In October, the North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) hosted its first major in-person event since the start of the pandemic, the NHPA All-Industry Conference. The event was held in conjunction with the National Hardware Show. At the helm for that event was Katie McHone-Jones, director of member services and events for NHPA, who planned many aspects of the conference. Hardware Retailing spoke with McHone-Jones for some best practices for hosting events of all sizes in a post-pandemic world.
Hardware Retailing (HR): How was this event different and how was it the same compared to pre-COVID events?
Katie McHone-Jones (KM-J): It was different because of the safety measures the city of Las Vegas put in place, and the additional health and safety protocols the Las Vegas Convention Center was following. Everyone was asked to socially distance and face masks were required. We were still able to provide great content on our stage and still had the same great vendors, attendees and energy at the show. It was great to see so many old friends.
HR: How has COVID-19 and safety concerns changed how you approach event planning for any event?
KM-J: While I always had to think of plan B before, I am now using plan B, C and D sometimes. Things can change so quickly now and it keeps me on my toes. Now, I must always think about an online or virtual element to bring to events. It’s more than putting a webcam up in the back of the room; the virtual attendees also need to have a great experience too. I now also think of cleaning a lot differently and its importance to the entire event experience.
HR: Do you have any advice for retailers as they begin planning special events again?
KM-J: If you can plan outdoor events, do. Another great idea for events is to have kits or something pre-made that your customers can take home and complete. Maybe after people grab the kit from your store, do a virtual meet up and show them all how to complete the project. If you plan on an indoor event, make sure to communicate what safety protocols you have put in place so your customers know you care.
HR: What are your keys to planning a successful event?
KM-J: Problem-solving is still No. 1, and I think creativity is a close second. In the last 18 months, things have been turned on their head. Events are taking place in ways no one has ever thought of before.
HR: What did you learn from the online events you’ve planned in the last 18 months that you’ve applied to in-person events?
KM-J: Something I’ve always known became very clear—tech issues are terrible. If you plan on having any elements of technology in your event, make sure to do two test runs before go time and have a backup plan when it fails. Also, be more thoughtful and intentional. While all of the same factors for in-person events are about the same, I think people are really valuing their time with their families and at home. So if you’re going to put on an event it has to be worthwhile enough to take away time from home or family activities.