The one thing during the pandemic that I have missed much more than others is the face-to-face interactions that occur throughout our industry.

A month prior to the widespread shutdown I was at the massive AHR Expo and KBIS-IBS trade shows and then the legacy WIT and Embassy (now combined as The Commonwealth Group) buying group meetings. We left Embassy in Miami on a Friday and by the time the following Tuesday rolled around, we were working remotely and under lockdown in our lives.

Unfortunately, that byproduct of the COVID-19 crisis is still wreaking havoc on the in-person part of the equation, particularly when it comes to large gatherings where, for most, air travel is required.

As you know by now, ASA’s NETWORK2020 in-person gala in Chicago has pivoted to NETWORK2020 Virtual, a two-day program jam-packed with a ton of educational, business-enhancement, and yes, networking opportunities. NETWORK2020 Virtual takes place Oct. 7-8.

At the live NETWORK events, a key staple is the wholesaler-distributor and vendor conference appointments. Pandemic aside, those still will occur in virtual Zoom settings Oct. 8 where if you are a manufacturer and want 10 of your key employees to experience what one of these meetings is like, you can do just that. In fact, for the entire NETWORK 2020 Virtual program, you can give access to all your employees for the low one-time registration cost of $99.

ASA also is excited about the other marquee networking opportunity at NETWORK2020 Virtual — a first-of-its-kind virtual trade show that will bring manufacturers across the PHCP-PVF supply chain together under one roof to showcase products and share key initiatives with NETWORK attendees, while still having the ability for that 1-on-1 interaction through a virtual chat function. The ASA virtual trade show takes place Wednesday, Oct. 7, with the show hall open from 8 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. (Central). The ability to live chat with manufacturers runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Central). All registered distributor members and their employees will be granted access.

In pulling this part of the program together, ASA made sure it partnered with a superstar who knows exactly how to provide attendees with a valuable and memorable experience. Thus, ASA turned to industry veteran Stephanie Ewing and her new company RockStar Business✮Services, a sales and marketing augmentation services firm whose motto is by investing in the right tools and support, all businesses can achieve star status.

Well-known throughout the industry, and a longtime supporter of ASA initiatives as a founding council member of ASA's Women in Industry division, many also know and have worked with Ewing in her roles with Watts Water Technologies and the AD buying and marketing group.

How it all started

Ewing came up with the idea of bringing the virtual trade technology to our industry after walking those same AHR Expo and KBIS-IBS show floors in Las Vegas and Orlando earlier this year.

“I saw the number of initiatives companies were trying to promote,” she says. “I realized everyone had a lot of work on their hands this year. I thought about how expensive it was for the exhibitors as well as the attendees to travel. I thought about stakeholders that never make it to a trade show. When I returned home I developed my virtual show services offering. The premise is to bring technology and trade shows together. The goal is to develop the ultimate reach, connect with potential buyers and influencers in ways never imagined, stay in front of them consistently and incentivize them in new and different ways.”

Ewing’s first foray into this universe occurred earlier this year with the launch of the InnovateMMXX virtual trade show program series that specifically focused on driving new product awareness in the kitchen and bath industry. “It went extremely well,” she reports. “The timing couldn’t have been better, and it helped me accomplish something I am passionate about and that’s driving innovation.”

So what can visitors expect when they arrive at the ASA virtual trade show on Oct. 7? “They can expect to be impressed and energized,” Ewing says. “They will enjoy the personal connectivity when they visit the virtual booths as well as the superior content in each booth. They will walk away feeling more knowledgeable and will take away more information that will help them be more successful as extensions of their manufacturer partnerships.”

As of this writing in mid-August, the virtual trade show already was at near exhibitor capacity thanks to Ewing’s hard work.

And let’s not forget about the fun part on Oct. 7. Just like with her InnovateMMXX program, Ewing says gamification will be in play at the ASA virtual trade show, which will be loaded with prize opportunities for attendees. I hear the bingo card where you check off all the booths you visited will be in play here.

“ASA has a great audience that will provide a great reach for manufacturers that participate in the trade show,” she adds. “I’m here to help manufacturers see what is possible. Most manufacturers already have what’s needed to participate in a platform like this. I help them get organized, evolve their thinking and create an awesome virtual booth.”

Ewing has a message to folks who may be unsure about navigating through a virtual trade-show environment. “You can access from the comfort of your home or office when it’s convenient,” she says. “There also is the opportunity to catch up and have some fun live chatting with exhibitors. Most importantly, they will learn what they need to know in a very concise manner. If you are apprehensive, remember, we all learned to use smartphones. This tool is very user friendly, is intuitive and accessible from any device, any time. NETWORK2020 is not only unique, but the virtual side is awesome. ASA is brilliant to combine both. Give it a shot. I promise you will be delighted by the content.”