The up-and-comers in the UK exhibition industry

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The UK first-timerDawn KimeMD, Emergexpo Dawn Kime started in the exhibition industry working at ITE Group back in the early 1980s, initially as office and HR manager before progressing into a sales role. Among her many accomplishments were exhibitions covering travel and tourism in Russia. “It was a great experience, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the buzz of making a successful show and growing the sales, taking hall after hall, until we had a totally huge and amazing event,” Kime said. “I decided to start my own company as I wanted to have the freedom to work hard with the knowledge that the harder I worked, the more I would earn. From an early age I was taught you can have or do anything you want in life if you’re prepared to work hard and go for it.” Kime’s company Emergexpo launched this year and is dedicated to meeting the needs of its target market by delivering a platform on which companies can meet and do good business. Its first target industry is the UK optical and ophthalmic market. Over the years, since leaving ITE, Kime worked extensively in international emerging markets. The Eye Show is her first UK-based exhibition and will open its doors at Excel London on 12-14 February 2013. “I came up with the idea after identifying a niche following a general chat with my optician,” Kime explained. “I spent several months researching the industry, and it was obvious fairly early on there was a niche.” Just four weeks after announcing the new show, all expectations have been surpassed.  “The response to the launch has been nothing short of overwhelming. I’ve never worked on anything as fast-paced or so well received,” Kime said. “It’s a great feeling when you speak to companies that want to exhibit and you hear over and over, ‘this is just what the industry has needed for a very long time’.” The greatest measurement of the success to-date is evidenced in the early uptake of stand space and sheer volume of enquiries and bookings for The Eye Show. “I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that they are literally flying in, often with no previous contact whatsoever, just word of mouth,” Kime claimed. “It’s not uncommon to have someone email or call the office and say, ‘we’ve heard about The Eye Show, we want to come… please send us our stand number and the invoice’.” Over the next 12 to 24 months, Emergexpo’s aim is to deliver a phenomenal launch show in 2013 that’s even bigger and better in 2014. “I have a great team, and some of the best people working alongside me who are as committed as I am to delivering a world-class international event and changing the face of the optical industry in the UK,” Kime said. She believed no one single factor makes a great exhibition, but several.  “We will achieve our goals by focusing not just on the size of the event, and opening it up to encourage global participation, but also by streamlining the quality of the conferences and seminars and providing a truly memorable visitor experience,” Kime said. ----------------------------------------------- The regional player:Versha Carterdirector, Intelligent Exhibitions Versha Carter got her start at Spearhead Exhibitions on several ocean science and marine technology events before these were acquired by Reed Exhibitions. After relocating with her husband to Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, then a short stint working remotely for the Oil Spill and Oceanology International shows, Carter found herself without a job. “A lot of entrepreneurs give up a big salary to launch their own businesses but as I had no job and was in the middle of nowhere, I had nothing to lose,” Carter told EN.  Carter already had a show opportunity in mind for her new company, Intelligent Exhibitions. “What I realised in discussions with clients on Oceanology International was that one biennial show wasn’t enough – they wanted an event in the opposite year that offered something different,” she said. Within 11 months Carter was opening her first event, Ocean Business, on 31 March 2007. The biennial show in Southampton took up just under 1,000sqm at launch and will fill 2,700sqm in 2013. “I had a lot of contacts I’d worked with before who wanted to see me succeed,” she said. “I got an events software package and managed to convince my designers not to invoice me for three months for our marketing material. I had to launch and move fast, because 2007 was the opposite year to Oceanology International and therefore my window of opportunity. “Today we are wall-bound; people want to go from 9sqm to 18sqm but I have to say no as we don’t want to drop the number of exhibitors.” In its first year, Intelligent Exhibitions also made an acquisition, picking up the annual US LiDAR Mapping Forum. LiDAR is an emerging technology for mapping and recording information about the ocean floor in 3D. Intelligent Exhibitions subsequently rolled the event out in Austria. “The former owner was a LiDAR manufacturer and the event had become too big for him, with 240 attendees and 20 exhibitors,” Carter explained. “In February 2007 I flew to Denver in the US to see the event, which was a massive stretch for us at the time. Of the three main exhibitors, two told me go home as they had been disappointed in the show and didn’t plan to exhibit again. “On the last day, I told them we’d do it because I felt that passionate about it. I could see the reasons for their frustrations and knew we could pull it around. The next edition, we sold all 30 exhibitor spaces available at the venue and got 490 people there. It’s now up to 773 people and 60 exhibitors.” Carter’s strategy has been utilisation of her database to take advantage of the relationships between exhibitors and visitors across all its events. “There’s lots of logical crossover in the businesses,” she said. “As an organiser, your database is key.” With