Is it time to get back on a plane for work?

Worldwide
Published:  19 August, 2021
Credit: Jaime Lopes

Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a wedding and been on holiday outside of my own country. Both events felt both familiar and alien at the same time. Blowing kisses to friends and family replaced a hug and fist bumps replaced a handshake with strangers meeting for the first time. This is life after the double jab and we’re getting used to the new world of living with Covid-19 while getting on with our lives after lockdown.

2021 ILM Tanner Business Confidence survey

ILM’s annual Tanner Business Confidence Survey results are always interesting to read and really give a snapshot in time of how tanners are feeling. When we complied the questions for the 2021 survey, we incorporated a few new specific questions relating to the post-pandemic world (not that its really over yet) while also asking tanners the same questions year-on-year to detect any shifts in opinions.

Two questions we included this year revolve around attendance at trade fairs and live events for the remainder of this year and into 2022. 60% in our survey said they would wait until 2022 before looking to attend live industry events. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, live events – in Europe (Italy/France) and then hopefully Asia (China/India) – are once again being planned after a devastating period for the industry stretching back to March 2020.

Many tanners we surveyed are waiting for 2022 before looking to attend events again and many of those ILM surveyed are still subject to travel restrictions to either leave their home countries or visit others – they could not attend even if they wanted to. No trade fair will be a success in the leather industry in 2021 in which the host authorities will ask exhibitors and visitors to quarantine for any period; it’s a non-starter. The only hope is that travel restrictions for those countries with high vaccination levels are relaxed and, in the cases of Lineapelle/Simac Tanning Tech in Milan this September and the revised ACLE in Shanghai in November, that the local industry supports the show in good numbers where travel is not a problem.

E-commerce and the physical touch of leather

One of the questions ILM asks in the survey each year relates to e-commerce. Perhaps surprisingly, the 2021 survey results have hardly altered from when we asked tanners in 2019 and 2020. It would appear very few tanners see e-commerce for leather, be it finished or otherwise, as a way to grow sales. In ILM’s most recent survey, only 29% said that they were looking to invest in a more digitalised sales platform. This was down from 36% in 2020.

Yet, over the pandemic, more and more consumers switched to online purchases for a range of items they may not have ever even considered buying online prior to Covid-19, such as a second hand car or home furniture. The fact that leather is a component material for other end-products could be an argument against e-commerce, as it is not a product readily suited for online purchasing. But should that really be the case? It is true that leather is a material that has to meet the physical senses of smell, touch and even sound and that is difficult to replicate on a screen.

In each print and digital edition of the magazine, we ask industry professionals their views on a particular subject as part of our Talking Point feature. In the September/October edition, we asked some leading tanners from different geographical regions how their businesses coped with the Covid-19 crisis. All of them made the same point in their response: one of the most difficult aspects about the pandemic has been the lack of being able to travel to meet customers or attend live in-person events. They all cited the physical and tactile nature of leather as the main reason why they believe it is important for the industry to meet together.

Traumatic times for fair organisers

Most companies aligned with the leather supply chain have felt the negative impact that Covid-19 has brought to their business in some shape or form and, as the above-mentioned survey responses testify, it is an industry currently in a recovery phase. However, no segment has been hit harder than the live events industry on which many leather makers and their suppliers traditionally rely upon. The highly cherished APLF in Hong Kong has been cancelled and rescheduled four times (so far) and, by the time we can attend the next edition set for March 2022, it will not have been since March 2019 that we last came together in Hong Kong. Bar and restaurant takings around Wanchai, and especially Joe Banana’s, must have taken one hell of a hit without the leather industry in town!

The APLF organisers, in light of not being able to provide live fairs, have established their online SampleRoom platform for buyers and sellers to meet online. However, if the responses from the 2021 survey are an accurate barometer of their feelings, then there is a reluctance to buy and sell finished leather online. Finished leather is not a commodity and should not be sold like one.

We keep our collective fingers crossed that the fairs in Milan this September, and the ACLE in Shanghai in November, will be a success. Many people are missing the personal contact, the ability to see and talk about new innovations and the any problems they are facing with their customers or suppliers. The sooner we can all get vaccinated and start attending live events again, the better. Zoom is great, but it can’t beat attending a conference or visiting a fair.

Martin Ricker, Content Director

August 19, 2021

martin@internationalleathermaker.com