The Ohio Promotional Professionals Association (OPPA) recently held its fourth Sales Safari at Kalahari at the Kalahari Resort & Conference Center in Sandusky, Ohio. The August 4-5 show was one of the first live events held in the promotional products industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the regional association incorporated numerous changes and practices to ensure distributor and exhibitor safety.

“Sales Safari at Kalahari was sold-out in January 2020 with all the anticipated excitement of a great event. Then COVID‐19 entered our world that caused a domino effect of changes,” says OPPA Executive Director LaDonna Belcher. “Many in our industry wondered why OPPA was pursuing the path to keep a schedule of offering in-person meetings during this time. The OPPA Board had several Zoom meetings and conference calls to discuss the future of the association and what OPPA’s responsibility was to the members during unprecedented COVID‐19 closures of business. All of the board members agreed that it is important to keep a routine of business for OPPA members and build confidence for the future. Most of our members are small businesses that are dependent on sales. Looking to our by‐laws, the avowed purpose of the association is to provide opportunities to our members.

“With the need of our members and their future in mind, we proceeded to provide a strategic sales meeting, Sales Safari at Kalahari, to our members. This meeting is designed to be smaller in attendance with private meetings between the supplier and the distributor. The maximum number in each meeting was four people and that included the supplier. Most meetings were two people—one distributor, one supplier. During the meeting, the distributor and supplier discussed sales strategies for the distributor to go to market with their clients. The overall attendance of participants and volunteers was 43 people, representing 16 distributor companies and 15 supplier companies.”

Prior to the show, OPPA researched how to provide a safe environment for the in-person meeting to take place. Board members investigated safety processes, past presidents made recommendations and the Belcher researched national meeting guidelines. The board also listened to and kept up to date with the recommendations of Ohio’s governor, the health department for the county in which the meeting was going to take place and the CDC guidelines.

And just as important, the board chose a venue that allowed for social distancing and that followed all the guidelines required. The Kalahari Resort and Conference Center is a family-owned resort and, like OPPA’s members, it had been looking for ways to keep doing business during COVID‐19. The association notes that it was an excellent partner that took every aspect of sanitization, mask-wearing and social distancing seriously.

“The OPPA board and team did an outstanding job of organizing a great event,” says exhibitor Stacie Woltman with American Ad Bag. “I felt very safe—temperatures were taken, a mask was provided and disinfectant was supplied in our rooms—that made us feel safe and comfortable. I felt at ease when dining as the Kalahari staff was vigilant and the rules were strictly enforced while the staff practiced social distancing and having only several people get up and go to the buffet table.”

“Through this entire process of Kalahari, we, as a board, constantly got questioned, and I am sure doubted many times. I am proud to say this is an OPPA board that does not know how to quit,” says OPPA President Kyle McGovern of McGovern Marketing. “There were times when it would have been easy, but when some folks needed to cancel due to travel restrictions by their companies, and LaDonna asked me what I wanted to do, I asked what do we need to do to at least break even. If that is all we can do, we owe it to our members to continue on. So, we did just that. Through all the headaches, I truly feel we accomplished something special. We showed in a world gone crazy, we can still come together as an industry, as a family, and get things done. I am so impressed by not only our board, but also our members, their ability to adapt, and not just react to all that is going on in the world. Thank you to all that took part! I am so happy that we decided to keep going, and that you trusted us to give you a safe, fun and productive event. Can’t wait for the next one!”

OPPA sent a survey to all attendees after the event to find out how they felt about the safety of the Sales Safari. The first question asked them to describe how they felt about participating in OPPA’s Sales Safari before coming to the event. It found that 77.7 percent of distributors and 85.7 percent of suppliers said they were not apprehensive and ready for the sales meeting. One percent of distributors described themselves as “very apprehensive” while the remaining distributors and suppliers said they were “a little apprehensive.”

The survey found that 100 percent of respondents said “Yes” when asked if they were glad they participated in the event. The survey also asked several questions relating to how OPPA did in producing a safe event. One hundred percent of suppliers and distributors said OPPA exceeded their expectations and did an excellent job in terms of “following CDC guidelines,” “providing correct information on being safe,” “made you feel safe” and “overall, how do you rate the association’s efforts in creating a safe event.”

Attendee Sara Toth-Niles of Advertise America, says, “Since many of the vendors there are people I have known for a long time, I was conformable being there. People were very respectful, and we certainly had access to many items to keep things clean. It was nice to interact with people and get some good ideas. Nice to hear what, besides PPE, is doing well.”