I recently finished watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix. The series takes place around 1918, coincidentally the time of the first pandemic. One of the show’s subthemes involves horses and automobiles, and how the blacksmiths fought hard against the automobiles. Sharing the road, in those days, was difficult. But I will come back to that in closing.

My neighbor is one of the world’s top infectious disease doctors and head of an infectious disease pharmaceutical company. I thought I would share with you some of his opinions from an hour-long conversation that PPAI CEO Paul Bellantone and I recently had with him. COVID-19 is primarily an airborne disease that is 15-30 times more deadly than a seasonal flu, with approximately a 1.5- to two-percent infection death rate. A sobering statistic. The closest we’ve seen in severity may have been SARS in 2003.

The world is seeking a vaccine to stop COVID-19. The reality is that the process to develop vaccines deemed to be safe normally takes three to four years. Another factor to consider is efficacy, or the percentage of people who will become immune due to taking the vaccine. The polio vaccine had a 95-percent efficacy; measles was 85 percent. When I was a child in the 1950s, those diseases scared all parents until vaccines were developed in 1955 and 1963, respectively. With a COVID-19 vaccine, at best, we can expect a 40-60 percent efficacy and most likely there will not be an acceptable vaccine until sometime in the second quarter of 2021—at the earliest. The only thing we can be relatively sure of is that masks and social distancing work and will be the stopgaps until there is a safe and efficacious vaccine.

By now, you have heard there will be no in-person PPAI Expo in 2021. The PPAI Expo will be live but virtual and renamed PPAI Expo Direct-2-You. Like many things in our world, this is a first. It’s the first time since World War II that there will be no major in-person trade show to kick-off the year. PPAI is guided by the sensibility to protect its members and to be reasonable and responsible. We must keep our members safe and our industry not only viable, but robust.

Your Association has been in comprehensive negotiations with the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and Las Vegas hotels regarding standard guarantees and penalties for cancelling and/or the inability for the MBCC to house the show. The PPAI staff has saved the Association millions of dollars in penalties by getting the facilities to accept the cancellation of the January 2021 Expo as a smart, reasonable and responsible response to the pandemic.

However, the loss of the 2021 in-person Expo means there will be significantly less income to the Association next year. This is devastating. Think of your business with no sales, and the decisions that would need to be made. In the past year, the Association has made a 50-percent reduction in staff, going from 80 people to 39. While there has been little disruption to member-facing benefits and services, this has been incredibly difficult for the Association staff and volunteer leaders.

We are operating with a high level of unknowns. We seek to protect the industry as we know it, yet realize it will be very much changed—especially if in-person meetings continue to be eliminated, as they have been since March, and normalcy is not expected until the end of 2021, just before our next scheduled in-person PPAI Expo 2022.

The data and science suggest we may be able to hold events later in the second quarter of next year, and so we are planning such an event. There will be masks, social distancing and lots of hand sanitizer. But realistically, even that show is uncertain at this time.

Your Association leaders are working on a new strategic plan for the next three to five years and beyond. We wish to protect all your businesses yet realize that technological change, which is inevitable, has accelerated.

So, let’s accept that, like the struggle between the horse and automobile, neither face-to-face sales nor online sales are going away. The new Millennial and Gen Z buyers will most likely opt for online but there’s also surely a need for face-to-face sales as well. Let’s make sure we have an industry in 10 years and also the foresight and courage not to put headlights on a horse. Instead, let’s make sure there is a place for both “horses” and “automobiles” in our industry’s future.


Ira Neaman is founder and president of New Jersey supplier Vantage Apparel and chair of the PPAI Board of Directors.