Grahame Muir: Future proof

Grahame Muir, managing director of Arena Structures, talks investment, brands and plans for the future…

Stand Out is sat in the glorious sunshine at the BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a garden party – gleaming white canopies, freshly cut grass and classic wooden furniture – small yet evident attention to detail that PGA director Jamie Birkmyre insists upon.

“It’s all about the experience,” says Grahame Muir, managing director of Arena Structures. “If you look at exhibitions, exhibitions are in a dive. But why? It’s because people go to the NEC and get a very average experience. This is an exhibition, but it just happens to be a BMW golf event. People come and they are getting the brand, no doubt about it, but they are getting it in a pleasant way.

“Big brands do have money to spend but do they want to spend it in a fairly dull exhibition where they are competing against 500 other car manufacturers? Why be in an exhibition hall with all your competitors? Why not be by yourself and control it?”

Muir is relaxed as he sits and explains that Arena has just signed a new three-year contract with the PGA for all its events. And this year, Arena Seating is also present, supplying the PGA European Tour with temporary grandstand seating.

As we chat, flanked by BMW cars and branding, I ask Muir what he believed won them the contract?

“Service won it. Arena is rarely the cheapest but then there is a full service offering – structures, seating, furniture, graphics, a whole range of things. We try to see the customers points of view – one invoice, one phone call, one thank you.”

Muir suggests that the market is picking up, explaining that Wimbledon and AEGON are sold out events. Financial houses now seem to be talking and people are networking, but the major growth and opportunity is coming from outside the UK. Last year, the group was down 20 per cent yet its work at the Bahrain International Airshow smashed budgets and has allowed the group to make a £1 million investment in new product. Plans are also in place to purchase new horizontal panels that are stronger with a better thermal gain.

The last 12 months would have been tough if it had not widened its horizons last year, continues Muir. However, Arena is now in a privileged position. It has refinanced with the bank until 2013, and has funding in place. Muir hopes to make a pre-capital expenditure investment in 2011 or at the end of 2010 so it can bring in new product that will then spring its way into the Olympics. The bank has listened to its aspirations for the Olympics and plans for the future.

“We are opening an office in Abu Dhabi, and we are looking at Qatar. Qatar is like Abu Dhabi. It has lots of money and it is keen to get more of what’s going on in the West. Spain and Portugal are doing OK and Delhi is on the horizon.”

Looking to the future, conversations are ongoing with organisers of Bahrain International Airshow, and the group is now offering organisers a new service – fit out. Muir explains that it has made new appointments, so that it does not have to rely on third party services. Pricing pressures within this sector are rife, and the group now feels it’s right to offer fit out as a separate service, and has won the contract to complete the fit out at the Alfred Dunhill Championship Pavilion, as well as at AEGON.

“If you know your customer then you know what they want, you know what they don’t want and you know where they want to go. People are looking at value a lot more than they have ever done before. Structures are structures but creativity is the key, and producing something a little different.”