its flagship Ocean Business brand, content has proven its differentiator. The organiser delivers 180 hours of workshop content and hands-on demonstrations on exhibitor boats. Carter admitted the work behind these features was immense. “I don’t think the show would have got through its first year at a larger organiser – the forecasts aren’t big enough,” she said. “I can see why the bigger guys buy small companies today: It takes time to develop these types of events and a larger company doesn’t always have the flexibility.” Carter’s biggest concern in the early days was staffing. “My background was as a project director and you have to have a good team behind you. Being in Gloucestershire, I was also concerned I wouldn’t get experienced people.” The answer was flexible working arrangements, she claimed. Intelligent Exhibitions is now working on two fresh event ideas. “I don’t spend a great deal of time on exit strategies or on a big vision; what I think we do is deliver really brilliant events and make sure we have the resources in place to deliver them,” Carter said. “Clients are all looking to get to market and we help them do that.” ----------------------------------------------- The hard-working mum:Suzanne BorrellMD, What’s on 4 Suzanne Borrell also began her exhibition career at Spearhead Exhibitions, the one-time owners of Offshore Europe, DSEI and Helitech. Her first event assignment was as an event executive on Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition in Azerbaijan. “It was an exciting time, as the Soviet Union had only just broken up and there was lots of change. I felt the exhibition industry to be so dynamic, and I was working with a lovely team,” she recalled. When Spearhead sold Caspian Oil and Gas to ITE Group seven years ago, Borrell opted to take redundancy instead of committing to a longer commute from the South Coast to north London. She had her first child but was then faced with the dilemma of what to do professionally. “I didn’t want to go back to a 9-5 job but I had all these skills and loved working in exhibitions, as they are both stimulating and exciting,” she said. “The only way back in was to set up on my own. “A couple of women I knew had done it successfully, so with their mentorship I felt I could make it.Launching an exhibition is quite easy – in fact that can be a problem as anyone can launch one – and no one needs to know you’re in your back room or working while your child is asleep.” Borrell made her debut with BabyExpo, a new consumer event in Brighton in 2008. The event attracted 4,500 visitors and 180 exhibitors in 2011, its first outing at the new AMEX Stadium in Brighton. “I saw a gap in the market as a consumer,” Borrell explained. “With a small baby, I had tried to attend Baby Shows in London and found it incredibly challenging to travel to the venues. “The other thing is when you raise a family, you tend to move out of London to more rural areas. “There were regional shows but these were little more than jumble sales, poorly promoted and supported. I saw room in the middle ground for a polished event that wasn’t run in the busy city centres or Birmingham.” BabyExpo was prompted by Borrell’s own consumer instincts for a family-friendly exhibition, but she told EN it could have easily been another sector. “With exhibitions, the models and tools are such that it doesn’t matter what content matter you choose, there is a pattern to follow,” she claimed. The most unexpected challenge was the time and energy required for launching, Borrell said. “The show grew and grew, and exceeded all our expectations in terms of size, profitability and footfall,” she said. “The workload was enormous and a big task for a very small business to take on. It was a real challenge but we pulled it off. After that, I had to take myself in hand and put proper systems in place to do the job.” This included finding a business partner and growing the support team. BabyExpo will take place for the first time in Milton Keynes in September, forecast to attract 10,000 visitors. Borrell wants to cement Brighton and Milton Keynes as annual events before expanding further. “We like to gain regional and local knowledge before we move into the area, so having someone on the ground is essential,” she said. “We have always tried to be as affordable as possible, so smaller exhibitors can exhibit for as little as £200. We also charge minimal entrance fees and will make Milton Keynes free to get the footfall.” Longer term, Borrell saw BabyExpo on the international stage and revealed What’s On 4 is working with individuals in Australia and the US to realise these plans. Ultimately, a great exhibition is about balancing happy visitors and enthusiastic exhibitors, Borrell said. “A great exhibition is one where people come to the show and find what they want,” she said. “There’s a massive sense of pride when you achieve it; more so than when it’s someone else’s brainchild. Exhibitions are not the easiest way to make a living, but they are a rewarding and satisfying experience when you get it right.” ----------------------------------------------- The publisher:Tom LoveringEvent director, PSP Publishing Scotland-based PSP Publishing has been producing a range of consumer and contract magazines for more than 15 years, but it wasn’t until founding partner, Tom Lovering, decided to establish an events business seven years ago that it took its first step into exhibitions. Its debut was the Scottish Golf Show, launched as an annual consumer event in Edinburgh that now alternates between Edinburgh and Glasgow each year. The exhibition was conceived off the back of PSP’s bunkered, Golf in Scotland, Scottish Club Golfer, English Club Golfer and Official Guide to Golf, Scottish Golf Union and PGA Yearbook titles. The annual consumer event now attracts more than 17,000 visitors. “I started as a one-man band – even though we are a publishing company, only a small percentage of the company