The old and the new: ICHF Events

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Holding a 500th show is clearly a reflection of longevity and viability. But for craft and hobby fair organiser ICHF, the milestone is only as good as having a plan for the next 500. International Craft and Hobby Fair (ICHF) was formed 35 years ago by Maurice and Ruth Brown and has built a reputation for well-attended craft and hobby-based exhibitions across the UK. The organiser covers nine segments including hobby crafts, knitting, art materials and cake decorating. Following Maurice’s premature death, ICHF was taken over by his son-in-law David Bennett, who remains at the helm today. The company has since undergone two significant periods of expansion and now runs 19 exhibitions annually. A third growth phase over the next 12-24 months will see this increase to 21 shows in 2011, 27 in 2012 and 28 in 2013. The latest expansion is being driven by David Bennett’s son and head of new business development Troy Bennett (pictured), who joined ICHF two-and-a-half years ago after a career in marketing. He is supported by his sister Karina Burns (head of consumer craft shows) and husband Simon (head of marketing).Finding more hobbies According to Bennett, ICHF faced the same challenges as other organisers during the downturn. To combat this it developed a growth strategy based on two elements: Making sure what it does is right for the markets it serves and looking at new areas to get into. “We didn’t want to cut costs and damage the way we position shows,” Bennett explained. “Instead, we put money into the feature areas such as those in the Fashion, Embroidery and Stitch show last March at The NEC. This helped increase visitor attendance by 22 per cent year-on-year.” Another key is reaching a big enough slice of the UK market. ICHF recently inked tenancy agreements with emerging venues EventCity in Manchester and Bluewater Events Venue in Kent. ICHF isn’t averse to launching into new markets either. The organiser’s latest venture will see it moving into another hobby: Photography. Bennett said the plan is to stage a feature-led consumer exhibition for photographers of all levels. The Photography Show debuts at The NEC from 9 to 11 November 2012 and will co-locate with the more established Hobbycrafts, Art Materials Live, Crafts for Christmas and Cake International exhibitions. Bennett expected the launch to take up 4,000-5,000sqm and hoped to announce media and headline sponsors shortly. “The Photography Show will be the flagship show for photographers of all levels and we’re busily talking to key players in the industry about it,” he said. Long-term success Before then, ICHF will host its 500th show, Craft, Hobby and Stitch International in February 2012. “It’s spooky that we cover nine sectors, have been in business 35 years and worked with tens of thousands of exhibitors, and yet our 500th show is Craft, Hobby and Stitch International, which is what our first International Craft and Hobby Fair evolved into,” Bennett commented. “There’s a great sense of achievement and a pat on the back for our staff in reaching so many events.” Bennett attributed the ongoing success of craft and hobby fairs to the fact that people continue to enjoy making things, getting creative and interacting with people from all walks of life. “People don’t realise what a massive industry craft is in the UK and what it has to offer,” Bennett claimed. “The shows offer a chance for fans to showcase their work, discover new possibilities and socialise.” The more austere economic climate also played its part in drawing people back to crafts. Bennett pointed out Hobbycrafts at The NEC in November smashed recorded numbers on three out of four show days for the past two years to more than 50,000. Cake International has also seen attendance double. “The ‘make do and mend’ trend is huge and has tapped new audiences that may not have considered crafts before,” Bennett continued. “People are also recognising the benefits of handmade goods.” He compared exhibitions to a complicated jigsaw of organiser, exhibitor, visitor, venue and contractor but was confident ICHF can keep piecing it together. “The pieces only fit if everyone is happy – and for most people involved, that means making money and being successful,” Bennett added. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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