The Show can’t go on… so what now?
The Sydney Royal Easter Show might have been cancelled this year, but its commercial pavilions were still able to come to life, thanks to an online marketplace.
This is the first time the Sydney Show has been cancelled because of a public health emergency since the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919.
The cancellation of the Show was a huge disappointment for the Show community, including visitors from rural and regional NSW who love attending to catch up with friends every year. But the decision has hit exhibiting vendors even harder – for many, Royal Shows like Sydney’s are integral to their business, and revenue generated by exhibiting and selling produce at the Show often represents a large portion of their annual income.
While the Show didn’t open its doors as scheduled on Friday, April 3, the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) was still able to offer a taste of the excitement and bustle of the commercial pavilions via an online marketplace, in a bid to support exhibitors – some of whom have lost significant income due to the Show’s cancellation and COVID-19.
Connecting consumers with over 100 commercial exhibitors, the RAS featured the Australian businesses that patrons would have been able to explore at this year’s Show on a dedicated Sydney Royal Easter Show online marketplace, which ran from April 3 to 14.
Paul Bowd, Head of Commercial, Sydney Royal Easter Show said the online marketplace was a small way the Show could support its exhibitors during these difficult times.
“We received a lot of interest from the public wishing to show their support of Australian store-owners, who’ve been financially hit by not only the cancellation of this year’s Show but the health emergency currently impacting our nation,” Bowd says.
Sweet dreams crushed
Fluffy Crunch, which makes gourmet fairy floss, is just one of the countless small businesses that has seen its regular revenue stream dry up thanks to COVID-19.
“Normally we would be doing four or five smaller events a week, and this time of the year we have the big major events like the Sydney Royal Show,” says Fluffy Crunch’s Michael Karamallis, who co-founded the business with his wife Paola.
“We were supposed to go to Melbourne for two events just when COVID hit. We were supposed to be at the Vivid Festival in Sydney as well, and it’s all been wiped out.”
The RAS online marketplace allowed Fluffy Crunch to reach the people who would normally seek them out at the Show, as well as others who just wanted to show their support. Based on their business analytics for April, the online marketplace contributed to 1128 unique visitors to the Fluffy Crunch website.
“It did make an impact,” Karamallis says. “We received emails from people who had been on the RAS site and they saw our link and wanted to support our business.”
Karamallis says these emails helped improve the team’s mental wellbeing as they began to see community support first hand.
“It was also a reminder for people,” he says, “People who come to the Show come back looking for you, so the site was an opportunity for those who go to the Show every year to go to the website and see if they can find that the vendor they always visit.
“Without the online marketplace we wouldn’t have been able to reach those people.”
First-time hopes dashed
Western Australian-based family nougat business Mondo Nougat was set to exhibit at the Sydney Show for the very first time – something that Andrea Romeo, son of company founders Alfonso and Toni Romeo, says the family was “super excited” about.
“We had nougat stacked to the roof, pallets ready to leave and signs and banners made, and it was all go,” he says. “Luckily the driver who was supposed to come and pick it up didn’t show up, because three days later the show was cancelled. Otherwise all that nougat would have been stuck across the Nullarbor somewhere.”
While a forgetful truck driver was a blessing in disguise when it came to saving the nougat from melting, the family now had another problem: what to do with all the nougat they were hoping to sell at the Show. Luckily the RAS online marketplace was able to help.
“We saw a significant increase of our traffic from New South Wales when that launched,” Romeo says. “We thought it was an awesome initiative.
“On our little sleepy website, we probably normally get a dozen orders trickling through a week. And most of those are coming from our regular customers. Then suddenly we get an order from Sydney, then we’ve done 30, 40, 50 orders in Sydney. And what’s changed in Sydney? I don’t think it was my Facebook post! It was related to that site.”
While sales from the online marketplace were never going to move the entire volume of stock, what the site has done is create some new regular Mondo Nougat customers.
“What we have found was that since those initial random orders went out to those people, five or six weeks later some of those people are reordering,” Romeo says.
“I’ve been getting wholesale enquiries because someone gave our nougat to someone who happens to want to sell it in their shop in Nowra. I don’t even know where Nowra is, but suddenly there’s a little shop in Nowra selling our nougat!”
Romeo says that he and his family are extremely grateful to the RAS for setting up the website, and for doing it so quickly. But he also thinks that an online marketplace should become a standard offering for agricultural shows.
“When I go to international shows overseas, it’s pretty standard for them to have an online portal showcasing all the exhibitors, both in the lead-up to an after the event,” he says.
“What the RAS did was remarkable. I just hope it’s something they look to continue, because I think there’s so much value to that as an offering.
Fighting to survive
While the online marketplace offered essential support, promotion and revenue, it only ran for a few weeks. So, to continue to survive, Fluffy Crunch did what so many businesses have had to do lately – “pivot” their business model.
“We’re lucky that we’d already built up our website, but we’re a very niche business,” Karamallis says. “When you’re at an event, it works – people would buy their burger, or their doughnut and they’d come and get their fairy floss. But just having fairy floss online makes it a bit trickier to encourage people to buy.”
The business started to expand their range with products from other small businesses, and also began engaging with customers more on social media, featuring giveaways and promotions. Karamallis says the business can attribute 28% of their recent sales to Instagram and Facebook, while online sales have increased by 700% compared to last year.
However, now that restrictions are easing and people are spending less time at home, the business has already noticed a significant decrease in online sales.
“We just have to get more creative with our product, if we can survive the next eight months,” Karamallis says. “It’s going to be tough. Normally, we can do four or five big events a year and that will cover our income for 12 months. That’s all been taken away from us now.
“The events industry doesn’t really give you a steady and stable income, but you usually have your spikes and your peaks and you know when you’re going to have income coming in. Now it’s all gone.”