INTERPHEX in the time of COVID

Nov. 8, 2021
Trade shows are back — but are they still worth it?

It’s not uncommon for vendors and attendees at industry trade shows to casually ask each other how the experience is going. But this year at INTERPHEX, there was a more elevated sense of curiosity underlying the typical inquiry.

To be sure, INTERPHEX, one of pharma manufacturing’s largest yearly trade shows, felt different this time around. Held at its usual location, The Javits Center in New York City, this October’s show marked the first time the event had been held in person since before-COVID times — after being canceled last year and then postponed from its usual time slot this past spring. And for many of the vendors in attendance, it was their first venture back into a live trade show environment after spending a year and a half adjusting business practices to bolster connections and technology promotions with customers online.

Yet, one look around the trade show floor revealed that events for pharma manufacturers haven’t completely rebounded. Although the space was full with its usual variety of exhibitors — from technology solutions providers to CMOs — INTERPHEX was clearly not as packed as it has been in years past.

In this new environment, the question of how it was going was now being asked in earnest as some vendors wondered if the investment of exhibiting in trade shows was still paying off in returns. Here’s a look at what a handful of vendors had to say.

Kudos for safety

INTERPHEX went to great lengths to make the show safe for all in attendance by requiring proof of vaccination and strictly enforcing a mask mandate. Merrilee Whitney, head of BioContinuum Platform at MilliporeSigma, said she appreciated the measures.

“They made it super easy and I appreciated that if we had to have this be our first major foray back into trade shows, I did not feel nervous because I thought they did an excellent job,” she explained, adding that MilliporeSigma will be back to the next INTERPHEX in the spring.

Quality vs. quantity

Despite lower-than-usual attendance, there was a common refrain among many vendors about potential clients they were interacting with — quality over quantity.

“The traffic hasn’t been what it usually is, but the leads have been high quality,” Chris Casciato, sales manager at Entegris, which specializes in advanced materials for process solutions for the semiconductor and other high-tech industries, said. “It hasn’t just been people grabbing pens.”

Over at the sizable booth for CleanSpace, a vertically integrated cleanroom solutions provider, Jennifer Biro, vice president of sales, agreed.

“The show is a lot different than years past when people were shoulder to shoulder trying to get from one aisle to the next,” she said. “However, people who are here are focused and decision-driven. So there may not be as much networking going on…but people are coming who are already qualified.”

Biro, who has been in the industry for 18 years, said that CleanSpace pivoted to networking online during the pandemic and heavily utilized LinkedIn to make connections throughout the industry. But she said that it can’t replace the experience of INTERPHEX, the company’s largest trade show.

“The human, face-to-face interaction is still the best way to do business,” she said.

Some skepticism

Not everyone was convinced that the effort of attending was worth it.

Todd Grube, product manager of Heat and Control, which specializes in inspection systems, said that he’s unsure if his company will be back to the next INTERPHEX, which is currently slated for May 2022.

“Several other vendors we know have said they are not coming back in six months because it is so slow,” he explained. “It has been slower than we thought it would be.”

And Grube said the jury is still out on whether or not his experience at INTERPHEX will impact the company’s overall trade show strategy going forward.

“It’s too soon to say,” he explained. “Having not done trade shows for a year and now seeing less activity — not just for our company but for others — we may rethink our strategy for trade shows in general.”

About the Author

Meagan Parrish | Senior Editor