With face-to-face business grinding to a halt this winter, The Online Furniture Show gave buyers an opportunity to interact with 54 supplier exhibitors when it made its debut in January. With a new (and improved) edition coming in April 2021, Furniture News asked show director Peter Holdich to share the thinking behind the industry’s new virtual hang-out …

Why did you create the show, and what skills did you bring to the table?

In August, my colleague David [Cobbe] – who has 45 years’ experience in manufacturing and in selling as an agent in the furniture business in the UK and Ireland – floated a concept to me, as he was seeing all these physical shows being cancelled and he wanted an outlet to be able to present the products of his agencies.?

With my 20 years’ experience in the trade as a salesperson for the likes of Furniture Village and as operations director of Carlton Furniture (before setting up ZigZag Systems eight years ago to provide management systems for the wholesale and retail furniture trade), David felt I might be the man to know how to do it!?

I suggested that we also needed to bring in a front-end web developer who could make the concept and experience right for the furniture trade. I already worked closely with Mike [Ogle] from Chord Designs on a number of projects, and as he creates ecommerce websites for the trade he was ideal to make up what is really the ideally positioned team to create the show.

What was the trade’s initial response to the concept, and the biggest challenge in getting it off the ground?

We were initially going to run in November, but, given the issue with foam shortages and the other challenges that Covid brought, we felt it best to delay, and that allowed us to work with the potential exhibitors to make the experience right for them and the visitors.?

A number of potential exhibitors were sceptical of the concept and wanted to see how the first one went before committing, whereas we already had the core of our show, comprising exhibitors who fully embraced this new way of presenting – and it really did pay dividends for them.

How many visitors did the first edition attract?

We had just under 1700 unique visitors over the five days, and we found the Tuesday to be the busiest day. The average amount of time spent on the site was only measured at range level (something we will change for the next show) – however, unlike a physical show, it is so much easier to dip in and out of, and we had visitors signing in multiple times over the five days.

Upon going live, did any issues arise which will need ironing out for future editions?

We have learned so much, and we refined a number of things whilst the show was live, including making the login even easier and making the live chat a better experience for both the exhibitor and visitor.?

The one thing we are working on for the next show is how we can make it more personal using video, so we can get as close to offering a physical show experience without being contrived.

What sort of visitor/exhibitor feedback have you received?

We had positive comments from the visitors in general – however, the common thread was that they wanted to see more exhibitors.

From the exhibitor side, by way of example, Gallery Direct’s Bruce Bell said the supplier had connected with some new businesses thanks to the platform, and was in the process of building “fruitful relationships for the future”.

What is your response to criticisms that shows like these lack engagement?

That there’s much more to come, in the form of live videos and a ‘welcome to our stand’ video from each exhibitor, plus industry leader interviews and a live chat area for retailers to interact with other retailers.

What are the plans for the next edition, and how will it be different?

Our spring show, running from April 26th, has just been announced, and will incorporate what we have learned from our January event. We are working closely with exhibitors to make sure our marketing hits the mark, and we will also be using a new furniture trade central database called Data House (something new from the team behind the exhibition) to power the show.

Discover what the show's exhibitors are saying in?Furniture News' March issue.