Trade Exhibition Sector with global annual business turnover at par with important segments such as medical and surgical equipment is playing a critical role in developing, nurturing and contributing directly to national and international economies. The constant focus on innovation, brand building and buyer-seller interaction at trade fairs has acted as a catalyst in boosting growth of the MSME sector in India and has had far-reaching impact on several other industries.
One of the leading homegrown exhibition company in India, ABEC plays an important role in spearheading thought leadership for shaping up the industry. However, with trade activities plunging in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended global economies and industries, the past months have also witnessed devastation of the MICE industry of which exhibitions are part. Cancellations owing to safety concerns and with centers being appropriated for pandemic contagion control isolation facilities, this industry has definitely been impacted to a great extent all over the world. When one talks about exhibitions and trade events in India, one can recall sharply the blitzkrieg campaigns of Acetech expos – India’s leading exhibition on architecture, construction and design, which has attracted attention of all the major megapolis.
The credit for this goes to the Gandhi Brothers who have mastered the art of putting focus on an industry showcase like no other trade convention. In the last two decades, the Gandhi Brothers, Sumit and Manish Gandhi, have been synonymous with trade shows in India. Their proud heritage of organizing an ensemble of high-energy and highly influential expos which include, elite bridal and Lifestyle expos and expos in other forte segments like real estate, travel, education, safety & security and professional audio visual, besides the flagship Acetech expo, has cemented their company, ABEC/ITE, as one of the leading exhibitions organisers in the country.
Exhibition Showcase spoke to the infallible duo who has been working round the clock, assessing the current situation and spearheading meaningful dialogue and interaction with government bodies and industry stakeholders alike, to understand why they remain optimistic despite the impediment and what vision and mission they can share to assure that expos and shows will go on.
ES. The expo biz or rather expos are on a all-time low; given the bleak environment do you see them doing a phoenix rise?
SG: In all my years, empathizing with the building materials manufacturers and providing them their most important need – interaction with the trade on a neutral, independent, reputed, robust platform, which is Acetech, I cannot imagine any replacement for the annual expo exercise. At trade gatherings manufacturers experience first-hand impression of new products, which are verified immediately, converting to business done on the shop floor. For ABEC/ITE as a company, there is only one eventuality, for us it’s only a matter of patience until the present environment turns around 180 degrees. I truly believe that this industry is exceedingly resilient and will definitely recover in time.
MG: I couldn’t agree more; the return of face-to-face trade expos is the only eventuality. Our group provides life-blood to the building materials industry and other industry segments the world over under the HYVE ITE brand. We have constant contact with our exhibitors and the industry for all sectors, be it Acetech in building materials sector or the PALM AV-ICN expo in pro sound audiovisual sector or Secutech in the security sector or Glamour in the Lifestyle sector, and industry feedback is overwhelmingly unanimous in that, expos are their life-blood and they will return to expos.
In order to ensure the phoenix rise, we at ABEC ITE have adopted and adapted aggressively to the new paradigm of working remotely during the lockdown. The transition to “work from home” has been smooth and seamless. In fact, we have been a lot busier, working 24×7 as we are now urged to propel harder than ever before. We have used this situation to our advantage, keeping our workforce at ABEC ITE engaged and providing productive business continuity to our clients. My home has been transformed into my office HUB, this is the new normal and I am loving the challenge that has been unwittingly thrust on me. In the last three months, since the lockdown was announced in March, we have analysed the full spectrum of our strengths and weaknesses, have identified areas of improvement and charted out an effective CRM strategy to meet goals, which are in tandem to the new normal. ABEC ITE will be at the forefront of the 180 degree turn around that we are envisioning for the exhibition industry. It is just a matter of time. This turnaround will subsequently play a catalytic role in resurgence of MSME sector and the overall economy. We are also proud to be contributing towards a highly critical campaign for the survival & revival of the Indian exhibition industry, called India MICE Alliance. With ITPO heading this initiative, the entire stakeholders of our industry have got together to whether this storm.
ES. How do you imagine the gathering of such humungous crowds, as witnessed at your expos can be organized to contagion free events?
MG: I’m happy to note your perception that our expos are distinguished by populous attendees. Yes, attendee turnout as large as 25,000+ is a challenge. ABEC/ITE however is already well distinguished for setting high standards in production values. Our expos are posh and employ best practices of global standards, which is why diverse industry segments support without hesitation our diverse portfolio of expos. We anyways have always employed and spared no expense in providing safety standards, hygiene and emergency response to any eventuality; it could be fire or a natural act. our diverse portfolio of expos. We anyways have always employed and spared no expense in providing safety standards, hygiene and emergency response to any eventuality; it could be fire or a natural act. Coming back to your question, as pioneers in the exhibition field, we are well positioned to quickly adapt to a new way of organizing expos. ABEC ITE boasts of a gamut of shows, which attract huge numbers and it is this experience of more than two decades, which will help us adapt to the new normal. We have already initiated steps towards preparing a roadmap, which will meet all social distancing requirements mandated by the government. We have prepared a detailed checklist of dos and don’ts which chalks out every minute organizational aspect, right from how to prepare a coherent floor plan to providing a safe experience for exhibitors and visitors, to streamlining the onsite registration process through contactless check-ins for visitors, visitor screening and management. Altruism is our ethos, for the larger good of industry, we intend to circulate this list via the CIEO & IEIA to other expo organizers as well.
