The show must go on?

Kerry Haywoodin General Interest

We asked important questions to address the current number of industry trade shows. Have exhibitors and visitors got the budget and time for four events per year?

After a successful BTME in Harrogate, Jim Croxton offered a review on this year's show, as well as highlighting how GroundsFest's introduction could change the trade show dynamic.

Following the changes during Covid, it was a successful and reinvigorated BTME 2023.

BTME 2022 was perhaps too early, but this year has gone well. It felt like old times which is a good thing and we've certainly enjoyed people being happy. All of the exhibitors seem to have really enjoyed being back and it's been really encouraging. There are still plenty of challenges though.

Have BIGGA considered how you might adapt or develop BTME in the future to retain this level of success, amidst a growing show market?

I think about adapting every day. We are trying new things every year; some work and some don't, but it's about continually learning and balance.

Do you think that now we have another event in the calendar, you could see a change in your exhibitor and visitor numbers due to cost and resources overall?

Our exhibitors are the engine and they want visitors who are there with a purpose. Exhibitors, visitors, venue and the media all have different things that they want to gain from these shows and we really want to listen to those views in order to improve. By the end of this year, I'm sure we will know more about what people want.

In terms of cost for stand space, do you know where you sit in relation to the others on offer?

I don't want our exhibitors to be over burdened for the costs of trade shows. If they believe there is a market for more shows, then they will make that decision and this will help us.

BIGGA's opinion on 'one show'

We are in discussion with the GMA about the future of shows because I'm very keen to do our research. One show is certainly an option for us and we've got to explore this. We've had many exhibitors book on for next year and that's good for us, but in another three months, we will see what happens.

Our thinking is that we still want to be around doing shows in five years time. It could be here in Harrogate, or it could be in partnership. We are open to all avenues, but we want to do what's right for everyone and what's needed.

Do you feel the introduction of GroundsFest will affect BTME in the future?

We haven't had a big additional show for quite some time. GroundsFest have big ambitions, so it will be really interesting to see how it develops. Potenially, I think we will have to be ready to adapt however, I think we have tried to stay in front of the curve and we will have to continue to change. I don't mind competition, but we must ultimately concentrate on our own show!

How does GroundsFest differ from other industry trade shows?

We don't want GroundsFest to be seen as just another show. We want it to be an event for the whole industry and there will be something for everyone. There is going to be some great free practical training sessions, carried out by LANTRA approved Grounds Training. There will also be live working stations where visitors can find out the latest trial data on pesticides, fertilisers, bio-stimulants and many more.

We have also just announced two new areas; The first is a retail area, organised by FR Jones and Son - which will be the largest ever seen at a groundscare event. The other is The Landscape Zone. Then, of course, there is the festival with live music and street food.

Tell us about logistics; location, parking, accommodation etc

Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire is located at the heart of the UK between the M6 and M40 motorways. There are hundreds of accommodation options within a 5-mile radius, and we will also be running free shuttle buses to the nearby towns. We have about 11,000 free parking spaces.

In terms of cost for stand space, do you know where you sit in relation to the others on offer?

When we compare the price of stand spaces to the other national groundscare shows, then we are approximately 50% less expensive for indoor space, and over 70% less expensive if exhibitors choose to take outdoor space.

Do you appreciate people are hesitant about the introduction of another show?

We absolutely understand that there is a significant cost associated with exhibiting at an event and we have reflected this in our pricing. We feel that GroundsFest is a totally different experience than the other events on offer.

The obvious USP for the event is the outdoors element. Both SAGE and the Festival of Turf offered this, so how do you think you can learn from those to ensure success.

It is all about creating the right concept, finding the most suitable venue, establishing the right time of year and having the marketing skills and industry connections to get visitors to attend. First and foremost, GroundsFest has been created based on extensive research and independent surveys. Looking at other industry events is essential and the key to delivering a good event is to make sure you have enough people turn up.

We have heard reservations about how the festival aspect will work and whether this will take attention away from being able to conduct business.

The festival is an important part of GroundsFest because our research has revealed just how important networking is at an event. It won't start until 5pm when the event finishes.

How do you intend on keeping visitors at the event to enjoy the social networking and festival aspect?

Where many other industry events tend to wind down after lunchtime, GroundsFest will keep visitors at the event for a longer period due the free education running throughout the whole day and also the live music and street food stalls. The festival will be kicked off with an exciting Q&A session with leading industry names before the live music begins.

