How did you get into this industry?
I started my own fashion business in 1982 called Gavin Brown Limited. We designed and manufactured leather jackets as well as other clothing items, which went into the high street shops and independent stores. We made clothes for designers including Jasper Conran and Mulberry and also products under my own label.
In 1987, I set-up an exhibition business called Barker Brown with June Barker, who had been MD of the fashion division at Blenheim Group. Our original plan was to produce fashion trade exhibitions. It was a business I knew well from having exhibited at lots of shows.
What was your first show?
It was Design and Knitwear, which was a specialist, high-end trade show. We did design and accessories, then proprietary mid-season and main season shows and we acquired related London shows. Overall, we were running fundamentally young, fashion trade exhibitions that were fairly international.
In 1989, we were approached to create Clothes Show Live by the editor of Clothes Show magazine, who used to work for Drapers and who I knew well. June and I launched Clothes Show Live at Olympia in December 1989. We had our own business until autumn 1999, when Haymarket approached us to takeover the exhibition. We had been working with them in the lead-up to Clothes Show Live. I joined Haymarket in January 2000 as MD of the exhibition business and brought Clothes Show Live with me, so I’ve been on the event for 23 years. June now runs Graduate Fashion Week.Haymarket Exhibitions is celebrating its 21st birthday in 2011. How has the approach to exhibitions changed?
Clothes Show Live was a revolution in the way exhibitions appealed to the public. Prior to that, exhibitions were very static and visitors to consumer shows would see pieces of metal, an empty boat or sofa and there was nothing related to features. At Barker Brown, we introduced catwalks, makeovers, interactivity and allowed visitors to see ‘behind the scenes’ of fashion TV programmes complete with their presenters. It was an opportunity for members of the public to experience things they’d never seen before and interact with celebrities they hadn’t had access to previously.
Because of June and I’s experience in the fashion business, we wanted to create something that wasn’t just a catwalk and that was vibrant and exciting.
In 1992, Haymarket formalised a joint venture with the BBC, which included Gardeners’ World Live, BBC Good Food Show, Good Homes, festivals and at one time Top Gear Live. What we did there was invest heavily in features. At Gardeners’ World for example, there are 20 gardens, while at the Good Food Shows we have catered to the cult of celebrity chef and had the likes of Jamie Oliver, the Hairy Bikers and Gordon Ramsay at the shows.
Over the years I’ve been involved with the business, our shows have gone from being very static to feature-led. To give you an idea of the scale of Clothes Show Live: We build a theatre bigger than the Royal Albert Hall, which seats 6,500 people and we run up to seven shows daily across the seven-day event.What’s the biggest challenge today?
To justify going to an exhibition, you have to get visitors to believe you’re dynamic, interactive and vibrant. Today, we’re competing against the football or the cinema; the theatre and pop concerts. We’re also competing with shopping centres, which now know that if they do stuff which retains their visitors’ attention, they will stay longer and spend more money.
In the same vein, we’re up against the brands themselves. In the early days of Clothes Show Live, Top Shop would exhibit with us. It eventually chose not to come back because it realised the stores had to be interactive. The Oxford Street Top Shop store is actually based on the experience of attending events with trimmings like DJs, makeovers, fashion shows, people on skateboards and celebrity appearances. Top Shop could see the way visitors to our event interacted. The feature investment we put into all our shows is enormous – our theatre show for instance costs about £1m.Haymarket launched the Dance Show in 2010. What are your plans for the second show?
We originally launched the Dance Show for three days during Clothes Show Live. What we’ve decided to do in 2011 is extend it to six days. We originally set-up Dance Show separately because it only ran three days, but it’s now being integrated into Clothes Show Live while retaining its own identity, stages and studios. What makes a successful exhibition?
You have to inspire, entertain, stimulate, educate and make people feel great when they leave an event. This is particularly important if you need to charge a certain ticket price to cover costs. These things cost a lot of money to put on, so we have to charge a price that relates to the cost of creating these events.
With trade shows, you’ve got a certain set-up. People walk down the aisles to conduct business, but it can be pretty dull so even with a trade show, you need to get vibrancy and life into things. What shows are in your portfolio?
I look after Fruit Focus, which is a soft and top fruit event; Cereals, which covers arable farming; Clothes Show Live; Dutch Show; Autosport International on motor racing; and PistonHeads covering performance cars. In the past I’ve done things like Vive La France, Urban Games and a bike show. Some last for three or four years and have run their course. You’ve got to know when to stop. How do you know when it’s time to call it quits on an exhibition?
Vive La France is a good example – it was a great show, very profitable and it coincided with a big boom in French property. That meant people interested in buying property in France, French wine and food came along. This boom has since declined. Max Power Live was based around a magazine about modified cars and girls and was a great product with a 230,000 ABC readership figure. We worked on a joint venture with Emap on the publication and it worked very well for seven years before the genre faded. The magazine has since closed, and we’ve moved on to other things.
You have to look at the trends developing. Dance, for example, is very popular on TV and more people are taking up dancing. Upper Street Events does a great job with Move It, which has a trade show on the first day, and as organisers Upper Street is highly respected in the industry. But Move It takes place in London in March while our show takes place in December in the Midlands. We are not competing at all – there is an opportunity for us to co-exist. Where do you get your inspiration for events from?
Magazines, TV and emerging market trends. When you look at new ideas, you have to also consider where the revenue is coming from. There are three primary streams: Selling exhibition space, selling tickets and sponsorship. When we have ideas or when people come to us with ideas, we ask who the exhibitors will be, where the revenue will come from, what sponsors will want to align with the show and potential attendees.
You also need to ask whether the opportunity is for a one-off event or something with longevity. The normal model for exhibitions is to lose money in year one, break even in year two and make money in year three. If you don’t think the event has more than two years, you’ll need something that’s an instant hit financially. There’s no reason why you can’t do one-off things, as long as you can identify what it is and recognise that the investment model has to be different. There is a wonderful expression ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’ which is worth bearing in mind.Where do you see opportunities for Haymarket to grow?
We are looking at what is relevant to internationalise. I think you need to consider carefully where those markets are. It’s got to be done the right way, where there is no impact on the UK models and it could be through other Haymarket offices or with other organisers. Certainly, the model other organisers have taken internationally varies country by country and in some areas they licence their brands. How about acquisitions?
There is always opportunity and someone who wants to sell or has a reason to exit. If the right opportunity came up, we’d of course be interested. Will we see Haymarket launch more events this year?
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