Food for thought: Embracing retail venues

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Laura BiggsMD, BBC Haymarket ExhibitionsI believe we should give these venues a warm welcome as new friends to our industry. We have yet to see Bluewater in full swing so judgement can only come when it has opened its doors and the visitors flock in. But logic tells me that if you open a venue in one of the most affluent places in the country, and put in it a show that we know appeals to the local demographic, then it already has a good headstart.  The danger is believing the venue alone will provide visitors. Just because someone comes to shop at Bluewater/Trafford Centre, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are instantly a target visitor for your shows. Any organiser that goes to these venues has to market their events like any other and to us that means pre-selling the majority of tickets. Our reason in taking a BBC Good Food Show to Bluewater was a simple one. We have food shows at both The NEC and Olympia but we are not pulling in significant numbers visitors from Kent or Essex to either show. Yet our partner magazines Good Food and olive have their second-highest readership in those counties – thus we have the perfect opportunity to reach an established fan base. The caution has to be that your show must deliver more than a great shopping experience, as arguably the visitor/shopper has that in abundance. The only show/s we would consider taking to a venue within a shopping centre would be ones with a high level of editorial content. The pre-show marketing opportunities are also ideal and unique. You can target your demographic according to the section of the shopping centre they visit – it is a quick and very effective way to get your message to thousands of potential new visitors. It is also a good way to introduce a whole new audience of show goers; these shoppers may have never considered going to an event or exhibition but now it’s on the doorstep they may well give it a try. The caution is to treat these venues as you would any other venue with the added traffic and promotional activity they offer as a bonus. But hey, ask me again in May. Rob NathanMarketing director, Media 10It has to be said any new venue offering the kind of facilities that Bluewater is offering has to be commended in the current climate. However, without wishing to be the harbinger of doom, I do worry organisers are being attracted because of the fact that the new venue already attracts tens of thousands of visitors to its shopping centre each week, rather than looking at this simply as a standalone venue. What has to be remembered is that shopping centres are basically a threat to exhibitions – they offer lovely shops, no admission fees, restaurants, air conditioning and so on, but not the content that exhibitions offer. They can’t really be seen a complementary in the B2C market; otherwise dwell times will collapse as will spend at show if they are already thinking about popping to Nandos or John Lewis. Any marketing plan for this centre needs to be attracting 10,000 or 20,000 visitors – whatever the targets are – because they want to go to that exhibition, not thinking that they will nab some of the shoppers who happen to be there. If they are thinking the latter then there is trouble ahead and I am sure no organiser would be so naive to do so. Visitors need to want to go to the exhibition regardless of it was in Bluewater, Earls Court or Excel London. The fact that it is at a shopping centre shouldn’t be a factor but some of the messages I have been hearing from organisers so far is playing on the ‘Bluewater shopping’ factor and this is a very dangerous game. The marketing budget for any event needs to be as robust as it would be for a launch regardless of venue – otherwise we might all as well set up events on the way to Old Trafford and claim that 70,000 visitors attended. I would have thought that more B2B events would be attracted to the venue but that might come in time. I really hope my pessimism is proved wrong on this one and as our office located close to Bluewater I look forward to seeing and hearing the promotion for the forthcoming events. Oliver RomainMD, Accession Exhibitions and PublishingThe growth of shopping centre-based venues is one of the most interesting developments in our industry and, if the trend continues, it will impact very positively on the majority of exhibition organisers. Shopping venue operators and exhibition organisers understand footfall intrinsically. Both industries are deadly serious about visitor numbers and dwell time and this can contribute to a quintessential partnership. However, to describe these venues as just a ‘shopping centre’ would be to ignore all the other activities associated with them including dining, catching a film and now, of course, visiting an exhibition. These major retail and leisure venues provide a complete destination experience and, alongside out-of-town shopping, have successfully challenged the British High Street and are now taking on live events venues. Take Manchester for example. We recently hired EventCity, a former Argos warehouse adjacent to the hugely successful Trafford Centre. EventCity boasts more than 50,000sqm of space and 10,000 free parking spaces. Its nearest competitor Manchester Central is one of the most expensive venues in the UK and is limited to 10,000sqm and is expensive for parking. Once EventCity is bedded in, there is simply no contest; EventCity wins hands down for exhibitions. These venues are associated with proven footfall and easy accessibility for millions of people. It is certain more venues will follow EventCity and Bluewater. Take Gateshead for example: There is plenty of unused industrial land and buildings right next door to Europe’s largest retail and leisure destination, the Metro Centre. The exhibition industry desperately needs more capacity to support the growth of innovative new shows. Locating new capacity alongside retail and leisure venues is the optimum way to deliver this capacity. However, venues and organisers will need to be cautious not to rely on retail and leisure footfall to guarantee a show’s success. While these factors are very useful they are unlikely to prop up a poorly executed exhibition or badly managed venue. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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