Out of the blue

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The Events Venue at Bluewater is set to open this year. Stand Out looks at the opportunities for organisers and what plans Clarion Events, anchor tenant, has for the space…

As true partnerships go, a win-win situation will only occur if both parties share the workload – partnerships deserve 50:50 effort, blood, sweat and tears otherwise the sweet smell of success quickly turns sour.

Chatting to both Matt Miller, portfolio director, Clarion Events, and Rebecca Cardozo, venue director, The Events Venue, Bluewater, there’s a mutual love and respect. Cardozo and Miller are “working in true partnership” – Cardozo gets targeted events and experiences that offer the Bluewater audience that something extra and Miller has the opportunity to flip the exhibition model and create new events with an almost guaranteed footfall. The audience is already there; it’s now a case of identifying markets. It’s a strategic partnership that will see the organiser launching events at the venue, leading the way, as a growing list of other organisers also confirm events.

The Events Venue at Bluewater has been years in planning. In total, 5,200 square metres of exhibition and events space are available to organisers in the form of two halls, each measuring 3,200 and 2,000 square metres. A VIP area (500 square metres) can also be hired for smaller receptions and all within the confines of Bluewater, Kent, itself.

Cardozo explains: “Bluewater has 28 million visitors, annually. In terms of catchment area, our direct catchment stretches from the Thames down to Sussex and within that area there are over four million people. One pound in every £10 spent in the UK is spent in that catchment area. Our audience is there and year on year, Bluewater’s draw is increasing.

We’re presenting organisers with a great demographic – 72 per cent ABC1 – and an audience with a destination.”

Crystal clear

Describing the venue as a “new breed”, Cardozo maintains that it can be differentiated from its rivals by its seasonal offer. During the summer holidays, Bluewater, Kent, is packed with shoppers; other exhibition halls may be quiet, so organisers have the opportunity to tap into an audience that has chosen its destination first. The partnership, she also says, appeals to the audience and the catchment – heavy, editorial content is the key.

So far, 12 exhibitions have been booked as well as several live events. Miller would like to develop comedy, music and film experiences and attract pre-school brands. It’s a chance to crystalise the opportunity and diversify into other markets, he explains.

“I believe with Simon [Kimble] that this [The Events Venue, Bluewater] is the best opportunity in the consumer space for at least 10 years. It’s a blank canvas and the opportunity has been there to research and decide on the markets in which to operate rather than adopt ‘a build it and they will come’ model.”

The space allows Clarion to be visitor-centric. The initial focus is not on the exhibitor – it’s not a case of looking at where it can sell; it’s rather this is the demographic, what do we know they’d buy. Miller freely admits that the Clarion model is evolving, and it has an open relationship with Cardozo and her team.

“We can now look at the visitors first and talk to the brands after,” adds Miller. “Clarion is particularly good at operating consumer shows, which are broadly shopping centres for niche markets.

Bluewater, Kent, means we can broaden the product range and deliver more entertainment events with strong content.”

The first public event – Clarion’s Spirit of Christmas offer – will take place from November 30 – December 4 and is already 70 per cent sold out. In December, an ice rink will form part of Clarion’s plans, having great presence on-site and Spirit of Christmas will have sold all exhibitor space by July, Miller says.

“As a consumer organiser, we’ve been given an unparalleled opportunity. In the summer months, we’re looking at some sort of affordable art offer. Fashion, food and drink, weddings and baby/ toddler markets are set to be covered. We have great credibility in the travel and baby markets but they would need more thought to evolve a concept that would work at the venue – they need to be large- scale because of the breadth in product offered and feature content takes up a lot of space. The other markets we operate in demonstrate a great relationship with the trade so they are not a major risk – we can pick those shows up and drop them into the space with subtle changes.”

New horizons

Cardozo suggests that for The Events Venue to work experience is key. Attracting live events and touring exhibitions, the venue’s also drawing on a broad mix of exhibition organisers – in fact, an as yet unnamed health, beauty and wellbeing show has just come onboard.

“At the moment, a lot of shows are condensing… here, you can have a ticketed and focused experience. And like Bluewater, Kent, does with its retailers we’re talking to organisers about how we can work together and looking at waysin which we can part-time jobs for the local community – perhaps training them in welcoming visitors or how to man exhibition stands.”

In The Events Venue’s upper level hall, it’s possible for organisers to fly cars or hang them between the gallery beams – a myriad of smaller businesses are enquiring about the space as well as Asian wedding planners. And, as well as Clarion, ICHF Events has also chosen the space to hold Creative Stitches and Hobbycrafts from February 2-5, 2012.

ICHF has completed a thorough review and redesign of the show especially for The Events Venue at Bluewater. The show is to be much more experiential than its previous iterations, offering a unique retail environment, and with good road and rail links, the organisers are confident.