Each year, APR’s buying show, hosted in Hershey, Pennsylvania, attracts contractors, manufacturers and their families to enjoy the state’s “chocolate city” while benefiting from the numerous opportunities the show encompasses.
With the ongoing implications of COVID-19, the APR team knew it was necessary to act proactively in order to provide customers with a great annual buying show experience, despite the pandemic’s restrictions. The buying show was held virtually August 10-14th, replacing the original show which was to take place on August 12th.
“We knew by May of this year we wanted to provide our customers with the opportunity to engage with our Manufacturer partners, and bring them the same prize and deal opportunities that we have for the past 17 years,” Senior Director of Marketing, Teri Rogers says.
Perhaps one of the greatest questions many have when thinking about virtual events vs. in person is how attendance will be affected. Rogers explains that while the overall headcount was not the same as shows in years past, the companies that are regular attendees were still represented.
“Our in-person show has developed quite a following, and our attendance numbers for the virtual show validated that. While the individual headcount of the show was down about 30%, the number of individual companies that participated remained flat year over year. We didn’t see the family members attending the virtual event, but rather just the company owner.”
APR had three main goals when planning the virtual event: Making it easy for customers to participate, connecting customers with the company and manufacturers’ reps, and rewarding customers for participating.
In order to make this virtual show happen, keeping in mind the goals mentioned above, the company had to overcome its fair share of challenges.
“Gaining wide acceptance of new technologies like a virtual web platform and virtual meeting software was a challenge. We knew that we had to become consultative partners to our customers to help educate them,” Rogers notes.
Although many missed having the chance to meet in person, and enjoy traveling to the show, Rogers says there are benefits to hosting a virtual show.
“The virtual platform extended our show from a single day to a full week, and provided customers the ability to interact with manufacturers and materials on their own time. It negated the need to travel and take time away from potential jobs. Our contractors were able to participate from anywhere, at any time — even if in between jobs or from the comfort of their own sofa in the evening.”
Although APR expects the industry to return to in person events once restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to gather, the benefits of a virtual platform may call for a hybrid solution for future buying shows.
“I’m proud of APR, our customers and manufacturers for rallying to make this event a success. Providing customers the opportunity to engage virtually, obtain education and enable technicians and staff to attend future shows is a top priority for us,” Rogers explains.
In addition to its first virtual buying show, APR Supply Co. has implemented several innovative virtual solutions for its customers. Chris Bohn, vice president of IT notes that the company is focused on providing digital solutions to contractors before they are even requested.
“In our markets, our customer base tends to lag other industries when adopting technologies,” he says. “Our goal is to add digital tools that entice customers to adopt by offering value they may not necessarily know they need.”
At the beginning of 2019, APR launched its Text2Branch solution where customers can text orders and support requests directly to the branch.
“Once we went live and started educating customers on the benefits of Text2Branch, many customers began to primarily use that method of communication. As younger contractors enter the workforce, we are proactively preparing the infrastructure today to be ready for that growth so we don’t get left behind,” Bohn explains.
The company also recently re-branded its web presence to be Web 3.0. The platform is continuously being updated to offer more services digitally and drive customers to online tools. After deciding to plan a virtual buying show, instead of postponing or canceling, APR struggled to find a third party platform to host the show.
“We decided to go it alone and incorporate a digital trade show within our website. With no expertise in house for completing this, we created a team of resourceful teammates, spearheaded by our marketing team and created a virtual show in less than three months,” Bohn says.
Also under the APR Supply digital umbrella are its new inventory service, “StockNow,” a coming soon virtual site visit option and a YouTube training series, “Tech Tips for Pros.”
StockNow is APR’s new inventory management solution. It allows contractors to scan a product from the app on their smartphone and receive price and availability information, quickly place orders and choose pick-up or delivery options, along with a host of other features.
“The StockNow program is a great example of solving a customer’s replenishment pain,” Keith Northey, regional branch and sales manager notes.
“Using our Web 3.0 platform and our mobile app, individual technicians can create orders on their cell phone and then submit for an ‘Approver’ within the customer’s staff to approve before the order actually gets placed with us. This allows for oversight of those orders but eliminates the need for the approver to enter the products themselves.”
Understanding that time is of the essence when contractors run into issues on a jobsite, APR’s virtual site visit platform has soft launched, with plans to fully roll out later this year.
“Through our virtual site visits, we’re able to troubleshoot issues in a way that we’ve been unable to do previously. Most issues require us to see what’s happening. We’re better able to accommodate our customers need for an immediate solution,” Mark Elmer, technical service and training manager explains.
Bohn says the goal is to stay ahead the curve digitally. “Whether it be providing additional services, educating our customers on industry trends or being their resource of information and guidance through challenging times, we prioritize our customers over all business needs.”