The last two years were a disaster for the gift and souvenir industry, as lockdowns brought tourism to a standstill. But by late 2021, restrictions were lifting and tourists were starting to venture back to local and national attractions. Gift and souvenir retailers needed to quickly find the perfect products for customers looking to make happy memories after these tough times.
Clarion Events’ Gift & Souvenir events are where retail buyers come to find next season’s must-have purchases. Buyers want to meet with as many relevant, interesting exhibitors as possible, so Clarion needed an event matchmaking platform that enabled them to pre-book meetings, and make the most of their time at the show.
Buyers and exhibitors alike loved that they could use Grip’s AI-powered event matchmaking platform to set up important meetings and place orders. Across Clarion’s portfolio of events, they saw a 100% engagement of buyers for all of the meetings booked. And at one show, there was a 44% increase in meetings year-on-year. Even better, it saved the Clarion team hours of tedious manual data entry and matchmaking work.
I love using MustMeet by Grip. Considering the manual labour used to manage these events before, using MustMeet saves us so much time. It’s like a gift!
The pandemic has been a nightmare for the gift and souvenir industry. Attractions like museums and zoos have been hit hard by lockdowns, while restrictions have severely limited tourism across the world. As a knock on effect, those manufacturing and selling souvenirs have been impacted too.
But Clarion Events’ Gift & Souvenir shows came at the perfect time for souvenir buyers and sellers. In the second half of 2021, gift and souvenir shop owners were eager to stock-up for what they hope will be a busy next season. As the pandemic eases, travel and tourism is expected to rise, bringing back tourists to gift shops in zoos, airports, museums, and other attractions across the USA.
With much-needed growth on the horizon, exhibitors looked to Clarion’s events to book meetings and bring in orders from potential buyers. The Las Vegas Souvenir Show is the largest in its portfolio, with over 5,000 attendees and 1,300 booths. And the Smoky Mountain Gift Show in Tennessee is the USA’s oldest and most respected event for the resort, gift and souvenir industry.
Clarion’s events are the perfect opportunity to connect buyers with suppliers. Buyers, like gift shop owners and managers, want to find remarkable products for their next season. Suppliers – the exhibitors who manufacture or resell souvenirs – use these events to showcase their products and secure orders for the new season.
Ultimately, the buyers come to Clarion’s events to book meetings with suppliers, discover new products, and place orders.
Connecting the right buyers and exhibitors is the main priority, so Clarion looks for different ways to engage participants and make connections. For example, at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, the team runs a daily prize raffle to get everyone on the show floor at the same time, a happy hour, and an after-show party that takes over the city of Gatlinburg.
But one of the most popular and successful parts of the event is their AI-powered ‘MATCH!’ program, which Grip supports. Grip’s AI instantly matches buyers and exhibitors based on their profiles and areas of interest, making it easy for both parties to plan and book their meetings ahead of the show.
“The buyers love being able to pre-schedule their meetings because these shows are very meeting-heavy,” explained Melissa Gallagher, Manager of Audience Engagement at Clarion Events. “Using MATCH! made it easier for buyers to walk up to a booth to talk to a busy exhibitor, knowing they’re supposed to be there.”
Clarion’s shows focus on connecting a group of key buyers to the exhibitors, so it’s always been their priority to focus on facilitating connections and meetings.
Because it was so important to their buyers and exhibitors, the event organiser used to provide a manual matching service. “When one of our key account managers ran the first-ever match program for one of our events, she did it all by hand,” said Gallagher. “Her process was to use a lot of index cards and post-it notes – it took hours! And at that time, our program was a lot smaller.”
But as the team’s events grew, they needed to find a new way to create connections and facilitate meetings – for the sake of their stationery budget and their poor account managers. The first tool they tried made the process much quicker, but it didn't connect with their other systems. So on event days, that left the on-site team with a lot of manual list building and data entry – the last thing you need with thousands of buyers and exhibitors coming through the door!
Gallagher explained, “There wasn’t a direct integration from our registration. Our team had to import everything via lists, which was a very time-consuming process.” But that all changed when they started using Grip for their event matchmaking program. “One of the biggest reasons we moved over to Grip was because of all the integrations we could use,” she said.
The event matchmaking program was extremely popular at Clarion’s events, with exhibitors seeing a 44% increase in meetings compared with the previous year.
“The buyers and the exhibitors like being able to see their schedule before they go to the show and know who they're meeting with,” said Gallagher. “And our exhibitors love that they can chat with buyers before the show to know exactly what they’re looking for.”
It’s a popular program for both buyers and exhibitors. Elie Johnson, a retail buyer for Lowry Park Zoo, used the MATCH! Program at Smoky Mountain Gift Show and highly recommended it to other buyers. She explained, “This was an incredible experience. Through the program, I was able to meet [suppliers] I may not have otherwise. I gained some new [suppliers] and got new ideas for my location.”
As well as facilitating meetings, Clarion provides lots of other benefits to the participants in their matchmaking program, including early show access and a dedicated reception for buyers and exhibitors.
“We also do a product preview area for the exhibitors, so they can put a few products in the lounge, and the buyers love it,” said Gallagher. “They like being able to look at different products without having an exhibitor rep stand over them.”
Clarion’s exhibitors and buyers come to their events to secure and write orders. Using Grip’s event matchmaking has made it easier for the Clarion team to facilitate those essential connections where deals get done.
Prior to the event, buyers complete their profile, providing information on their company and the types of product they’re interested in. They are then automatically matched with the best-fit suppliers using Grip’s AI matchmaking for 20-minute, one-on-one meetings during the show.
Those meetings are where buyers get hands-on with the products, view them up-close, and place their orders for next season’s stock. “One buyer placed a $12,000 order with one of our exhibitors via a MATCH! meeting,” said Gallagher.
Sebastien Jacques is the VP of corporate sales at Canadian apparel manufacturers, Attraction. He travelled to Tennessee to exhibit at Smoky Mountain Gift Show and was delighted with the meetings he had. “Not only did MATCH! bring high-quality potential customers, but it also provided numerous opportunities for direct feedback and market intelligence,” he said.
The AI-powered event matchmaking program was a highlight of Clarion’s events for buyers, suppliers, and the event team. They saw 100% buyer engagement from the meetings that were booked at the events. And at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show alone, there were 195 meetings booked, against their target of 135.
Having seen the popularity of their matchmaking program, the Clarion team is looking to roll out Grip to other events in their portfolio and explore more ways they can use it to support their customers.
“I love using Grip,” said Gallagher. “The whole platform is easy to use, it’s very intuitive, and it integrates well with our other systems. Considering the manual labour used to manage these events before, using Grip saves us so much time. It’s like a gift!”
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