Interview: Steve Barratt

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You don’t have to read too deeply into the title of Steve Barratt’s new firm to see his feelings on his personal journey across the exhibition industry. A former chief executive of Early Action Group and SO Group, a founder member and inaugural chairman of ESSA and ex-chairman of the Event Industry Alliance, Barratt is an industry heavyweight who after some time out of the game, is back in the ring and ready to trade a few punches. And he’s looking to slug above his weight too. “We will look to take a step back from the large corporates that seem to have a majority position,” he said. In simple terms, his new venture Full Circle is a new all-services provider for the exhibition industry. The company is based in Manchester and currently has 14 employees across sales, project management and administration. The firm’s tagline will be ‘Where I want to be.’ As EN went to press, the firm is securing a deal to buy one company Neuvision Events and is in the later stages of discussion in buying another company. Barratt spent several months out of the exhibition firing line researching the market before making his move back. And he sees this new venture as finding a niche in the market. “Because of the developments in the market with Freeman and GES, there’s a space that now needs to be filled,” said Barratt. “We will be people-driven not corporate. It’s not about size, it’s about quality. “At the current time we have Chelsea and Manchester City sized companies. So we can’t outspend them.” Barratt acknowledges that the two major players of GES and Freeman UK have a major take in the market. But he insists there is still choice out there for clients. “It’s no use speaking six languages if you speak them badly, and if 95 per cent of your exhibitors speak English,” he said. “There are three sets of delivery needs: Pre-Show, onsite and aftershow. They should all have 33 and a third per cent of the importance for a supplier.” The firm will be shared ownership, but he dismissed a comparison with John Lewis. “Everyone talks about John Lewis as a shared ownership model. Aren’t there any others out there? I’m from up north, so let’s go with the Co-Op.” Barratt is open about his recruitment policy and strategy for the firm. Back in 2011, EAG and Opex merged to create a unified event and exhibition services company for the UK and global market. The newly-combined group encompassed Opex, Stanco, ExpoSystems, Excel Invision and Early Action Group. This group formed the basis for the creation of SO Group. “Full Circle will have the values of the Early Action Group. They couldn’t have been all bad,” he smiled. “The firm will have a lot of familiar faces from Early Action Group.” With SO Group, Barr att pulls no punches. He was put on gardening leave by the firm and failed to agree terms with Freeman. “I have no bitterness with SO Group or Freeman but I do have a distaste for how they have handled the former employees of EAG.” Barratt says that SO Group, at that time, was a firm already approaching troubled waters. “What I found was an organisation and its management which was desperately in need of modernisation,” he said. “But I think the firm wasn’t willing to do it. You can ask whether I was the right person to do it. But the fact is, it needed to happen. The consequences are now clear to everybody in the industry.” So with a period out of the exhibition market, EN asked what tempted Barratt back into the fold. After all he has two young sons, aged four and two to occupy his time. “I’ve got a young family and being on gardening leave made me appreciate that,” he said. “But when I met people from the market, I realised how much I missed the buzz of it.” “I don’t think we appreciate the quality of people working in this industry. When you take into consideration the constraints of the UK market, venue restrictions, unsociable hours and the stresses and strains of what we do.” Full Circle wants to have a total involvement in the look feel and concept of a show and bring the personal touch, which he feels some contractors now lack. Barratt also gave a nod to his association history, by confirming that the new company will plan to join ESSA as soon as possible. “Exhibitions touch all parts of life,” he said. “But the more corporate we get, the more impersonal we get.” For those looking for a 360-degree level of service from this industry’s veteran’s new venture, you need only look at the title of the firm. This was first published in the August issue of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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