Retail Reflections: is size everything when it comes to exhibitions?

Alan Monahan writes: It would be foolish to suggest that all trade fairs make the impact that they once did. And because of the changes to our industry over the last 15 years it is hard to envisage that we will see a return to the days when any company worth its salt just had to be at this or that show.


Back in the day, many took the same size stand – or an even larger one – year after year, while others thought twice about not attending for fear that competitors, retailers and magazines would think they were ‘in trouble’.

As a journalist I’ve been involved with gift and home suppliers for the past two decades and I know that when times are particularly challenging – as at present – they are not slow to let organisers know that they consider their stand charges to be too high.

The question, ‘Would our company take more orders on the road than by buying space at a trade fair?’ is one that is reasonably asked by suppliers when anxiously examining their bottom line. And who can blame them?

I visited Autumn Fair on two days last week and the subject was again being hotly debated. One exhibitor, hearing a fellow supplier grumbling, had a different take on things, observing: “This show is very good for us because, as in Harrogate, buyers are prepared to spend time on the stand, whereas Spring Fair is always a struggle for them to get around. We understand that.

“Are we happy with the attendance and the people we are seeing here? Yes we are – very much so.”

His company was doing brisk business, and being at Autumn Fair was certainly worthwhile for him and his sales team. He would tell you that he has great ranges and was pleased with the stand’s hall position and adjacencies.

Now, we all know that not everyone has product that retailers flock to buy because, quite frankly, it isn’t fresh to market and can be of dubious quality. Yet a lack of orders is sometimes unfairly blamed on the situation of a stand.

For the record, I’m not taking sides here. I don’t work for any show organiser and am not aware of their profit margins. But, like exhibitors, they have overheads, too.  And I wouldn’t dream of telling any supplier how to spend their money: some may feel they have reached a tipping point.

But I suspect that the size of Autumn Fair will have worked in favour of more than a few new and less-than-large exhibitors with decent product. They will return in 2018, irrespective of the stand charges, having this year picked up orders and leads from retailers they would otherwise not have come across.

Some disaffected, established exhibitors may also reflect more positively after taking stock post-show.