Steve Barratt: The Exhibition Squeeze

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Steve Barratt, ESSA board member and lead partner at Full Circle Events Ltd on building for a breakdown.

 

In the May issue of EN, I noticed an encouraging comment from Miriam Sigler of Ways & Means Events, where she briefly touched on what she saw as the “undue pressure on our hard working contractors in order to shorten tenancy times and save money”.


She is absolutely right of course. It’s an understandable reaction, build and breakdown times are gradually shrinking.


Today’s exhibitions are more numerous, specialised and shorter than they were back in my earliest days in the industry. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: in pursuit of the bottom line, venues and organisers are constantly seeking to maximise efficiency, and paring down the build and breakdown times may be seen as low-hanging fruit.


I don’t want to do that tedious thing of harking back to a golden age that never existed, after all, today’s exhibition industry is awash with more creativity, innovation and exciting developments than ever before. But the generous time allocations for the big shows in the past gave stand designers and builders the freedom to be ambitious with their structures. Some of the stands from the past simply wouldn’t be possible today because of their size and complexity. Time constraints mean design constraints too.


A lot of the complaining about build-up and breakdown times doesn’t go very deep into the reasons behind the problem, nor the issues arising from it. For most contractors that come up against it, it’s a ‘here and now’ problem – too much to do and not enough time to do it in, giving rise to stress and anxiety. Venues and organisers recognise this, and are aware that exhibition contractors are coming under increasing pressure from them to do more in less time, but I’m not convinced it’s seen as a serious problem.


Last year the CDM regulations were redrafted and enforced on the exhibition industry, and there’s been a steady increase in regulatory oversight generally. This is to be welcomed, but it does mean more time needs to be spent on safety compliance, risk assessment, testing and checking credentials. While there are plenty of exhibition contractors who want to be in and out in double quick time, stand builders need more time, not less, for build and breakdown to ensure regulatory compliance and the safety of their workers and the visitors.
We need exhibition contractors to remain consistently diligent and thorough in matters of health, safety and security, especially now with the revised CDM regulations in place.


It’s vital for the associations to take the lead on resolving these conflicting interests. The associations need to come together and issue reasonable recommendations to prevent any further squeezing of build-up and breakdown times. Obviously there’s no one-size fits all solution, the variances in exhibition size, venue access, and balance between shell and space only mean that we need some basic rules of thumb that dictate how long a contractor can expect to have to build a stand, install the AV or set up a kitchen. They must have adequate time at the end of the show to take it all down and ship it out without feeling they are in danger of cutting corners to make the deadline.


Personally I believe that right now the industry should begin by imposing a strict proportionality, stipulating that breakdown time is always a minimum of 50 per cent of the build time.


I have no doubt that many other people in the industry have their own suggestions, but until we pool our thoughts, and decide on a course of action, the squeeze will continue.

 

 

What do you think #eventprofs? This is an issue we will be covering in the next issue of EN, email abyrne@mashmedia.net to include your thoughts.

Annie Byrne
Posted by Annie Byrne
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