Popular Sydney trade show cancelled, affecting hundreds of small businesses

Kara Cooper Mount Vic and Me

Mount Vic and Me founder Kara Cooper. Photo: Karen Edwards Photography.

Small businesses that make gifts and homewares have been thrown yet another curveball, with the continuing COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney prompting the organisers of the popular AGHA Gift Fairs to cancel next month’s event in the city. 

The AGHA Sydney Gift Fair was due to take place from 19 to 22 February at the showgrounds at Sydney’s Olympic Park, and hundreds of exhibitors had already booked their spots, including those travelling from outside the state capital, and who had booked accommodation nearby. 

More than 300 businesses had already signed up to attend or exhibit at the fair, which in previous years had attracted more than 10,000 visitors and buyers across the three days. 

Exhibitors were informed last Thursday that the event would not proceed as Sydney continues to record new community-transmitted cases of COVID-19. 

One of those exhibitors is Kara Cooper, owner of Blue Mountains-based homewares and design business Mount Vic and Me. 

Cooper tells SmartCompany she had been “very hesitant” to sign up for the event, but after chatting to her stockists and hearing how excited they were to see industry colleagues in person, she went ahead and booked her space. 

“I was really looking forward to this trade show,” she says. 

“I went for a really big stand in the Australian Made section, much larger than I had had previously. I thought, let’s try to get in front of more amazing stockists across Australia.”

Trade and exhibition shows can currently take place in Sydney, subject to density requirements. However, the AGHA gift fairs attract visitors from across the country, who would likely be affected by ongoing border restrictions. 

Australian Gift and Homewares Association chief executive Wayne Castle confirmed to SmartCompany this morning that all exhibitors and registered visitors have now been contacted, and full refunds are being offered. 

Exhibitors are also able to transfer their payments to book space at the AGHA Melbourne Gift Fair, which is due to take place in August. 

AGHA will also distribute the Sydney Gift Fair Directory, which include half-page advertisements for exhibitors, alongside the February issue of its industry catalogue, which will be distributed to more than 60,000 people in the industry. 

Castle says this catalogue has been created specifically to give the association’s members further promotional opportunities. The association is also developing an e-commerce platform to connect wholesalers with retail, government, corporate and hospitality buyers across the country. 

For her part, Cooper says she is excited about these new potential marketing opportunities, and is yet to ask for a refund for her fair booking as she explores these options. 

She has also been able to recover the money she had spent on accommodation for herself and her employees. 

However, she is more concerned about the flow-on effects on small businesses, including her own, of not being able to attend in-person trade events. 

“It’s really hard — you want to support these guys at the trade shows, the businesses that serve food at the trade shows. It’s such a big connection base,” she says. 

“If one thing falls over, we all fall over.”

Cooper says a similar ‘domino effect’ is playing out in smaller communities, including Mount Victoria where her business is based. The town experienced the double blows of bushfires and COVID-19 during 2020, and Cooper feels unsure about opening her retail space while restrictions are still in place. 

“I’m looking for opportunities to connect; I want to grow our stockists across Australia,” she says. 

“So how do we get in front of people — is it PR? More social media? — when I can’t physically be in front of them?”

Castle says the NSW and federal governments do not offer tailored support for event organisers in situations like this, although the AGHA has been receiving JobKeeper payments since the cancellation of the Melbourne Gift Fair last year. 

“AGHA relies on the income from two gift fairs annually to operate the association and support members,” he explains. 

“Basically, with the cancellation of both gift fairs, AGHA has had no income over 12 months.”

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