I guess we all should have seen this coming. Even with much of the country in the midst of a phased reopening now that we are (hopefully) on the downslope in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was very little chance that the World Pet Association was going to be able to host an event as big as SuperZoo in Las Vegas at the beginning of September. Still, that doesn’t make the official announcement of the show’s postponement until next year sting any less.
Of course, life—and business—will go on. But losing this year’s edition of one of the pet industry’s biggest events does present some significant challenges for retailers and vendors alike. Each year, SuperZoo represents an important opportunity for companies up and down the supply chain to build on established relationships and forge new ones, see the latest innovations in pet care and discuss the biggest issues facing our industry—an opportunity that simply cannot be completely replaced with Zoom meetings, no matter how valuable these meetings have become in the age of social distancing.
With that in mind, I spoke to a variety of retailers and vendors about how the postponement of this year’s SuperZoo will directly affect their businesses, and how they are adjusting to this latest disruption in the pet industry.
For retailers, the impact seems to depend heavily on size. Small retailers with anywhere from one to handful of stores expressed the most concern about missing out on the connections they would have made at this year’s show. While most have great relationships with and are regularly called on by their suppliers, many do not have the resources to replicate the benefits of having a wide range of vendors all in the same place at the same time. What’s more, many small retailers depend on the discounts and promotional opportunities that can typically be found at an event like SuperZoo, the lack of which is sure to directly impact the bottom line.
Larger chains, on the other hand, appear to be in a much better position to deal with the show dropping off of the schedule—at least for one year. The sheer buying power wielded by these retailers means that they rarely have to depend on show specials for discounts and other attractive buying incentives, and vendors typically line up to present their latest and greatest products year-round. That is not to say that larger retailers will not miss this year’s SuperZoo, though. For these businesses, the biggest challenge will be missing the opportunity to stumble across a new brand or product on the show floor—something that just isn’t replicable outside of an in-person event.
Of course, the same dynamics are in play for vendors. While larger suppliers are well prepared to continue building upon their relationships with retail buyers remotely, smaller, up-and-coming vendors will be hard pressed to get the kind of exposure and make the new connections that SuperZoo would have provided to drive their businesses forward. In both cases, it is clear that the loss of what is widely considered an "order writing show" will inevitably be felt in the bottom line. If there is a silver lining, it’s that vendors will be saving a lot of money by not making the trip to Las Vegas—which can conservatively cost tens of thousands of dollars—and many say that they will directly reinvest that savings in their retailer partners through discounted pricing and enhanced promotions. It’s a refreshing approach that, while it won’t replace the loss of SuperZoo this year, should at least help ease the sting a little bit.