We've been talking about 'the one show' for many years now. Would you consider working in partnership in the future for the overall 'desire and benefit' of the industry?

Of course. We would absolutely work with the two associations. We have held discussions with both about being part of GroundsFest. The door will always be open and we would be happy to discuss options if it benefits the whole industry.

How does SAGE differ from other industry trade shows?

SAGE is all about seeing the kit in action, with a unique emphasis on 'try before you buy'. SAGE is based entirely outdoors, with large areas of space available for each exhibitor, at unbeatable prices.

In addition, SAGE is unique due to its unparalleled commitment to sustainability. In fact, SAGE is leading the way in improving sustainability standards. This year, SAGE will also be home to GRASS, the all-new sustainable forum. Built to support the groundscare industry with knowledge and specialist advice.

Tell us about logistics; location, parking, accommodation.

SAGE is conveniently located just off the M5 at The Three Counties Showground in Malvern. A stunning outdoor venue, with a fantastic selection of accommodation just a stone throw's away. Unlike many other trade shows, parking at SAGE is free! Alternatively, there is free transport available from the train station.

Approximately, how many exhibitors do you envisage this year?

We are on target to have 70 exhibitors this year and are looking to surpass this!

In terms of cost for stand space, do you know where you sit in relation to the others on offer?

SAGE is the most affordable event for the industry with prices starting from as little as £12 per sqm and, on top of this, exhibitors get a free demo plot.

Why should visitors choose SAGE?

Many visitors are drawn to SAGE for the huge emphasis on 'try before you buy', offering the biggest outdoor space to see grounds equipment in action in the UK. Plus live music, and the ever popular bar.

Why should exhibitors choose SAGE?

Exhibitors choose SAGE for the unbeatable prices, and the substantial amount of space they get on top of their stand free of charge. With zero limitations on site, our exhibitors love that they have the opportunity to demo their kit to a buying audience, not only in their own allocated demo plot but in the central demo arena. SAGE is the driving force behind sustainable solutions in the industry.

There has been criticism in the past that visitor numbers have been low, how do you intend to increase footfall this year?

Launching during Covid was certainly challenging, but being outdoors meant that we had more freedom to launch despite the circumstances. Every event has to start somewhere, and as we grow year-on-year, so does our audience and reputation.

Do you feel the introduction of another outdoor show (GroundsFest) will impact SAGE?

For events to survive they must have strong USPs. The team are confident that SAGE has a huge future going forwards, due to its stunning and convenient location, diverse array of exhibitors, unlimited demo space and focus on sustainability!

Has the GMA considered how you might adapt or develop Saltex in the future to retain its level of success?

Following SALTEX 2022, comprehensive feedback from both visitors and exhibitors has been gathered to ensure that the show continues to grow. Whilst changes in the industry require the GMA, and SALTEX, to adapt, we know what visitors and exhibitors want to see more of in 2023.

Parking costs at the NEC rise each year. Is this something you can address?

Parking at the NEC is free of charge for GMA members and exhibitors during SALTEX. The GMA is in regular contact with the NEC and negotiates hard to get the best possible rates.

In terms of cost for stand space, do you know where you sit in relation to the others on offer?

We know that, due to the difference in location and format of shows, the cost for stand space does vary. For the 2022 show, we offered exhibitors a 'Show Rate' with a 0% increase, despite inflation nearing 10%. As a not-for-profit organisation, all income gets reinvested back into the sector to ensure its long-term security.

Why should visitors choose Saltex?

It's conveniently in a central region of the UK. Organised by the industry for the industry. Visitors can hear from industry experts, see the latest technologies and product developments from around 400 leading brands over a two-day event.

Why should exhibitors choose Saltex?

SALTEX success record spans over 77 years and it has evolved and adapted over the many decades. 8,300 attendees, across the two days, from over 50+ countries, taking their brand right to customers.

As an association, how do you continually learn and research what the industry and your members want in the events calendar?

Every year, the GMA gathers comprehensive feedback from both visitors and exhibitors following SALTEX. This is combined with numerous workforce development surveys and research papers commissioned by the GMA, to ensure that we better understand the wants and needs of the industry, and our members.

Do you feel the introduction of another show (GroundsFest) will impact Saltex exhibitor and visitor numbers due to costs and resources overall?