was allocated to starting our events business,” Lovering said. “The reason we decided to do the Scottish Golf Show was because we had become the biggest golf publisher in the UK with bunkered, producing 30,000 copies. We had all the introductions to exhibitors already in place and the route to market to visitors through our reader database. We also had a relationship with the VisitScotland tourism board, which sponsored our first event and still does today.”In 2009, PSP decided to try again – this time targeting a female audience. Girls Day Out was launched in Glasgow and has since proven itself a brand with exponential growth. The show covers women’s health, beauty, lifestyle and fashion. “We also do a lifestyle title, No 1, so again we had the route to market and access to exhibitors,” Lovering said. This year, PSP will run four editions of Girls Day Out - two in Glasgow, plus one in Manchester and Edinburgh - and will launch in Birmingham in 2013. Its November 2011 edition at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre attracted 17,000 visitors and doubled its floorspace to 10,000sqm with 220 exhibitors. “Girls Day Out far exceeded our expectations in year one – we didn’t expect to get that amount of support from the industry and visitors so quickly,” Lovering said. “We hadn’t set a target for it, but we wanted the show to ‘wash its face’ on the exhibition side, so we ended up with well more than we hoped for.” For Lovering, a successful consumer show comes down to three key things: Bottom line profit; retention of exhibitors; and ticket sales. “The next step for us is to effectively launch a successful show in Manchester in September, and to continue to do good work in Glasgow,” Lovering said. “Then next year we’ll launch Birmingham and get all the shows set in the calendar so exhibitors and visitors know what to expect.” Lovering admitted there are plenty of day-to-day challenges for exhibition organisers to overcome, such as sales and ticketing. He now has a team of six full-time employees working on exhibitions.“With sales, you have to make sure your event has made a good impression and hit the target market,” he advised. “We have had plenty of opportunity to take Girls Day Out to other areas and buy events from other companies but they don’t tick all the boxes.” Lovering said the best exhibitions provide good interaction for visitors. For example, Scottish Golf Show has 300sqm of putting greens, golf shops, bunkers and a driving range. At Girls Day Out, features range from nail and cocktail bars to fashion shows. “The average visitor time at Girls Day Out is five hours, which is amazing,” he said. “Many shows will only have rows and rows of stands, but you have to invest in lots of features to make the visitor happy and deliver true value for money.” ----------------------------------------------- The sustainability strategist:Nicola Gunstonecommercial director, The Eco Technology Show Nicola Gunstone was in the summits and conference industry for seven years before becoming director of the health and sport portfolio at Reed Exhibitions Australia. Stints at Informa and Clarion Events followed before Gunstone started her own company in 2011. “It is something I had always wanted to do but needed the right idea,” she said. “I met two great people who had a great idea, and they asked me to be a part of it. It was a scary decision but the right one.” The idea was The Eco Technology Show, a platform for business and public sector stakeholders and the general public to come together and be inspired by sustainable ideas and technologies, while growing their businesses and knowledge and learning new practical skills. With eco-based technology being integrated into every facet of modern life from buildings, energy, home, transport and lifestyle, the idea was to pull all of these together into one show, Gunstone explained. “The idea has been developed over a couple of years with different people’s input,” she said. “The basis of it though was a recognition that technologies are already out there to help solve many of the environmental and resource issues we now face, but there is a large awareness gap and need for greater collaboration. “The partners in this business have a mix of exhibitions, content and environmental industry experience. We achieved a lot in a very short space of time.” The show debuted at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium on 15-16 June and attracted 4,000 visitors. Highlights over the two days included a transport zone, which showcases a range of the latest electric cars, plus free workshops and information sessions. Running alongside was the paid-for Smart Business Conference. The Eco Technology Show team set-up an advisory board including Brighton and Hove City Council strategic place director Geoff Raw; Heath Sustainable Design’s Oliver Heath; and Brighton Energy Co-Operative programme director  Damian Tow. “We have had lots of good feedback and testimonials from both visitors and exhibitors with a high percentage having said they definitely want to rebook next year,” Gunstone said. “Most importantly, we sold out the show with the right mix of exhibitors and delivered the targeted good footfall. It’s a good basis to build on.” Over the next 12-24 months, the team will work on solidifying The Eco Technology Show’s brand in the UK market. “We need to ensure we continue to improve the experience for our market by listening to what their needs are,” Gunstone said. “Really for now though we are just taking things one step at a time.” So what does Gunstone believe makes a good exhibition? She emphasised the importance of getting right behind your industry. “Your exhibition has to offer the right mix and ratio of exhibitors and visitors with great content and visitor flow,” she concluded. This was first published in the August edition of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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