It was the James Earl Jones character who said, “People will most definitely come.” This, however, was in the film ‘Field of Dreams’ and referred to Kevin Costner building a baseball field at his farm in Iowa and not one of the founding fathers of the FIT Show, Paul Godwin, building the first FIT Show in Telford. I, like the aforementioned Kevin, was one of those sceptics and well remember sitting in a restaurant in Hinckley in the summer of 2012 and saying to Paul, “Why Telford? No one will come!” My similarity to Kevin Costner ends at that point.
So Paul, the people came….
They did. And so did the exhibitors. The fact is most of the doubts came from a few members of the press with one or two comments along the way from others. Occasionally those doubts tested our faith but buoyed by an Operations team that believed totally that it was the right venue we stuck with it and set about making it work.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only sceptic that thought Telford was wrong but, interestingly, it didn’t stop us from booking our pitch and investing in the FIT Show. Was it because we needed a show or that we were scared of not being there if our competitors had signed up?
All of that and more. I also believe that the marketing, the fantastic imagery that our agency created for us did much to convince people. This industry wears its heart on its sleeve – it is highly responsive to great marketing and selling, both of which have played crucial roles in its success over the years. It was the right thing, at the right time. Matthew (Glover – co- founder) and I both detected a groundswell of opinion that the industry wanted its own forum, so we followed that through.
A successful show and we all looked forward to the next in 2015. But suddenly, June 2014 is scheduled for the date. Is it too soon?
Who said 2015? No one at FIT Events Ltd…
Yes, our research indicated that the supply side of the industry preferred a biennial show but by no means was that unanimous. A small majority of visitors said they’d prefer an annual show. My experience working with Glassex over more than a decade gave me a clear view that a show every couple of years would be the preference. However, there had been no effective event for several years, even with 6000 visitors we didn’t quite get everyone and, more than anything else, exhibitors and potential exhibitors convinced us that a show just over a year later, as a one-off annual cycle, was required. 75% of stand space contracted in less than 6 months would seem to confirm that demand.
Talking of statistics and visitors in general, it was billed as the Fabricator and Installer Trade show….different to Glassex, which was more a general fenestration show, but the demographics from visitors to FIT say that they were actually identical to Glassex…
Of course they were…at least in percentage terms. But in theory Glassex had a far wider remit even if the natural market for the event was the home improvement sector of the window, door and conservatory market. The FIT Show was created from scratch for the industry of the 21st century so everything was organised to suit the industry as it is today, including the venue, which most exhibitors and visitors appreciated.
I know it was always your aim to encourage the installer, and even the very small installer, to visit FIT. Did that work?
It worked pretty much as we anticipated. We always believed that a number of installers in particular never read a trade magazine. We therefore backed up our advertising with direct snail-mail and email shots though we still missed some of them. I recently met a successful window and door retailer whose showroom is around 2 miles from where I live and he had never heard of The FIT Show. He admitted that he never read a trade magazine either – and neither can he open his post!
We spent considerably more than £550,000 on marketing for the last show but obviously we can’t get to everyone. We continually evolve our marketing to try and get to everyone however, and have some great ideas for 2014 for how to drill down to installers who are essentially ‘off the grid’.
Going back to the exhibitor and the fact FIT 2014 is going happen, I know many companies geared new product launches around FIT 2013, and there are some who are concerned that they are unlikely to have something to launch and justify their presence. Is that a concern?
Not at all. The FIT Show was highly effective at drawing thousands of buyers together in the same place, at the same time – a successful exhibition should provide the most effective sales and marketing tool available. Even the most successful exhibitor at the launch show did not meet every visitor or anywhere near it. I believe that companies should look at The FIT Show as a highly effective means of reaching new customers, whatever they are offering. Are they only effective when they have a new product to sell – is that the only time they go out to recruit new customers? Of course not.
The FIT Show was highly effective at generating high quality sales leads – more than 60% of visitors were fabricators and installers – and that should also be the case for 2014. Each exhibitor generated an average of 147 sales leads, a figure that should keep a sales force busy for a few months at least. That in itself is an excellent reason to take a stand at 2014. Fortunately more than a hundred companies so far agree with me. Companies need new customers. And if I had found a means of generating new leads as efficient as The FIT Show turned out to be, I would jump on that and keep going back as long as it worked for me.
