This week’s PPAI Expo Direct-2-You was an opportunity for the Association to step well beyond the boundaries of a traditional, in-person trade show to deliver not only exhibits and education virtually, but also live chats, social and networking events, live interviews and even some unexpected, fun pop-ups. But trying something new doesn’t come without risks and challenges, and Direct-2-You had its trials during its opening hours on Monday. The problems were immediately addressed and have been resolved.

Even with the occasional and expected challenges of an online platform, the flexibility and convenience of the virtual show was a draw for Jessica Pozo, co-owner of Warehouse Uniform & Embroidery. “The Expo impressed me this year. It's a nice platform that is user-friendly. We are able to see all the resources and download them and/or bookmark them. This ‘virtual Expo’ has allowed me to attend and pause [as I need to] during the day. I really like the flexibility!”

Jay Shaplin, MAS, senior brand manager and vendor relations manager at Sonic Promos, was also vocal on the benefits of a virtual show. “To be honest, I am learning more about some of the companies watching their videos than if I was walking the show floor. And being able to see info on products in the Products Pavilion is great, and no one is blocking your view.”

Janie Gaunce, president and CEO of Grapevine Designs, a long-time Expo attendee, was another distributor who enjoyed her show experience on Monday. “I’ve been having great success. Considering all the traffic being funneled through here, I’m very impressed with what I’ve been able to see. Great job PPAI!”

Amy Ehl, sales support for ROBYN Promotions, says, “I absolutely love the convenience and ease of the entire virtual show. All the new product information is really helpful, and I love that you can request catalogs and samples with a click of a button. It’s just super cool!”

For Erin Eberhardt of West Shore Promotions, Expo Direct-2-You offered definite advantages over an in-person show. “As a one-person company who was never able to take the time off or expense to attend a trade show across the country, I really appreciate the virtual show, and you have done an amazing job with the format. I can still work and at the same time take advantage of education and product information. In my previous career, I attended and exhibited at trade shows, so I know what they are like and was a bit burned out on them anyway. In the future, I hope you will consider continuing some sort of online event for small distributors like me.”

Christine Padgett Petre, owner of Jersey Girl Promo, formerly worked in the industry on the supplier side and had just opened her distributorship in March 2020, just before the pandemic lockdowns began. “I had been looking forward to going to shows in 2021 and was disappointed not to be able to,” she says. “An industry friend suggested checking out this week’s show. I was jumping on and off today as I was not able to clear my schedule to attend 100 percent [of the time]. In that little bit of time, I was able to go through some booths and engage with supplier reps. I had worked shows for years and it was good to be back. After us all working virtually, I am surprised to see so many complaints about tech glitches. They are to be expected. I am so excited and optimistic for 2021/22. The industry is going to explode once things really open up.”

Monday’s D2U Live programming pulled out all the stops with an energy-infused opening of Coffee & Comedy featuring comedian Collin Moulton, followed by a live interview with PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE; a sketch session with caricature artist Jehu Campos who had people lining up to pose, and then the Pet Pop-Up where attendees could introduce their dogs, cats and rabbits (yes, there was a rabbit) on Zoom. Throughout the day, there were interviews with PPB Rising Star Alicia Skipper of Promo Pros; Jamie Watson, MAS, CPA of Certified Marketing Consultants; leaders from exhibitors Next Level Apparel, Artech Pro and Richardson Seating Corporation; PPEF Chair Dana Porter, MAS; and videos showcasing PPAI’s Hall of Fame, Distinguished Service and H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award winners: Teresa Moisant, MAS; Mark Ables, MAS and Bob Waldorf, CAS, respectively.

As announced this morning, exhibit hours today through Thursday will be extended until 5 pm CT.