Social distancing guidelines and other CDC recommendations made business as usual impossible in the past year. Many people worked remotely, communicating with both team members and clients via Zoom or email.
To many in the industry’s surprise, the work was still able to be done for the most part. But companies had to find completely new ways of doing business. The cancelation of in-person trade shows alone forced many longtime plans to change, and fast.
“The lack of trade shows and networking events has impacted the security industry,” says Michael Reyes of Guidepost Solutions. “We relied on those events to keep up with the latest developments in technology. Those who have succeeded in a COVID-19 environment found new ways to engage their customers. The entire world went through a change and everyone was required to find a new way to conduct business, including those who relied on trade shows. I think you will continue to see a growth in virtual events as people continue to rethink the need to gather in large crowds.”
Once it was evident that in-person events wouldn’t be happening for a while, the Security Industry Association (SIA) was quick to step in and find new ways to add value to members.
“ISC West was canceled, and that is one of our biggest events, so we decided that in spite of that, we would provide as much value as we could, taking the pulse of the industry, interpreting government regulations and programs,” says Pierre Trapanese of SIA’s board of directors. “We also coordinated virtual settings so people could get together and collaborate, learn and stay in touch.”
The Monitoring Association (TMA) also organized virtual gatherings for its members during the pandemic.
“We started weekly virtual town halls on March 24 where we shared strategies that member companies were using related to selling, installing, maintaining and monitoring systems,” says TMA’s Celia Besore. “We brought in subject matter experts on finance, banking, legal, sales and more. While typically these town halls would have been exclusive to TMA members, our leadership felt strongly that we needed to provide support to anyone that would need it, member or not, so they were open to all.”
After a year of these virtual events, it is clear that they have their flaws, as well as unexpected benefits.
“While we have all become Zoom experts, I think that in-person events will always have their place in business,” Besore says. “In many ways, virtual meetings have facilitated access to education and networking not previously available to some members. Also, we saw an increase in the number of participants from individual companies during virtual meetings. We could not have been able to provide our members with year-long information and education if we had not conducted virtual meetings. Still, we are social animals, and person-to-person contact will always have its place.”
Trapanese also fears people are missing out on the human connection that is such a big part of traditional trade shows.
“What we’re seeing is that in-person interaction and networking is important — not just from a business development standpoint, but from a human connection perspective,” Trapanese says. “When people are working from home, there’s a need for that emotional and social connection.”
A lack of in-person trade shows also meant a lack of eyes on new products or solutions in some cases, as the PowerHouse Alliance’s Dennis Holzer points out.
“The PowerHouse Alliance missed seeing colleagues at industry events, but I think it had the biggest impact on those manufacturers entering the space, or those who were introducing new products,” Holzer says. “All of the PowerHouse Alliance members offer self-serve showrooms where they highlight new products and new manufacturers, but if dealers are opting for delivery or curbside pick-up, they’re not going to see the featured new products.”
Large in-person events like ISC West may not be at the scale they once were for years. So as business moves online, professionals must adapt and put themselves in position to do their best work virtually.
“The re-opening process will be a challenge as there will be some give and take between the quick ramp up due to the pent up demand for maintenance, upgrades and other services postponed during the pandemic, and the cautiousness involved with continually monitoring local restrictions and guidelines regarding COVID-19,” says UL’s Steve Schmit. “We believe our customers will continue to expand product lines and introduce new devices and concepts to the market, but the method of sharing this information will most likely be online or in a hybrid model for some time to come.
“From a business perspective, I would recommend outfitting a virtual toolbox and building an infrastructure to support the toolbox. Web conferencing, online databases, cloud storage and tools to shift phone calls and emails between home and office are keys to maintaining business.”
Some believe that fewer in-person trade shows could be a good thing — both for fatigued employees and marketing budgets.
“I think there will be an attempt to regain the normalcy of the shows, but I feel that rushing to hold them before everyone is comfortable will do further damage to the long-term viability of the events,” says Rick Caruthers of Galaxy Control Systems. “I don’t expect the shows to be the same; I could see the pandemic causing a few of the smaller national events to have a hard time surviving. Perhaps that is what needed — less shows offered, driving greater attendance to the bigger and more concentrated shows.”
Amid all this uncertainty, one thing is for sure: the way security professionals do business will never be quite the same.
“While we will eventually get back to a more normal business life, there will be a new normal. … the goalposts will move,” says Ric McCullough of PSA Security. “We have to recognize that what we always did in the past may not be the best direction for the future. The one thing that will never change is that we live in a relationship business world. Those who stay focused on that fact and their customers will do well.”