expo of the Smokies, and Clarion Events, which owns the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, recently celebrated a joint milestone for their companies – and the exhibitions industry overall – by pulling off productive and safe in-person trade shows last month in Tennessee.

To accomplish this feat during the pandemic, the event producers created Tennessee Market Week, a collaborative effort to safely and conveniently reunite brands, wholesalers and buyers from across both shows to form the gift, resort and souvenir industry’s most comprehensive buying events. 

Held Nov. 4-7, the 20th annual IGES took place at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, while the 55th Smoky Mountain Gift Show occupied the nearby Gatlinburg Convention Center. Combined, the events attracted hundreds of manufacturers showcasing apparel, accessories, souvenirs, décor, gourmet foods and jewelry.

To make the Tennessee Market Week experience more convenient and enjoyable for buyers, complimentary shuttles ran every 30 minutes to and from each convention center. 

According to Emerald and Clarion officials, the shows surpassed customer expectations and sales, despite the anticipated 60%drop in exhibiting companies and 30% decrease in attendance due to current market conditions and significant domestic and international travel restrictions. 

“Successfully [executing] IGES this year is a testament to supporting our commitment to our communities, and a positive first step forward for our industry as a whole,” said Lori Silva, executive vice president of Emerald’s Retail Group. “Producing a safe and secure environment at IGES was our top priority, and we are extremely proud of the IGES team and our amazing partners for implementing a stringent health and safety plan that delivered a strong, productive show that demonstrated the power of our industry to forge ahead and overcome challenges.” 

The SMGS attracted approximately 4,000 attendees and 270 exhibiting companies, compared to 2019, when 4,500 attendees and 340 exhibiting companies participated. Although Emerald did not release its attendance or exhibitor numbers by press time, the events touted a combined exhibitor list of more than 600 manufacturers.

While the drop in exhibiting companies wasn’t exactly cause for celebration for show organizers, it allowed participating exhibitors greater access to buyers to. This year, there were seven attendees per exhibitor compared to 2019, when there were 12 attendees per exhibitor. This not only resulted in more positive exhibitor sentiment scores, but also confirmed that the gift and souvenir community was ready and willing to connect face-to-face to source new products, replenish inventories and prepare for the upcoming holiday season.  

“I had no idea what to expect, but armed with optimism, hand sanitizer and samples, I thought I’d give it my best shot,” said SMGS Exhibitor Murffy Stevens, vice president of Monterey Import Co. “Things looked a little different with masks and social distancing, but…buyers were engaged and ready to write orders and the meetings were exceptional.”

Attendee feedback was also overwhelmingly positive about the return to live shows, the need for the events and the business that got done on the showfloor.

“Given the uncertainty we have all been facing much of this year, attending the IGES show in November was critical to the future success of our business,” said Don Henk, retail operations manager for Massanutten Resort. “[It] helped us maximize the sales and profitability of all our shops by allowing us to connect with our key vendors.”

In order to create a safe and productive business environment, both event management teams worked closely with the convention centers, service providers and state and local authorities to ensure strict adherence to the latest CDC health and safety guidelines. Prior to the events, each show implemented communications detailing their comprehensive health and safety plans: the We’ve Got You Covered Safety Promise for SMGS and Emerald’s Preparedness, Prevention & Response Plan for IGES, which were also outlined on their respective websites. 

On-site at both shows, safety protocols and precautions were strictly enforced, including physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, mandatory face coverings, one-way entrances/exits, transparent shields at all concession stands and daily temperature screenings.

While it goes without saying that it’s no easy feat to execute safe and productive trade shows during COVID-19, the rewards outweighed the challenges for both show producers. SMGS Show Director Christina Bell said it was inspiring to help facilitate a safe, productive and enjoyable meeting place for the gift, souvenir and resort community to reconnect and conduct business during such a difficult year. 

“We talk with our customers year-round and heard over and over the need and desire to return to a face-to-face setting, which is what encouraged us to find every way to meet in-person this year,” Bell said. “Our goal was to support the industry after a year where many had faced different hardships and provide a safe, productive and fun meeting space for them to get back to business.”

The International Gift Expo of the Smokies and the Smoky Mountain Gift Show will return Nov. 10-13, 2021.


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