In-person training events and trade shows have shifted to online platforms in the wake of COVID-19. Retailers discuss pros and cons of education in a cyber setting, and their hopes for the coming year. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA Due to COVID-19, some decisions regarding meeting with retailers have had to be made on a case-by-case basis, according to Mike Lewis of Echo Sales. The company is a rep firm covering seven states: Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. “Under normal circumstances, our business is set up to call on independent accounts,” Lewis said, adding that they also host trainings to support retailers. This year, he noted the company started to stock more inventory themselves, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because of all the backorders. According to Lewis, Echo Sales has had to approach their day-to-day business in a hybrid fashion. “A couple of months ago, they removed some local restrictions,
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but we were still being cautious,” he explained. “We were only visiting accounts with specific needs. I was focusing a lot of my travel around afternoon and evening trainings. Now we are back in more of a hybrid again, not traveling as much, and I’ve put offers out to do Zoom meetings, but most conversations have been on the phone.” There are certain things, he added, that must be done in-person— for example, it’s necessary to visit a new account to see the store. “If we do go somewhere, though, we’re very specific about what we’re doing.” A year ago, the company moved into a new facility with a dedicated in-house training space, but because of COVID-19, only one training has been held there and everything since has been held on Zoom.
“Early on, we hosted trainings to help people navigate PPP, the Payment Protection Program, and various other things that were so uncertain in the beginning. Now it’s dialed in to more specific product trainings, mostly vendor-hosted on Zoom.” The Pros and Cons of Virtual Training Lewis feels the trainings help keep people informed, and help vendors stay relevant. More trainings are being held than usual. However, things could be more efficient, he added, noting that it’s hard to gauge the metrics of it: “You don’t have that conversation afterward, sharing feedback you couldn’t get during the meeting.” Instead, he said, people say thank you and goodbye, and leave the virtual meeting. “When you’re in-person,