Now a thorny one….Fensterbau. When we all thought FIT would be on alternate years to Fensterbau, it seemed to make good sense. However, with FIT 2014 slipped in, is this going to make things difficult for companies?
Let’s put things in perspective: Festerbau is quite extraordinary, a huge event that attracts thousands of window people from all over Europe. But not from Britain. Just 7 companies exhibited from the UK at the last Fensterbau. There were around 700 entries recorded from UK visitors, which also includes the Holz Handwerk woodworking fair that accounts for around half of the total event. Few people will travel to Nuremberg for a single day, which means that probably less than 350 visitors attended the two fairs from the UK. So at a push, perhaps a couple of hundred buyers attended Fensterbau from the UK, figures provided to me by the very nice lady from Fensterbau
We are presently in discussions with Fensterbau and by the time this is published it is likely that we will have a cooperation agreement with them. Fensterbau is the only choice for companies that wish to reach mainland Europe – there is no question about that. And Fensterbau openly acknowledges that The FIT Show is the only exhibition that will reach British buyers in large numbers. We are developing a very positive relationship with Fensterbau and may well have a presence there in association with the organisers next March.
Has it affected sales for FIT 2014?
No…We set The FIT Show in June to avoid any logistical issues with Fensterbau, such as exhibits or machinery to be used at both. Otherwise, mainland European-based companies such as MACO for example, recognise that the two events are quite different and reach different markets with no meaningful crossover, and will appear at both.
So with 8 months to go, you only have 25% of stand space available?
Correct. We have re-drawn the floorplan to offer a greater choice of smaller stands to allow a wider variety of companies to consider exhibiting. Decent sized plots are available from just £5,000 (plus VAT). All they need to do is show up with their graphics and products and spend no more than they need to on accommodation and subsistence. If they work hard they could pull enough leads to keep them going for a year. The lead generation for smaller stands at the launch event was very impressive and we can give details of this to companies if they are interested.
Have you found that you have attracted new exhibitors through the success of FIT 2013 or is it pretty much a rebooking situation?
A mixture of both but some very significant new exhibitors are coming to Telford for 2014. Around half are new exhibitors.
Harping back to demographics, I’ve certainly heard of some new companies that are signing up for 2014 on the basis that the visitor profile is similar to Glassex and is therefore more attractive to them….
Having learned from 2013, is there anything you are changing dramatically? Anything that you said ‘this has to change if we do another exhibition’?
Really very little. The parking presented some challenges and this will be rectified for 2014 with at least one new multi storey car park being constructed and other overflow facilities. Otherwise The International Centre and the hotels were all excellent and both exhibitors and visitors appreciated the ease of access as well as the fact that prices for food and drink were very reasonable compared to some other venues.
Was Hall 4 an issue as it seemed quieter than the other halls?
We advised every company that booked a stand in Hall 4 – for next year it will be designated Hall 1a – that visitor flow may lag behind the rest of the event due to the location of the entrances in other halls. But many of those exhibitors have re-joined us for 2014 as the lead numbers and quality remained impressive. Hall 1a will be opened for 2014 when demand dictates but for next year it will have its own entrance. We may have an issue with existing exhibitors wanting to move there…
It sounds as if all is very much under control for 2014, but are you convinced that the ‘people will come’, as James Earl Jones said, for a second year? Is it too much too soon?
We don’t believe so, and the indications are that the installer base is keen for another show and we will be doing everything to encourage a good attendance. The first year centred on convincing the trade that Telford would work for them as an exhibitor. We’ve proved that. But there is evidence that many visitors did not expect The FIT Show would be as large as it was and left insufficient time to see everything they could have. I believe the word will have spread by June and visitors will take it more seriously, spend more time with us.
Paul, many thanks for, as ever, a frank and honest assessment of where you are for FIT 2014. We all wish you well… simply because FIT is important to us as an industry and we want you to have continued success.
Thank you. We appreciate the opportunity.