Ever since its ownership changed hands over the course of the last year, Wednesday's supposedly invigorated What Kit Live show at Reaseheath College opened its doors to punters from around the UK shrouded in a veil of clashing expectations.
Representing the fourth iteration of the annual exhibition of groundskeeping machinery staged on the grounds of the college in Nantwich, Cheshire, this year's event saw Haymarket Publishing trying their experienced hand at putting such a show truly on the map, and the barrage of publicity recently plastered across the pages of its own publications split opinion as to whether such an approach would enable the organisers to build on the tremendous success of the 2006 show, organised and ran by the college itself.
There could be few more intriguing events, then, for an untrained eye to gain its maiden first-hand experience of the different machinery used in the groundskeeping industry. A sizeable amount of information had immediately been thrust on my plate for me to interpret as a relative newcomer to this sort of exhibition.
It is worth, at this stage, noting some of the exhibitors who were present. A wide range of manufacturers could be seen displaying their products, ranging from the likes of John Deere and Fleet to Kersten and Kubota UK. Sheriff Amenity, Greenmech and Campey Turf care Systems were also among those with stands.
However, having considered the background context of this event, my first impressions belied the relatively high billing given to it by the optimistic organising team. Having spent much of the previous day acquainting myself with the vast number of suppliers who offer a variety of machinery for use in this industry, the multiple manufacturers seemed conspicuous by their absence. With tales of increased stand prices leaking from all corners of the site, the organisers of the show appeared to have priced themselves out of the market, with the number of stands plummeting to just 22 from last year's comparatively hefty 56. Indeed, my past experiences at the annual one-day agricultural show of Newport (Shropshire) recall greater numbers of exhibitors present at what is primarily an event centred on livestock.
The layout of the site did nothing to dispel this initial disappointment. Although an official map provided at the entrance suggested an evenly distributed and consistent pattern to the positioning of the stands, the truth seemed far less carefully considered, with stands huddled together in nucleated groups rather than more orthodox strips. A moot point, maybe, but one that hindered the ability of an outsider like myself to fully understand the various elements of the show.
The manufacturers that did decide to exhibit, however, put out an impressive and informative showing that compensated for the show's more fundamental flaws. Supplementing the even and organised distribution of the products displayed on the stands (a basic but helpful factor for myself) were the absorbing live demonstrations carried out in the main central 'arena' of the site (although a small part of me suspects that some more experienced industry figures will have viewed this as a rather gimmicky idea). This hardly innovative but well executed feature provided an almost alluring route for a newcomer to develop a basic understanding of the concepts involved in groundskeeping. On this note, the opportunity for a generous percentage of punters to try out machinery will have also been highly beneficial for the lucky few to whom this applied. Other, more unique features of interest (for example the inter-college landscaping competition type event) provided welcome and intriguing diversions from the main event over the course of the day.
Moving back into the more familiar territory of an industry outsider, the provision of food and toilet facilities at the site left a lot to be desired. With indoors dining space limited to a small room in the golf club headquarters of the show, the available area in which lunch could be taken flexed more than one might expect at such a highly publicised event as the rain came in fits and starts, a fact that effectively washed away many of the punters from the outdoor dining areas at numerous points over the course of the day. Toilets were similarly erratic in number and location, with the facilities at the golf club likely to have struggled to satisfy the attendance of a small primary school, it is unlikely that those located behind the food stalls (not visited by myself during the visit) will have offered much of an extension on the minimal provisions that I can verify had been offered.
However, although as an outsider I am in no position to lecture a major organisation on the future potential of a show aiming to promote groundskeeping machinery, it became increasingly clear to me over the course of the day that the problems with this show ran far deeper than a few minor flaws in the nourishment provided. Cutting the figure of a representative of Pitchcare throughout the visit, I was introduced to numerous key figures of the major exhibitors who had chosen to stick with the event for another year. Although they all had a wide range of positive and negative opinions to offer regarding the success of the event, there was a definite majority whose thinking appeared to be more inclined towards the latter stance.
It appears then, in conclusion, that the show fell rather short of my pre-conceived expectations that I had held for many days prior to the actual event. While praise has to be (and has been) given where it's due, there are many areas in which the show could (in my opinion at least) be improved.
The provision of beefed-up basic amenities (such as dining, lavatorial facilities, etc.), for example, would provide a certain degree of help to visitors and exhibitors, while the plans concerning the layout of stands on the site must be reviewed in order to alleviate the navigation problems that are inexplicable in the relatively small area covered by the show.
Although there are the more fundamental organisational issues that have potentially blighted the reputation of this event, and the at times loathsome weather played its own sizeable role in dampening the potential wielded by the show, steps need to be taken by the powers that be in order to endow this show with a true allure that extends to a variety of people from all walks of life. While some may argue that this is overstretching the event's capabilities into unreasonably foreign territory, at the end of the day the profile of this industry will not be truly boosted otherwise.
Adam Scrace is on placement with Pitchcare from Adam's Grammar School, Newport, Shropshire.