The serial exhibitor

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The first phrase that springs to mind when talking to hot tub and spa company, Hydropool UK, is ‘serial exhibitor’. The company, which was established in 1996 as one of the first of its type in this country, has been a major supporter of exhibitions since day one. You only have to look at its all-time record for shows in one year to know this is a business that loves face-to-face (it’s 47). “When we started, no one understood why you would want to put a bath in your garden,” MD Jonathan Bunn told EN. “Exhibitions and shows allowed us to put products in front of the end user to touch, feel and build their desire. “We quickly latched onto the fact that exhibitions work well for companies like ours, where a brochure is flat and doesn’t quite have enough impact. Even with the onset of the Internet, face-to-face remains the most powerful medium. Being in front of these big audiences has allowed us to build and develop our business over the years.”Plunging into face-to-face Hydropool has consistently spent about 75 per cent of its yearly marketing budget on UK exhibitions, and today generates more than 50 per cent of its annual revenues by participating in a select group of shows throughout the year. Initially, the firm targeted any exhibition relevant to its target audience of middle class and affluent consumers, setting up shop at boat shows, home expos, agricultural events and more. Its build typically consists of double-decker structures, including a main stand of 200-250sqm, along with up to three other stands, bringing its footprint to well over 500sqm. “What we found as the years went on and the competition heated up was that our competitors began exhibiting at everything we were exhibiting at,” Bunn explained. “It became known in the industry as ‘spa wars’. At one point, when DMG still owned the Ideal Home Show, there were eight or nine suppliers paying big money to be there, all trying to get their piece of the pie.” As he learned the ropes of how to exhibit effectively, Bunn’s strategy became more discerning. The result of this has been Hydropool taking sponsorship of all its chosen exhibitions, thereby ensuring exclusivity on the floor. These include the Southampton and London Boat Shows, and the Ideal Home Show (pictured). “We have got rid of the competitors that have been following us around for years in one swoop,” Bunn said. “Over the past two years, we have copied this formula into all the events we do. “Organisers are looking for bigger brands to ensure visitors have a nice experience. We know that at an exhibition you have to look good, be professional, and organisers recognise we’re a high-profile exhibitor that does a good job and will stage a great show at their stand.” Sponsorship was also a way to secure a better position on the floorplan as well as accessing VIP lounges and bars for valued visitors. “At Ideal Home Show we were positioned next to the champagne bar, which was branded Hydropool and gave us a VIP area as a type of overflow/closing area for our customers,” Bunn continued. “It took the buying experience to another level and was a powerful way for us to close business.” An average sale for Hydropool is £12,000. “If you are trying to get the level of business we’re trying to get from an individual, you have to do everything right. Sponsorship and access to VIP areas delivers a higher profile and puts us on a platform in the customer’s eyes by exposing them to our brand right through the show.”Annual circuit In the next year, Hydropool will return to eight exhibitions, starting with the London Boat Show in January followed by Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs London, Goodwood Festival of Speed, Southampton Boat Show, the National Home Improvement Show, Grand Designs Birmingham and Ideal Home at Christmas. It has also booked into the National Caravan Council’s Caravan and Motorhome Show at The NEC for the first time this October. “The visitor base of the Caravan and Motorhome Show doesn’t quite fit our target customer profile, but we thought we’d give it a try and see what we can achieve,” Bunn said. Being a sales-focused exhibitor, Hydropool’s ROI from its show presence can be identified at 6pm when the event closes its doors for the last time. “We write business on the stand, take deposits and close sales there and then,” Bunn said. “We do generate leads, which we follow up, but we are judging our success by the bag of orders and their value.” Debate continues to rage over whether it’s the organiser or exhibitor’s responsibility to get visitors to the show. For Bunn, it’s imperative Hydropool gets people through the doors. The company runs a series of direct and online-based marketing campaigns in advance of any exhibition. “It’s the last thing we would have done when we had eight competitors exhibiting as well, but today about 30 per cent of business we do at the show is with people we have brought there,” Bunn said. “Organisers help us by providing complimentary tickets and getting further prospects to the show. “An exhibition is a day out and therefore a different ball game to getting people to one of our showrooms. They have other things to do while they are at a show, which makes it a win/win. “I’d argue exhibiting is much more powerful than it has ever been. Organisers are delivering tens of thousands of people directly to you; what you do with them is up to you.” There are always areas for improvement however, and Bunn called for organisers to promote specific product sectors better via their advertising and promotional campaigns. Operationally, rising costs across electricity, water, waste and lifting are major hurdles for exhibitors. “It’s an additional overhead to your presence and that puts off a great deal of exhibitors; electricity charges are off the scale of reality,” Bunn claimed. “Our average spend on electrics is about £3,000 per show and can add 20 per cent to the cost of our overall exposure. It makes it incredibly difficult to try and gauge your ROI. Having overall packages could make it more attractive to exhibit.” Despite this, Hydropool remains committed to exhibiting as a vital part of its business. “It’s significant that in 18 days at Ideal Home Show, we can generate more business than one of our showrooms does in a year,” Bunn added. “For us, exhibiting makes complete sense.” This was first published in the September edition of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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