1 I Am Legend ...

Dave Saltman 3Okay, not a legend but, apparently, a visionary! Who says so? None other than IOG CEO Geoff Webb, who said as much at the NEC in November. Mind you, it was probably in response to the question "why didn't you listen to Dave Saltman five years ago?" and he probably suffixed it with "because he is difficult to work with."

Difficult or honest? One thing I or, indeed our editorial team, have never done is toe the line. If something is not right, then I am damn well going to speak up, and hang the consequences. If you want the official line, then there are plenty of other industry magazines out there that will give you the corporate spin, and you'll be able to read about "Saltex success at the NEC" in all of them; each one printing the marketing spiel verbatim. Do you seriously want to read the same thing over and over again? I'm hoping not.

So, how was Saltex? By all accounts it was pretty good, with many exhibitors reporting decent enquiries - and that is the show's raison d'être. Many commented that it felt "much like BTME".

Now, I could sit back and say, "well, they listened in the end", but that wouldn't be telling the whole story, not by a long shot.

The unaudited visitor figures for the two days are slightly up on the Windsor 2014 total. Given that this was a new venue, which surely should have sparked the industry's curiosity if nothing else, then that will be a disappointment. Yet, you see, the corporate spin will tell you that visitor numbers were up by over thirty percent. How can that be, I hear you ask, and this is where Mark Twain's "lies, damned lies and statistics" should be remembered. The answer? Because the exhibition was over two days and not three. "Brilliant; very strong," to quote the BBC 2's W1A (if you've not watched it, you should).

And the marketing twaddle won't make mention of the issues that the NEC dealt up; such things as queuing for ages to get in the car park, the cost of parking, the long distances to walk, overpriced food, extortionate nightly hotel rates - and I'm not sure I concur with this, but a complaint all the same - no machinery demo area. Additionally, others stated that it was still a regional show; a different region, but regional none the less.

So now the honeymoon is over and, with new organisers, the IOG will begin building towards the 2016 show.

In the interim period will come BTME Harrogate, in just a few weeks time. Albeit for greenkeepers, the show will have a similar feel to the NEC. Many of the NEC exhibitors will have to hit the road again, transporting machinery, setting up stands and paying for extended stays in Harrogate. And many of these exhibitors had previously made the decision to alternate between Saltex and BTME in an effort to a) keep their promotional costs down and b) to influence the decision for one industry show a year.

I have previously stated that, when faced with similar issues to Saltex of declining exhibitors and visitors, Jim Croxton and his team at BIGGA did a very good job of 'listening and responding' and now, or at least currently, provide a vibrant show with excellent additional seminars and training.

That the IOG should create a similar model at the NEC just fourteen weeks ahead of BTME is, in my view, both shortsighted and a threat to the industry.

My 'vision', five years ago, was to see a united industry, hosting the 'One-show' at the NEC, a suggestion that the IOG rubbished four years back. The venue is right; it is professional and it sends out a statement to Europe and beyond that British groundsmen and greenkeepers are the best in the world. However, it will be interesting to see, since the IOG have gone it alone, what next year will be like, now that the novelty is over.

Will Saltex 2016 be a success? Possibly. Will BTME 2017 be a success? Possibly. But I'd be concerned for 2018 and beyond as the two shows dilute each other's efforts.

Perhaps now that the NEC has, in the main, proven itself in the short term, it is time to revisit the 'One-show idea. I know that is what the exhibitors want. What we currently have is not sustainable.

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