Since the 2022 show, uptake in stand space by exhibitors has been hugely positive and 2023 is promising to be a strong show. We anticipate year on year growth for 2023.

We've been talking about 'the one show' for many years now and there was a recent statement which suggested you were in talks with BIGGA. How is this progressing?

Given the challenges the industry faces at this moment in time, the GMA has been working with industry colleagues, BIGGA and the AEA, to work together on a more proactive and collaborative basis on both tradeshows and future endeavours.

Lateral show test

As 2023 saw a return to pre-covid 'normal', Mark Allen of Agrovista Amenity attended both BTME and the GCSAA to assess how the two events have bounced back post pandemic and what their future may hold.

There are varied opinions about trade shows. For some they are a vital kick-start to the year, whilst for others they are simply a drain on resources. Either standpoint raises the same question, "What value can be gleaned from shows in the post pandemic era?"

In spring 2020, when we were globally confined to barracks, the mere thought of standing on a trade show floor with scores of other people would have been enough to bring me out in a hot flush …quick, pass the hand sanitiser! However, with those darkest of days now behind us, we have finally been able to come together again and celebrate all that the turf trade has to offer.

For those in the know, January into early February is show season. BTME is a three-day event that stretches across four halls and attracts over 200 exhibitors. Its permanent home is the spa town of Harrogate - a UK central location with atmosphere, charm and enough bars and restaurants to keep even the most gluttonous of greenkeepers adequately fed and watered.

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America host a two-day trade show on a 'tour the

country' rotation and this year welcomed 450 exhibitors into the gigantic Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando. Both shows place great emphasis on education, with a comprehensive programme of conferences, workshops and seminars, which begin several days prior to the trade exhibition.

In terms of customer appetite, both associations reported healthy numbers for 2023. So, the shows are back, the trade and end-users have the desire to return and after a couple of anni horribiles, the organisers are once again smiling. That's all fine then? Well, not quite! For, whilst the trade appears to be supporting the shows for now, there is always that nagging question of cost.

For a company to exhibit, the sums can be huge. Calculate the price of obtaining stand architecture, paying for a pitch, populating it with employees and lodging them in hotels, and you are into tens of thousands of pounds. Add to this the fact that organisations haven't attended face to face events during the two years of covid disruption and you soon realise that a discussion about 'return on investment' must surely have taken place between the company bean counters. With 2022 closing as a good year for many businesses, those same people would inevitably have to ask - "Why do we even need a trade show?".

It's a fair question, not least because the trade show itself seems to have lost some of the gravitas it once carried in the conference pecking order. Thirty years ago, punters were content to spend a single day walking around a modest exhibition, kicking a few tyres before heading home. These days, that simply does not cut it. In 2023, to get the very best from conference week, greenkeepers need to be strategic - with pre-arranged educational symposiums, award dinners, and their name on the guest list of at least one fancy drinks reception.

As the conference has evolved, the trade show element is no longer the biggest attraction. It is, however, the one that foots most of the bill. The big issue for organisers now is that conference week needs the economic crutch that the trade hall provides, yet the trade doesn't need a trade exhibition in order to prosper.

So, why are companies still interested in being there? Simple. The 'people'. After many months of remote networking, virtual events, and finding new ways to get business done, most of us are heartily sick of Teams meetings.

The physical manifestation of this was clear in the construction and layout of many of the stands at both shows this year. Direct engagement with customers has become a higher priority than ever before and conversation is king - with comfy sofas, intimate breakout areas and complimentary coffee the weapons of choice in the race to engage end users. It is an interesting paradox that, in the age of hyper technology the key driver for exhibitors is people wanting to spend time with other people.

Whatever your view on the future of the trade show, there is no arguing that we are living in rapidly changing times. Whether from a technological, economical, or environmental perspective, Golf needs its greenkeepers and technical experts like never before. If an annual jamboree can contribute to a successful and vibrant industry, then the indications are that the trade will continue to participate - but it must be able to do so in a format that correlates cost with value.

The day the organisers surely dread is when the bean counters finally decide enough is enough and withdraw the economic foundation on which the whole structure currently sits. That means, whether you love or loath the trade show, you might not have the luxury of a choice in a few years from now.

For further comments and opinions from the industry, read the full article in the March/April issue of Pitchcare here