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2021 Gibtown Trade Show Poised to Restart Industry
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Supporting an essential industry gathering and the need to meet in person, when it comes to the 2021 Gibtown IISF Tradeshow, midway professionals are determined to keep alive the traditional, time-tested, entertainment industry motto – the show must go on!  The 2021 “Super Trade Show and Extravaganza” – will celebrate its 53rd anniversary February 16-19 at the famed International Independent Showmen's Association Club in Gibsonton, Florida.  

The decision to commit to holding a live, in person convention – making the fair and carnival industry likely one of the first industries to do so – was not an easy one to reach.  The decision procession required “much thought and consideration” - according to the IISA website – before the organization “decided to move forward with our scheduled event.”

Safe Event

The main factor in formulating the decision in favor of meeting was the ability to ensure the health and safety of attendees.  Following CDC – as well as state and local –  guidelines, this year's Gibtown Trade Show will feature the predictable array of protocols and other mitigations that have become commonplace in our daily lives.  These include: mandatory face masks, temperature checks, hand washing & sanitizing stations and social distancing protocols.

 “Our main objective was always to have a safe convention,” said Theresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary, IISA. “We will be giving out free bottles of hand sanitizers to all attendees. We will also use more outside areas rather than being enclosed.”

Rimes also points out that the Showmen's club facility has hosted a number of events since Florida eased its shelter in place restrictions in the summer.  The organization has a proven track record of hosting safe events, strictly adhering to mandated guidelines.  Gibtown organizers have also discounted exhibition booth fees to vendors by 50 percent across the board, and lowered attendance fees to $10 for non-members.

As the first industry event of the year, the International Independent Showmen's Association (IISA) always holds a high-profile position, a meeting where the preceding year is assessed and the upcoming season is essentially (if unofficially) launched.  This year the event takes on a very unique responsibility.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many major conventions in 2020, such as those by the ?International Association of Fairs & Expositions  (IAFE)  and International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) as well as a host of smaller meetings, conferences and other essential events, transitioned to an online format, or were outright cancelled.

Ironically the IISF Tradeshow and convention now bookends the pandemic, it was the final, pre quarantine event and the first in-person convention of the New Year, which hopefully is the first chapter of a post-pandemic year.



Need to Meet

It's impossible at this point to forecast the success of the show, but it seems that in such uncertain times, having the industry return to some semblance of normalcy is important.  “People want to get out, it's been a waiting game, and now that the vaccine is available, people are ready to meet,” she said.  “We need to set an example, as an industry we need to show that everything is going to be okay.”  

Even in non-pandemic years, attendee and even exhibitor registration for the trade show lags through the Christmas Holiday, then bursts with energy, accelerating throughout the month of January.  This year seems even more hectic as the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and how it will shape the 2021 fair season continues to impact decision making.  The Gibtown Trade Show is held in conjunction with “Florida Week,” an essential industry series of meetings and other events by NICA and the OABA.  This essential, multifaceted week of industry conferences and other events culminates with many Florida Week attendees visiting the Florida State Fair, which usually opens as Florida Week concludes.

RELATED STORY:  Facing Challenges: OABA & NICA Finalizing 2021 Florida Week.  Reopening Seminars, NAARSO Certification, & H-2B Meetings Highlight Educational Series

This year however, the Florida State Fair has been rescheduled from February to April. “We are two separate things so I do not think the Florida State Fair being rescheduled will affect us.”

Nonetheless, from attendance levels to programming, this year's Gibtown Show will have inevitable modifications.

“Some people are not able to attend, and we understand that,” said Rimes. “It will be a different trade show, we all accept that.  But companies know the importance of attending. Some exhibitors who cannot come are at least sending signage and other materials. Other companies have reduced their footprint, reserving fewer booths and reducing their booth space.  But they are still supporting us and know the importance of the show.”

She added, “We all just want to get back to work, that's what we are hearing from people. We all want to move forward with our businesses. That's why people are still coming.”

RELATED:  JKJ Workforce to Hold H-2B Seminar During Gibtown Trade Show

Starting Somewhere

The consensus seems to be the that the industry comeback from the coronavirus should begin at the 2021 Gibtown Show.  “We have to start somewhere,” said Jack Cook, President of Bob Space Racers.  “At some point we have to get back to business and Gibtown is a great place to start.”

For this leading manufacturer of midway games, the Gibtown Trade Show will its first public appearance and product showcase since the 2020 Amusement Expo International, which was held in New Orleans in March, just before the country went into lockdown.  In addition to completing orders and introducing a new line of coin-operated group games, the company responded to the coronavirus outbreak by producing a ventilator device for emergency situations and a line of sanitizer dispensers, although Cook added that demand for both has declined as the market became saturated by similar products.

“The world may change after this COVID pandemic, but we have a plan to change along with it,” said Cook. “Gibtown is a great place where we all can get a handle on where we are going.  In our business, we always move ahead.  It may rain every day at one fair, but we are still going to have games on the midway and we are always going to go the next one.”  

“We support the industry and businesses that make up the industry,” said Hutch Costello, Sales Manager, Rhode Island Novelty, Inc. “We have been involved with the Gibtown Trade Show since the 1980s. We believe customers and friends will be coming.  You always have a couple dozen sectors of the carnival industry at this show.  We are all eager to get back to work.”

He added, “we've adjusted to the realities of lower attendance.  We've cut down to nine booths, down from 19, but that will allow for more social distancing.  The important thing is to be there and meet in person.”

Costello noted that with the cancellation of the IAAPA convention and trade show as well as other events have caused a dearth of showcasing opportunities.  The pandemic disrupted the supply chain of Plush, but many of those factories have reopened and the company is eager to introduce its 2021 line, which will have its premier at Gibtown.

What plush trends will carnival companies, games concessionaires and other midway vendor be looking for this year?
“We are showing our new 2021 plush line, good things,” said Costello. “Generics over licensed products are what is in demand. We saw a dip in licensed plush pre-COVID and we anticipate that will continue. We have our own design team and we've been working overtime creating unique designs.”

Some of the cute and cuddly merchandise sure to incentivize midway gamers include: Belly Buddies with Baby – a spinoff of the company's Belly Buddy series, now featuring Belly Buddy characters with offspring – yes, each these Belly Buddies come with their own mini-me; Dozy Animals, Aliens, and the Plump Pals.

 “We hope this spring will be a turning point,” said Costello. “We are all coming off the worst year ever, but hopefully with the vaccines in place, we will be in a better place.  It's not over, but we've not giving up.  We had a tough 2020, but people want to get out, they need family entertainment.”



Industry Resilience

“We will be as big as everybody will allow,” said Lee Stevens, IISA president and owner of Ju-Lee Concessions.  “We are not closing down.  We understand that some people may be a little worried about COVID and may not be able to come, but we still need to meet and move forward.  The show is always informative, and it's always more about the exchange of ideas and we need that more an ever.  We have several seminars on how to conduct business under COVID regulations, and how to provide a safe environment in 2021.”

Due to the global disruption of all business sectors, usual pricing and other contracting issue have been immensely impacted.  “It's a very challenging time. But many of the companies exhibiting will be offering more lucrative pricing and other financing deals, as they vie for new business.  If you want to know the changes in the industry for 2021, this is the place to be.”

He added, “The nature of our business is that we are resilient.  We are used to making it by our wits.  We are facing this crisis and we are going to get through it, just like we got through the dustbowl and the great depression.  No matter how much doom and gloom, our industry has the drive to get through this crisis.”
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