We are in fact looking at doing a unique pilot project. We would be the first movers in this space and this project certainly adds a new dimension to ABEC ITE as a leading exhibition organizer in India. We are already in talks with ITPO and a number of other venue authorities and nodal Government bodies and are sharing blueprints for this pilot expo, which will be a first of its kind after the pandemic, wherein contagion control design for crowd control and footfall flow will be executed. We will be announcing this project very soon. The pilot project by ABEC ITE is sure to instill confidence back into the market and back into exhibitions. With this project, we will be playing a leading role in advancing the Indian exhibition industry to a new growth model, which will be safe for everyone. The project will lay the path for the entire industry to follow. This is just the beginning! It is a matter of a few trials and we shall soon possess the wherewithal of attendee safety. We are confident, as I believe that our vision and mission is to get expos back on track.
ES. How is it that all your expos enjoy unprecedented support by marquee manufacturers?
SG: We invest strongly in our trade shows, in terms of production, publicity, content and features and we identify with the trade. Our philosophy is to belong to the trade – Mind, Body and Soul. We are guided by the needs of the trade, which is primarily time and place to develop their industry and professionals. Our teams operate in tandem with professionals and actual users in such manner wherein the industry knows for sure that we work for their ends and purposes. We take our role as industry platforms very seriously. This leads to meaningful expos, which provide solutions at every level to the trade, therein attracting marquee manufacturers in every expo segment. This is as much the guidance of our international parents ITE UK.
MG: ABEC ITE events stand out from other expos because of the fresh and vibrant approach to branding and marketing. The strong visual appeal of our colorful and lively hoardings and eye-catching brochures and marketing collateral are industry benchmarks, which other expo organisers, both national and international strive to emulate. ABEC ITE are pioneers in enhancing brand equity through celebrity endorsements. We are the first expo organisers to get superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Sharukh Khan, Ranveer Singh and AR Rahman, to name just a few, to support our shows. I believe that the advent of social media marketing for trade shows in India was also prompted by ABEC’s increasing use of digital marketing and social media platforms for all our shows. Even during the lockdown our team was improving communication channels with key exhibitors by actively engaging with them, while also connecting them to influential buyers through webinars and live social media interactions. To summarize, ABEC ITE has been a trendsetter in the exhibition domain and this is reason why we have always enjoyed exceptional support from our exhibitors.
ES. Considering that ABEC has been active on the use of digital and social media marketing, what is your opinion of Virtual expos?
MG: The emergence of online formats does not eliminate the need for physical expos. Trade shows will always remain important as they generate new business connections, networking and interaction. Exhibitions are tangible, and offer prospects that simply can’t be recreated online, even in the most accurate VR world. The value of face-to-face meetings and the value of seeing and feeling products along with hands-on training are crucial and irreplaceable. Though we do not strongly believe in virtual expos as a standalone solution, we do think that they can be greatly leveraged as a value-add to the physical expo.
ES. The exhibition industry is all about people interaction, exchange of ideas and hands-on experience of technology and solution. The current situation has put this in peril. What is your advice to the exhibition industry fraternity going forward?
SG. Undoubtedly, the exhibition industry is severely impacted, but it is imperative that we recognize and embrace this as the new normal and focus our energies and resources in patiently organizing expos in tandem with SOPs laid out by the government, while also identifying content and new growth opportunities, which could expedite the 180 degrees turnaround, as mentioned earlier.
MG: Safety at our events has always been of great importance to us, this ethos validates our commitment to sustainability. Unfailing systems and safety of people is a priority at ABEC ITE and we continue to be committed to improve and enhance safety and sustainability of our events. We are pioneers in this field and we will aim to remain at the forefront of driving change within the events industry. Our advice to the exhibition industry is to stay focused and determined in finding ways to ensure safety and sustainability of events. If we provide additional benefits to our exhibitors and visitors and make them feel safe and secure through platforms that are sustainable in the current situation, once the number of Covid positive cases plummet and the disease wanes, our industry will be in a good position to kick start and mitigate the damages we have incurred so far.
ES. How are you putting new safety ideas and guidelines in place and being part of the actual change?
MG: Besides all the efforts we are taking to put new safety ideas and guidelines in place and test these measures through our pilot project mentioned earlier in this interview, we are also a part of the core advisory committee of India MICE Alliance Campaign. This initiative has brought together all segments of MICE industry to collectively review the situation, identify opportunities for future, propose protocols in a structured manner and prepare the industry to open up post the pandemic. The foremost aim of this initiative is Survival & Revival of the industry and guidelines being proposed by this committee will be soon circulated as a government advisory. IMA has now finalized the SOPs that contains a list of measures for the re-opening of exhibitions in India. ABEC ITE will continue exploring innovation and excellence in achieving effective solutions – from concept to completion.