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The Shows must go on?

The Shows must go on?

We made a great impression on the market with 3 years of regular appearances at the Excel for the Telegraph Outdoors Show in London, Cycle festivals, Adventure races, Triathlons and a whole host of other events allied to sporting challenges big and small.  But last year we stopped manning quite so many stands and our turnover doubled!  So what does that tell you?

The law of diminishing return

There was definitely a diminishing return.  Each year we launched something new, spent more on the stand, manned it with more people, and each year we’d get new names on the mailing list, enough retail sales to justify the cost and a bunch of prospects.  All sounds good.

But our  Angel investor kept asking why we did so many shows, so I ran the analysis.  Like many founders, I loved being goofed-up on the Adrenalin from halls of people telling me how brilliant my product is, and became blind to the effort, time and good will invested in this regular circus.  I ran research across all our on-line customers and found only 10% of them go to shows at all!  Yet 40% will read the main walking and cycling periodicals.  Should I not just sit on my bum and advertise?

Ed foresaw the demise of the shows

Ed foresaw the demise of the shows

Last year we put the insights of our research into action.  But instead of sitting at home and spending more on advertising (actually we spent less on ads!) we went high profile and got the slot on Dragons’ Den.  We didn’t have stands at so many shows, but we’d show-up and meet our customers, contacts and prospects where we knew we could find them.  We diversified the shows we visited.  Autumn Fair, Spring Fair, The Licensing Show, London Book Fair. And when we did, we spent our time building our new business – accessing new content, signing new deals and generally getting around.  Well, we did succumb to having a stand at one bike show in Surrey, but I can never resist the moneyed cyclist!  Result? The market responded well and through combination of boosting on-line sales and increasing our retail customers the sales grew 100%, the profits grew over 100%!

People are really bad at running shows

Fact is people have become really bad (complacent?) at running shows.

Large or small, I think those in “show business” are losing the plot and the result is evident in footfall.

But this is actually ideal for my 2016/17 strategy.  As long as the show is an opportunity to bring the industry together, then I’ll know exactly where to meet folk and just for the cost of the entry ticket and the time and trouble to get there.

Meeting new retailers at Autumn Fair

Meeting new retailers at Autumn Fair

However, my recent visit to the Telegraph Travel Show and the Outdoor Adventure and Camping show (both at Excel) shows me I’m not the only one that’s spotted the drop in footfall.  They will struggle to find clients next year judging by the businesses I spoke to.

The demise of the Outdoors Show

I’d noticed that the Outdoors show (the title of the show changes each year as the Telegraph struggle to find its most winning identity) was beginning to lose names.  Biggish names.  The Ordnance Survey who were the original sponsor of the series left in 2014.  Stanfords at the same time.  Was this the event becoming less bookish and more adventure orientated?  Judging by the tumble-weed blowing past the selection of well qualified speakers this year, I think not.  In fact the show (now combined with Triathlon, Bike and Dive Shows) is so padded-out and unfocussed it’s a wander anyone wants to be there.

Want to see tents? Go Outdoors!

Want to see tents? Go Outdoors!

The Camping element must have been someones amazing brain child when it came to filling floor space.  But really?  Is that a serious objective of the event planners there?  Literally this lead to at least a 1,500m square barren section of floor space given over to family size tents.  It broke up the flow and isolated much of the outdoors and dive businesses at the Eastern extreme of the hall.  And really you were gaining little more regards camping than visiting your nearest “Go Outdoors”.

Would you be happy to have a stand?

Like many stand holders, people like Adventure Travel Magazine were there to ‘meet the market’, but the footfall beyond the tent desert must have been dire for them.

Where were the terrific deals on kit? Literally the only broad outdoor kitting company was Blacks. They had the range, but the deals weren’t thrilling.    With nothing to grab (bless them, they had a DJ) then part of the reason for the show is gone.  And where were the others from the high street?

Are shows dying?

Are shows dying?  I can say that the Boat show appeared to be more bouyant than the travel show or outdoors shows.  Perhaps that market can bear poor weather better.  Certainly the London Book Fair and the Licence show have a strong focus and are really buzzing.  But with dwindling attention as I worked the stands at the Excel shows this year, I’m beginning to question even the price of my entry ticket.  Particularly as the desperate venue tries to compensate for the lack of footfall by hiking up water and sandwich prices.

But lets not just blame this on showmanship. There are other things going on.  All of us spend more time on the internet and less time in shops.  Why should we go somewhere completely inconvenient to get slightly less good deals in a lack-lustre hall??  What kind of an outdoor fanatic wants to deal with the Docklands Light Railway on their weekend?

So what makes a good show?

Passion and synchronicity is at the heart of any good show

Passion and synchronicity is at the heart of any good show

Who makes a good show?  You’ve all been to one.  Probably trade shows are not the most obvious examples, but even with these, shows are about passion.  Go watch my amazing friend Mark Alcock perform with Taiko Meantime.  The Japanese drumming performance is passion in its crystal form.  It exudes from the sinews of all the performers and their interactions.  The audience is caught-up and in thrawl of the visual and percussive spell.  Mark’s business, Rhythm Works, will show you just how to make something spectacular with your own team.

You can only get near this from a trade show if everyone’s pulling in the same direction, complimenting each others’ inputs and rising as an industry  toward much greater things.  Next years “Outdoors and …<please fill in the random blank>… Show”, if there is one, will be just a rag-tag of hangers-on and the chemically naive. Time for a refresh.

Employees engage on a different level at the Lush Summit

Employees engage on a different level at the Lush Summit

For a great example of passion check Lush’s Summit where their passion for great products, amazing service and delight for the customer fuses effortlessly with their expanding business ambitions.  Customers mingle with staff from around the world, all sharing the journey with a constantly evolving and exciting brand.

Before you spend money… any money… on a stand, PLEASE;

  1. Have a focus – It has to be a single cohesive focus around which all your stalls, staff and industry can identify – The Eroica is a great example, but also specialist shows like the License show.  It just means everyone attending knows what they’re in for
  2. Treat your stand customers like your team – The NEC as a venue is amazing at this!  They invite those who’ve bought a stand to come to an event where they provide inspirational speakers to help you make the most of your time.  Of course they advertise their on-site services too.  But genuinely the event exudes thoughtfulness beyond mere publicity.
  3. Choose a venue that suits the market – Do outdoor types really want to head to London’s Docklands?
  4. Go with instinct – If you love your products and the customers you serve, you’ll love the ideas behind the show.
  5. Get your data first – Don’t be a victim of overselling!  What are the organisers hiding in their stats?  Look for foot-fall for your target audience (if they can’t show this don’t go!  It’s a key metric).

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One response to “The Shows must go on?”

  1. […] entries came from our week of events (Lush Summit, Bike Show, Late at the Library and Spring […]