Four logistics professionals tell EN that, despite new regulations and advances in technology, the sector has remained the same.
Speak to anyone in the sector, and they’ll tell you that the fundamental nature of logistics hasn’t changed.
“Venues can change, different organisers can use different people, but you still have to get your vehicle from A to B,” says Phil White, partner at Ant Logistics.
“At its heart it hasn’t changed that much,” agrees Kevin Watkins, logistics manager at Agility. “We are still a very people-led industry.”
This emphasis on people perhaps explains why logistics professionals are quick to proclaim their love for the exhibitions industry.
“The exhibitions industry is amazing. I love the people and their outlook on life,” says Alan Faulconbridge, director of Creative Freight. “Each event is completely different, with a different set of requirements and needs. One day we’re sending out parcels via courier and the next we’re using a crane to erect a wine turbine. It’s amazing.”
One more unwelcome aspect to the sector is the increasingly last minute orders received by logistics professionals, with important information often trickling down the line in dribs and drabs rather than as a comprehensive order.
“Clients are getting their orders later and later and it’s passed down the line, we’re always chasing information,” describes White.
“Trying to get the right information is horrendous,” agrees Faulconbridge. “People pack last minute because they want to make sure that everything’s prepared.”
The red tape
Another challenge is navigating the plethora of rules and regulations that dictate logistics, especially internationally. Travelling to countries such as Norway and Switzerland requires additional invoices and carnets, but logistics professionals are accustomed to dealing with these hurdles.
“It’s not a major obstacle for anyone in our game,” says White. “Things change but basically it’s still the same job.”
It is, adds Watkins, vitally important to be aware of the requirements and attitudes of foreign countries.
“We increasingly find ourselves operating in countries that don’t embrace our industry in the same way.
"We always need to be one step ahead as we have to deal with stringent customs requirements and ever-changing schedules,” he explains.
Operating across the UK and internationally means that the environment is an important issue in the sector, as it is in most sectors in the industry.
“Using a local haulier means there are a lot less empty running costs,” White tells EN. “Local people are also a lot more responsive when things go wrong, because they’re not far away.”
“Our environmental policy dictates that we reduce our carbon footprint wherever possible,” adds Mark Bristoll, sales director at CEVA Showfreight.
“This is best done by reducing forktruck and vehicle movements. A simple initiative like consolidating freight helps, but our investment in bespoke IT systems has also been a big driver in maximising the efficiency of our vehicle movements.”
While technology hasn’t had a hugely significant impact on the basics of logistics, it does have a place within the sector.
“From online ordering and traffic and site management systems to smartphone email access, the industry has changed in the last few years. But having the right people in the right place is key,” says Watkins.
CEVA has invested heavily in IT, making its onsite operation totally paperless and developing its traffic management VRS system.
But, argues Faulconbridge, technology can sometimes be more for show than for practical use: “You can make logistics more presentable with a nice bit of kit, but technology isn’t going to change what you’ve got to do.
"Before you have technology you need the money for it, and to think if it’s viable for the business.”
Rising to the challenge
Exhibitions can provide some of the biggest logistical challenges in the events industry.
CEVA Showfreight is one of the official suppliers to Farnborough International Airshow, managing the traffic operation and remaining onsite for 12 weeks with more than 100 staff. More controversial shows, such as defence fair DSEI, require logistics professionals to navigate global freight movements and increased scrutiny at customs.
“DSEI is a challenging event,” admits Watkins, “it has the added complication of operating under stricter security requirements.”
The quietest time for logistics professionals is often during the events themselves, says Faulconbridge: “Once the event is open we don’t need to be there. That’s when the exhibitors are selling. They’ve paid a lot of money to be at an event, and we don’t want to get in the way. We turn up two or three hours before breakdown to make sure everything is fine,” he explains.
“We ensure that our clients’ products are where they need to be,” adds Watkins. “This sounds simple - often the client’s products are the reason for them being at the event - yet it’s often one of the last things they think about.”
Without the support of logistics, the exhibition industry would grind to a halt, luckily professionals in the sector are up to the challenge of dealing with vague orders, heightened security, environmental concerns and last minute changes.