While the nation’s economy is nowhere close to “all systems go” status, the arrival of June brought a noticeable uptick in activity. And barring a significant new wave of coronavirus cases, it’s unlikely to see a return to the lockdowns of the early spring.
Service centers, like every other segment in the business community, welcomed the opening of the economy, and only hope that we continue to push ahead. Your average metal distributor may not serve most consumer markets directly, but in some ways we’re all connected, and a return to health for one segment is going to be good for the whole.
Hovering over all of this is the sense of what comes next. That topic, in many ways, is covered throughout this month’s issue, with industry executives, analysts and other relevant parties discussing what kind of economic landscape we’re looking at for the remainder of 2020 and into the next year.
But just as interesting, and a little unknowable, is how doing business will change as a result of the pandemic. Because it almost certainly will.
It will change in small ways. The idea of a handshake sealing a deal may stick around, but the handshake itself may be another victim of the coronavirus. The nod, the wave and even the elbow bump are going to become far more prevalent in the future as we’ve become acutely aware of how the palms and fingers are humankind’s unwitting virus traffickers.
We will also see major transformations. While it will still be necessary, at least for the immediate future, to operate a slitting line or drive a forklift from inside the building, there is likely to be a change in mindset concerning other functions that previously demanded an employee’s presence.
And what is the future of the outside sales call?
Furthermore, how will trade shows and conferences evolve? It’s interesting that two of the leading industry events designed to forecast the future, SMU’s Steel Summit in August and MSCI’s Economic Summit in September, are the first service center-focused conferences that will be conducted virtually since the pandemic hit. It’s likely assumed this is a one-time only solution to a once-a-century problem. But is it? Will some companies be less likely to authorize this kind of travel in the future, mandating organizers to offer digital options in conjunction with in-person meetings?
The same goes for trade shows. I have no doubt events such as FABTECH and IMTS will continue to exist, because the world will always need places to ooh and aah over spectacular machinery (I know I do). But will attendance in 2021 and beyond rival what these events have typically attracted?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I do know it’s going to be fascinating, and more than a little frightening, to find out