The Great British build-off

Build times, budgets and last minute bookings – EN goes behind the scenes with four major temporary structure suppliers.

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Imagine spending a considerable amount of time and energy designing and building a structure. It’s stylish, it’s original and it even has the ability to withstand a British summer. Now imagine you have to take it down two days later, perhaps never to be seen again.


Luckily the professionals supplying temporary structures to the exhibitions industry are made of sterner stuff than EN reporters, and have ability to move straight onto the next event and the next structure. EN’s Nicola Macdonald sat down with four such individuals to discover how they overcome the challenges of working with temporary structures, and to learn the one thing they wish organisers knew about their sector.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your sector?


Ash Austin (AA), director of Evolution Dome: The great British weather is probably the biggest as it’s so unpredictable. Our structures are 55mph wind-rated, but that doesn’t make it any more fun setting them up in wind and rain.


Sarah Campbell (SC), marketing manager at Losberger: Too many companies are cutting corners, which is driving prices down. Those of us who are building things safely suffer the consequences of being more expensive for using the correct fire rate materials and building safely. We have seen a lot of incorrect and worryingly dangerous practice.


Alistair Watson (AW), marketing director at the Halo Group: We work with steel, and as such, no build is without its challenges. Working with steel has many advantages but also comes with physical, logistical and technical challenges. Using our system requires a very high level of skill and precision and it is this that probably represents the biggest challenge.


Toby Bennett (TB), sales director at GL events: Operationally it takes expertise and experience. The act of putting up a temporary structure needs the same quality and safety assurances as putting up a building, so it’s important to have the right people with the right experience on hand. We also face time pressures. Many of our events require a quick build so we need to be agile enough to get in, get the structure up, and then get it down afterwards to enable the next event on-site.

Where do you get ideas for temporary structure designs?


TB: Everywhere, but most of all, as with so many things, we get inspiration from our clients. There is certainly a new breed of event organiser that puts creativity and the creation of experience at the heart of their process, which means increasingly we’re working collaboratively with them on the sort of structure they want.


AW: Sometimes a client will come to us with a design or concept knowing our system is able to help them realise their vision, however most of our ideas come from our creative team and in-house design department. The high degree of flexibility inherent in our system allows them free reign to imagine, design and create, which is our company tag line.

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How has the sector changed over time?


AW: Everything changes with time. However, what we have noticed over the past five years is that the exhibitions industry is actually one of the most stable and unchanging of any sector in the events world. What you see is a group of very established suppliers and contractors who have years of experience. Many have been working in the industry for over a decade, which makes the landscape retain a similar identity.


TB: Innovation. A temporary structure you’d stand in now, compared to in 2006 is vastly different. We use better materials in the build, we can get more mod cons into the spaces and we also embrace event tech. It’s easy for our clients to set up WiFi and 4G connectivity and all the fun and games they offer event organisers. We also have little touches such as electric doors, air conditioning, under floor heating that all adds to the experience of the delegate.


AA: There have been a lot of great ideas and creative designs coming out over the last 10 years, as well as problem solving for the most common temporary structure challenges (wind ratings, speed of installs and de-rigs, ease of transport etc.). We are seeing a lot less of the traditional marquees used onsite, and a lot more of the multi-deck systems. Many people are now choosing the inflatable structure solution.


SC: Planning time scales are becoming shorter; we are seeing more events with lead times of six weeks or less. Budgets are another issue. There is greater pressure to discount, especially to gain new contracts.


What one thing do you wish organisers would do more?


AA: Preparation is key for all events, but this applies to everyone, not just organisers. Everyone involved should be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible to ensure everything goes to plan. Last minute bookings seem to be on the rise and this just adds even more pressure to suppliers.


SC: Be more upfront about budgets. Writing a quote without having your client’s budget is a waste of your time and theirs. We have submitted offers to supply an event only to never hear from that client again, or even more disheartening found out that the project was given to a competitor because we over spec’d and the price was too high. The only way around is to establish a guide budget from the outset.


AW: I would like to see a higher degree of quality control sometimes. Vetting exhibitors isn’t something you see often. Essentially it’s a free market, so if you can pay for the space you can exhibit, but I would like to see a greater degree of curation at the average show.
TB: Our best clients are always our most demanding ones. This comes from a trust that we have earned with them. The moment an organiser can look beyond the safety and security of the build they can focus on the creative implementation. This is where we can really work collaboratively with them to create something memorable.

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