For businesses in the craft and design sector, January means Showcase.
For 45 years the industry's flagship event has enabled domestic and overseas buyers to explore the best of Irish fashion, jewellery, and homewares under one roof, making their orders for the year ahead.
Last year's show generated sales of €26m. As the doors closed on four days of buying, selling and networking, attendees had every reason to believe they would be back again at the RDS this year.
Covid-19 has, of course, made that impossible.
"For the board of Showcase, the easiest option would have been to sit on our hands and wait for next year. Instead, as befits an event that celebrates design innovation, the Board leaned in and reimagined Showcase," said Eddie Shanahan, Chair of Showcase Ireland.
"Encouraged by the digital acceleration taking place across so many sectors, and the exponential growth in e-commerce, we have taken Showcase 2021 entirely online, providing exhibitors and buyers with a fully functional Virtual Showroom."
Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland's regional director of North America and a director of Showcase highlights, said: "We already knew from the migration of Enterprise Ireland's International Markets Week event online, last October, that it would work. Surveys of that event returned its highest-ever satisfaction scores, and left us with a proven, robust platform on which to bring buyers and exhibitors together.
"We developed additional functionality for Showcase that allows exhibitors to set up shop windows, buyers to peruse them, and meetings to be scheduled."
The new 2021 Virtual Showroom also presents options as to how Showcase is delivered in the future, with a hybrid show which would be a physical experience for some and virtual one for others, being an option.
There has always been a cohort of international buyers who couldn't, or wouldn't, take a week from their schedule to come to Dublin for Showcase.
The Virtual Showroom does away with such constraints, greatly expanding the show's reach, knowing however that to maximise the opportunity exhibitors would need additional support.
To equip exhibitors with the skills to sell online, Showcase developed a half-day training course with Galway-based IMS Marketing covering everything from preparing for virtual meetings to lighting for video calls.
Participants will take these skills with them, and with that the opportunity to use them to grow e-commerce sales long after Showcase 2021 ends.
To make up for the loss of the hospitality element, always an important part of Showcase's appeal but which is impossible to replicate digitally, Showcase added value by commissioning a major report from international research organisation Frost & Sullivan.
Entitled 'Generating Global Growth Through Ecommerce', it provides valuable insights and will be provided free to registered participants on the Showcase Virtual Showroom platform.
At every step the aim is to help Irish craft and design businesses grow internationally following in the footsteps of brands such as Connemara Marble, Dubarry and Solvar, which are much sought after abroad.
The sector is well positioned for international growth, Shanahan said.
"Worldwide, luxury is forecast to bounce back in 2021 and the DNA of luxury is good design, quality, craftsmanship and sustainability. Those are the trademarks of Irish companies at Showcase," he said.
Part of what makes Showcase so appealing to buyers is its inclusion, not just of a wide range of commercial exhibitors, but of the prestigious Design Ireland portfolio - curated by the Design and Craft Council of Ireland - and its Local Enterprise Office Showcase, which features many first-time exhibitors.
To facilitate buyers further, the Showcase website (showcaseireland.com) has been redeveloped as a source guide and B2B facility with more than 200 Irish craft and design companies already fully enabled on it.
"Wholesale is now a multichannel proposition. Just like retail it is no longer about 'bricks or clicks', it's about both," said Shanahan.
"This year's Showcase will be different. As in so many other sectors right now, if you take a short-term view and ask 'how much will I sell in 2021?', you may feel Showcase did not fully deliver.
"But if you take a longer-term view and ask instead 'what can I learn in 2021 in terms of e-commerce capability, managing virtual meetings and your online presence that I can carry with me going forward?', that's where the value is in our rapidly accelerating digital economy."
Certainly, those of us who are involved in organising Showcase 2021 will take what we have learned in this exceptional year with us far into the future, and the steps we have taken will help Showcase to grow and flourish for years to come.
Showcase Virtual Showrooms takes place January 25-29, see https://www.showcaseireland.com/news/showcase-virtual-showrooms-digital-catalogue/ or search 'showcase Ireland showrooms' for more
Sunday Indo Business