A normal fireplace industry trade shows present a host of logistical challenges for exhibitors – from shipping appliances and related venting to building an eye-catching exhibit to support and showcase these products.
When we decided to show at the 2020 Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Exhibition (HPBE) in New Orleans in March, we had three months to prepare for the industry’s largest U.S. exhibition. That short window alone definitely presented enough of a challenge for our team.
As fate would have it, it turns out we were taking part in one of the last trade shows in America as a pandemic emerged full force – a challenge that neither we, nor anyone else, fully expected. The fact that it occurred in an early Covid-19 hot spot like New Orleans made it even more unique!
But hand sanitizer, elbow bumping and some sleepless nights aside, we can look back and say that the response we received from visitors to our exhibit over the two plus days made all the hard work and trepidation worth it!
Co-owner John Markham, Sales, and Marketing Manager Chris Weiner and Marketing Coordinator Tyler Craig arrived four days before the show to construct the booth to exhibit the nine new 2020 gas, electric, and wood fireplaces we shipped to New Orleans.
They worked 12-hour days with local tradesmen to build out a stunning display, with the show-stopping French-made Gyrofocus wood-burning fireplace, award-winning Dutch-made Element4 gas fireplaces, and our line of Halo electric fireplaces.
The day before the opening of the show, Co-Owner Holly Markham arrived with team members Kevin Simpson and Tara Hinds to help with the finishing touches. We were also joined by CEO Jan Kempers and David Adams from Element4 as well as Chris Cook from Evonic Fires The next day, the doors opened to the exhibition in the huge one million-square-foot Ernest Morial Convention Center on the banks of the Mississippi River and within five minutes, our booth was packed.
This despite being on the outside fringe of the huge hall. Defying common wisdom, we had a steady flow of enthusiastic and engaged visitors over two days. The pre-show email and print mail-outs we sent featuring our new product offerings clearly sparked an interest with dealers and other visitors.
Without a hint of hyperbole, we can say that we are overjoyed at the unanimous reception visitors gave to our Halo line of electric fireplaces, with their incredibly realistic flame picture, LED accents, and mobile app.
No news to us, of course. Kevin Simpson likes to recall the time we had a plumber changing out gas lines for the gas fireplace displays in our Middleton, Massachusetts showroom. Unbeknownst to him, a couple of the displays were our electric fireplaces. When he came to us with a perplexed look to say that he didn’t understand why these fireplaces were still producing flames with their gas lines disconnected, he confirmed why these fireplaces are considered to have the most realistic flame picture in the industry.
The Real Flame modern gas fireplace burners produced by Element4 garnered just as much attention. In fact, both the Sky M and Summum 140 models were recognized as finalists in the best gas fireplace category of the show’s prestigious Vesta Awards. Judging by the reaction of our HPBE visitors and current customers, they’re both worthy of top billing.
Meanwhile, the distinctive white Gyrofocus by Focus Fires – the ceiling-suspended fireplace that is as much a work of art as it is a fully functional wood and gas fireplace – was clearly the show stopper. It was the backdrop to so many selfies it’s probably still trending on Instagram!
The show closed three hours ahead of schedule on Saturday. From day one, HPBA officials wrestled with the decision about whether to cancel the event. Ultimately, they heeded the advice of the CDC and state officials, who didn’t ban large gatherings until the following Monday.
So along with the ConExpo event in Las Vegas and the AMOA event taking place at the Morial Center at the same time, HPBE 2020 will be remembered as the last trade show in America before a nationwide shutdown.
Kelly VanDermark, HPBA Vice President of Expositions and Events, told us afterward that show registrations were down 22% and exhibits were down 35% from the previous year. Much of that decline had to do with the ban on travel from China, while some domestic exhibitors and attendees also decided to skip the show.
As for us, we can say without a doubt that this was an event that we’ll never forget. We’re proud to share the products we care so much about with an industry represented by such talented, hard-working, compassionate people.
While this crisis will one day end, our gratitude to our customers, colleagues, competitors, countrymen, and global partners will never fade. Let’s not forget our entire tremendous European Home team too. Thank you to each and all!
Story by: Robert Conlin
Robert Conlin is a freelance writer living in Wiscasset, Maine. A former certified chimney sweep and retail stove shop owner, he has returned to his roots as a journalist/writer in producing enterprise reporting and online content for a variety of publications and companies.