Easy does it

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The Easyfairs name was frequently bandied about at Tfconnect’s inaugural Global Summit in September. The fact that the company’s founder and chairman, Eric Everard, was speaking at the event may have had something to do with it. But the general curiosity surrounding the Easyfairs’ model, and in particular its profitability, is the more likely explanation.  It’s a good question says Everard. “This model only becomes profitable if you run enough shows. We are only breaking even now with 80 shows.”  In fact, the company is extremely profitable in the Nordic and Benelux countries which were early adopters of the concept, he says. “The only reason that the group is breaking even is that we invest like hell. We want to develop the concept in as many countries and sectors as possible. At this stage, we want to maximise development, not profit.”  Everard developed the Easyfairs model in 2004 in response to the decline of traditional shows in his native Belgium, which he saw as the start of a trend that would soon spread throughout Europe. Unlike consumer and international shows, he is not optimistic about the traditional formats’ future. “Trade shows in small and medium markets serving mature markets are suffering, will continue to suffer and will ultimately disappear,” he says.  The Easyfairs model targets regional and national visitor markets and is most suitable for industrial and technical shows. But the reason the concept thrives, says Everard, is because it is both time and cost effective. Exhibitors are not allowed to build their own stands. Instead they buy modules of 12 square metres for €3,000 and turn up two hours before the show to dress them with their products and branding. The exhibitions also only last for two days. Companies are limited to a total of four modules to prevent them from outshining the competition. This has helped to attract small- and medium-sized organisations to the exhibitions. “Bigger companies have to be creative in a limited environment. They can’t destroy the level playing field we’ve created to help SMEs feel comfortable exhibiting alongside international organisations,” adds Everard.  This concept may attract smaller companies to the exhibition fold, but don’t the stand restrictions discourage larger organisations? It does initially, admits Everard.  “They are often the last to book a stand, but if you are a big organisation and you see 200 companies are exhibiting and you’re not there, what choice do you have?” The reality, he says, is that such organisations continue to exhibit at the larger shows to launch new products and build brand profile, but will also take part in an Easyfairs exhibition. “Easyfairs shows are strictly lead generators,” he says.  But what about the visitor experience? The exhibition industry has been talking about the ‘wow factor’ for the past few years; doesn’t the Easyfairs’ back-to-basics model contradict this and create a predictable, if boring, experience? Everard admits this is a concern. It’s an area of focus for the company, which has developed a number of ‘little tricks’ to make the visitor journey more interesting. Everard is not prepared to divulge. But, he says, because the shows tend to be smaller than their large, international counterparts due to the limits on stand space, visitors typically see a new product every four metres and can complete the exhibition in three to four hours.  “The visitors like the concentration. They don’t go home frustrated because they’ve spent too long in the bar on one stand and missed the rest of it. Yes, the shows may be dry, but they have a concentration of product and innovation and are efficient, which visitors like.” The company has grown to 80 shows in 15 countries in five years and aims to expand to 200 exhibitions in the next five years. At the same time it expects to increase its revenues from €30 to €100 million. Being a process-driven company will allow such rapid growth says Everard. All business processes are centrally defined and managed for every aspect of the operation, from launching a campaign and running a trade show, to developing a website and building a database. At Easyfairs there is only one way, and that it is the Easyfairs way. The benefit of this is a consistency in all processes across all countries. “If we can gain five seconds on visitor registration by making a change in Brussels, it is immediately felt throughout the company,” explains Everard. For visitors and experiences this translates to the same experience wherever they may be. “For €3,000 you get a stand in a formula you know and understand, with people you know in any market in Europe,” says Everard. He says it gives the company flexibility, allowing it to switch regions and countries, postpone and even cancel shows as necessary. In fact, Easyfairs has cancelled 30 per cent of its shows to date and Everard is happy to continue to operate in this vein as the company embarks on its next stage of growth.  Further expansion will come, he says, from the acquisition of shows in vertical markets and new show launches; Easyfairs launches between 20 and 30 shows a year. The company will also enter new countries and grow in those it is already in. For example, Easyfairs has 25 shows in its launch country of Belgium, but only 10 in Germany. A show that may run once in Belgium has the potential to be cloned two or three times in Germany due to the size of that country.  The majority of Easyfairs’ shows are held in Europe, but the company entered Colombia two years ago, via partners, to test the water. With 10 shows in the country and the division expected to show a profit this year, Everard is optimist ic about its future as well as the potential of other Latin American countries.  Easyfairs has used local partners in Poland and Russia and is open to further partnerships to accelerate its growth. It has also used the franchise option for some shows in France. And, while the concept is currently only suitable for industrial trade shows, the company is in the process of developing new models for other sectors.  So, it appears there’s more to come from Everard and his Easyfairs machine. And whatever, wherever or whenever that might be, we can be sure it will be uniquely Easyfairs.  
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