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Q&A: Lessons on Commemorating an Event’s 100th Anniversary—and Managing a Weather Emergency

Find out how the International Beauty Show marked its first century, despite an early closure due to snow.

By Mitra Sorrells March 16, 2017, 7:00 AM EDT

Most of the 500 exhibitors, including hair care company Amika, provided product demonstrations in their booths.

Photo: Jenna Bascom

The massive snowstorm that blanketed the Northeast on Tuesday forced the premature closure of the International Beauty Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The event, which was expected to draw more than 65,000 salon owners, managers, stylists, and estheticians, closed Monday evening, at the end of what was to be day two of a three-day conference and trade show. The event marked its 100th anniversary this year, making it the longest-running professional beauty event in the United States, according to show producer Questex.

Liza Wylie, Questex’s vice president of events for its beauty, spa, and wellness group, spoke about the show’s longevity, how it commemorated the anniversary, and the challenges of a weather emergency.

To what do you attribute the show’s longevity?
It can be largely attributed to the beauty industry as well as New York. In the last century, people always said that this industry and cosmetics are recession-proof. The beauty industry is a timeless industry, and the fact that I.B.S. is in New York City, which is one of the fashion capitals of the world, makes for a very vibrant event serving a vibrant industry.

How do you keep the show fresh from year to year?
The industry helps us to keep it fresh. There’s always new innovations, new technologies, new techniques and procedures, new tools and equipment. That’s what our attendees are seeking. We are fortunate because we as a company [Questex] also operate in the media space. We have American Salon magazine … so it’s great because we can rely on American Salon to help us with what’s new, what’s different. From an event perspective we are constantly trying to reach out and meet those needs, be it with our exhibitors on the show floor, our education in the classroom, our Main Stage demonstrations. We want all to be current and reflective of the industry and serving the needs of salon owners, managers, colorists, estheticians, stylists, anybody working in the industry.

One thing that has certainly changed in the last few decades is technology. How has that impacted your show?
I think technology has had a positive effect on how we reach our customers and how our customers reach one another. We are very involved with social media and different types of technology tools. However we do find that many of our customers, because they are working in a salon, like to receive a printed piece, so we are still doing traditional direct mail, and we still get good results from it. We do find that, again specific to this industry, these folks are not in front of a computer all day, but they sure do have access to their phones and use them frequently. So being able to leverage that and know that has been helpful in allowing us to communicate with our customers.

Tell us about some of the ways you commemorated the show’s 100th anniversary?
It’s a big deal—both within the trade show industry and within this industry. We wanted to make sure we got out and let people know this would be special. One of the things we did is we wanted to make sure we budgeted for some special banners and graphics and those kinds of things to let people know. I.B.S. is such a vibrant, busy, visual show, where you’ve got music on the floor and platform artists doing hair. There’s so much competing for people’s attention that it can be quite overwhelming, but we wanted to be part of that visual experience. One of the fun things we did was we had photo booths set up around the show floor. We got all sorts of different props and costume materials—boas and funny hats, anything from different decades—and people had a lot of fun with that. So we carried the theme through that way.

Another thing we did, which I loved the concept of … we have a main stage with platform artists who are the rock stars of our industry. ... We invited a bunch of those folks to come up with a concept being assigned by a decade—'20s, '30s, '40s, and so forth. We had great acts that were extremely visual and educational, and they were very quick Main Stage demonstrations of that period. It culminated with Sassoon doing a piece on the future of beauty, what it will be like in the next 10 years. It was really fabulous. And we had a parade of all of these models who had been done up in these eras, photo ops, and a step-and-repeat kind of thing. That was a lot of fun. Those were some of the elements that did pull together the 100 years.

You also did a “birthday” party at the Attic Sunday night that you opened to all attendees and exhibitors for free. That seems risky when the preshow estimate is 65,000 people. But as it turned out, you had right around capacity, about 800 people, at the party. Was that just luck?
We managed messaging. We got it out there, but we weren’t hammering it because we didn’t want it to be too packed either. We don’t normally do a party with I.B.S., but we have before—we did a charity event one year. So we have kind of a sense of what goes on. There’s so much competing for people’s time in New York. We knew we’d be whittled down by that. We are also affiliated with a group that we throw another party with on Sunday night. It’s kind of a different demographic, so we knew people would be going to that event versus the 100-year party. But it was definitely a bit of a nail-biter—nobody’s going to show up or too many will show up. It worked out just right. 

What did you learn in planning these anniversary activities?
One of the things that we learned is that planning for it and ownership of it is really important. The examples I gave touched different departments. Whether it was the gal who handles our education or who programmed this exciting main stage thing. It touched everyone, which was great. But any time you introduce something new to an existing event, you must make sure that you have ownership so all the parts are communicating.

Tell us how you managed things as concerns about the weather started to intensify?
The first report was three to five inches, no big deal. Then they upgraded it and upgraded it again. By Sunday, we’re hearing 20 to 24 inches. We’re hearing rumblings saying that the governor might declare a state of emergency. So we worked hard to get as many real facts as we could as opposed to just speculation. We met with Freeman, we met with Javits. We communicated with another show that was in-house [Emerald Expositions’ jewelry show, JA New York].

Ultimately we made the decision based on the facts that we had—the governor declared a state of emergency—and recognizing that the safety of our customers and our own staff was paramount. We did our full day Monday. The announcement was we would not be open on Tuesday. We assured the exhibitors that we would do our best to get their crates and anything they had back as quickly as possible. We had Freeman communicate with the exhibitor-appointed contractors and let them know that it would be very difficult for you guys to move out. So exhibitors came back on Wednesday to finish up what needed to get done. And JA did the same thing.

What tips do you have for other planners who might deal with a similar situation in the future?
I think it’s really getting as much information as you can from those people you partner with. A company like Freeman has been through this before. They had valuable insight, as did the Javits. And benchmarking against people in the same boat as you. The folks over at JA New York—that was important in helping us make the decision, not because it made the decision for us, but other people in similar situations are doing it this way, is that right for you? And of course listening to our customers and our customers’ concerns and their needs. There was almost a release valve when we did come out with the announcement that we were going to close the show at six o’clock on Monday and would not be opening on Tuesday because then people were like “Okay, I can make a plan.”

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