< Tim Pollard | 15.02.2018

The show must go on…

The show must go on…

Exhibitions have been connecting buyers and sellers for decades and, while the format may change, there’s still nothing quite like a trade show for bringing people together

Having just participated in a number of industry events, it is interesting to muse over the way that the popularity of such occasions can wax and wane over time.

If I cast my mind back over 30 years with Wolseley, I can remember shows that were seemingly unmissable simply fading away, leaving barely a trace. These behemoths could occupy the entire National Exhibition Centre; trains were chartered, coaches arranged, hotels booked, stands built, speeches written. Every year, the stakes were raised, along with the budgets, until it became glaringly obvious that the costs could never be justified in comparison with the gains.

The advent of the internet, videoconferencing and blogging (or vlogging, whatever that may be) was supposed to signal the end of the need for events. Why would people take time out from their work, travel for half a day and hang around in a big tin shed when they could get all the information they needed on their smartphone?

At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, the answer is plain. We like to meet people, talk to them and try stuff out for ourselves. The nature of events may have changed, with a tendency towards smaller, more directly relevant and locally sited shows becoming prevalent, but the basic premise remains the same. In fact, I would argue that as social media brings more people together virtually, they subsequently strive to meet in person, and exhibitions and events provide a great platform – or excuse – for a get-together joined with a chance to extend their knowledge.

However, the quality of any event is defined by the people who attend. I’m sure you have all gone to potentially fantastic events where the location is superb, the venue is brilliant and the facilities outstanding, yet the atmosphere just doesn’t happen. The complex recipe of a successful show includes well-executed advertising and promotion, high-quality exhibitors and speakers, the relevance of the content, the right venue in the right place, the numbers and quality of the visitors, the efficiency of the followup and a sprinkling of magic stardust.

Over my career with Wolseley, I have participated in literally hundreds of events and still do so today, and I remain convinced that they provide a valuable way of bringing together folk from across the whole supply chain and a great channel for ideas. This can include in-branch demos, training sessions at manufacturers, evening seminars, local shows and regional, national and international exhibitions. The death spiral of events usually involves the greed or complacency of the organisers, overfamiliarity to the audience or a failure to evolve with new ideas.

The idea of exhibitions is not a new concept. The Crystal Palace was a 990,000-square-foot structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. It attracted more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world to promote ‘new’ technology. The Great Exhibition attracted over six million visitors and, for all us plumbing fans, is notable for featuring the first major installation of public toilets. During the exhibition, 827,280 visitors each paid a penny to use them.

Next time you see Wolseley at an event come along and say hello. I’ll be the one wearing the red carnation…

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