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Virtual Fall Fest Expo Brings Real Knowledge, Insights

Attendees heard and interacted with industry experts and fellow professionals

WILLOW GROVE, Pa. — When one door closes, sometimes you have to open a Zoom window.

The inaugural Fall Fest Expo — a series of virtual workshops, presentations and demonstrations — took place last week, providing cleaning professionals from around the country the opportunity to learn from experts without traveling, as well as the chance to interact with their peers to trade experiences and best-practice tips.

The Expo, co-sponsored by the North East Fabricare Association (NEFA), the Pennsylvania and Delaware Cleaners Association (PDCA) and the South Eastern Fabricare Association (SEFA), was the first of its kind attempted by its organizers.

The Fall Fest Expo — themed “Witness the Future” — was developed in response to limitations brought on by the pandemic.

“SEFA does a big trade show this time of year, with NEFA doing a tabletop show right around the same weekend, and PDCA does a big show, as well,” says Peter Blake, executive director of NEFA and SEFA. “So, we were trying to replace those live in-person events that we’ve had to cancel with a virtual platform.”

Far from being simply a way to fill in until “real” events can take place, however, Blake says the Fall Fest Expo was a huge success in its own right. “This wasn’t something we had to ‘resort’ to,” he says. “This was a terrific program on its own; we’re already planning for next year.”

The event took place each afternoon from Nov. 9 through 13, with each day focusing on various elements of the drycleaning business, including management, marketing, front-desk service, operating routes, equipment and chemical demonstrations, state-of-the-industry discussions and more. Businesses paid a flat fee to attend the event, which allowed an unlimited number of people at that company to watch.

“We wanted to reach a different audience every day,” Blake says. “The purpose was to provide as much return on investment as possible, but also to allow people to get some much-needed training. We tried to target a different section of the plant each day and charge one fee, so you could literally send 40 different people in your plant, if you wanted to, for that one fee.”

Blake pointed out that the entire event was recorded, and those recordings are available for the next three months — either for review by those who attended or for others in their business who weren’t able to watch them live. Those who didn’t register for the event can still pay the registration fee and view the videos during that three-month window, as well.  

While there were a few “growing pains” with this event, things went smoothly, and lessons were learned for future offerings, Blake says.

“There was a lot of concern by committee members and from some of the potential attendees,” he says. “This is so new. We wondered how well we would be able to access the technology. How well would we be able to interface with people? And there was some question whether the quality of the Zoom platform would be good enough. In the end, though, I think we hit it out of the park.”

Blake believes that virtual conferences are the way of the future and, even when there are in-person events again, online presentations and interaction will play a part in the entire experience.

“I think this will be a staple, where there will be hybrid presentations — partially virtual and partially live,” he says. “I think you’re going to see things like the DLI [Drycleaning & Laundry Institute] school move in that direction, for example. Instead of having a three-week in-person class, it’ll be two weeks virtual and one week hands-on. You still need hands-on events, but a lot of classwork can be done virtually.”

For more information about accessing recordings of the 2020 Fall Fest Expo, contact Blake at [email protected] (phone: 617-791-0128), or Leslie Schaeffer at [email protected] (phone: 215-830-8495). Updates and information about future shows will also be available at the sponsor’s websites: nefabricare.com, pdclean.org and SEFA.org.