Spring awakening

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Emap Connect has announced extensive plans for Spring Fair International 2012 and beyond. Stand Out met with the event’s director, Roz McGuinness, and Emap Connect’s head of marketing, Matt Bidwell, at Autumn Fair International and discussed future moves…

There is nothing worse than being in the right hall with the wrong product and the wrong hall with the right product – you need to be in the right hall with the right product, explains Michael Sweeney, joint managing director of Natural Products and Worldwide Co.

Sweeney’s statement comes as Emap Connect, organisers of both Spring Fair International and Autumn Fair International, announce a raft of measures for Spring Fair International 2012 and beyond. A new hall layout, major investment and increased marketing spend, improved visitor contact and a team of bus buddies will impact on future events and add to the visitor experience.

In 2011, Spring Fair witnessed the first tranche of changes. A covered walkway connected halls nine and five of the NEC, with doors to both halls being removed to facilitate visitor flow between the piazza and the atrium and footfall across the exhibition. But in 2012, a more fully revised layout will follow after buyers indicated that they want clearer zoning and a concentration of similar product in the one area. This layout will improve visitor flow, provide greater crossover buying opportunities and will incorporate much more seating for visitors, while still allowing for growth.

Emap says it has responded to feedback from buyers concerning their priorities. As a result, extra seating will be conveniently located in every hall alongside free water points at Spring Fair in 2012.

Louise Young, managing director Emap Connect Home and Gift, continues: “We are making this investment because we appreciate that visitors need to take a break from time to time to revive both physically and mentally. We believe this will enhance their buying experience, not only helping them to remain focused, but also encouraging them to stay longer at the show and spend more money with exhibitors.”

Smooth running

Stand Out is sat drinking tea in Autumn Fair International’s press office. Having scoured the vast halls of union jack gifts, jewellery and crafts, I take time to sit with Roz McGuinness, the show’s event director, and Matt Bidwell, Emap Connect’s head of marketing. Both work closely together to deliver Autumn and Spring Fair, and are instrumental in the future planning.

Autumn Fair has a new area – Hobby and Craft in hall five – and it’s in response to gift and toy retailers that are looking to diversify, says McGuinness. The show’s footprint is 25 per cent larger as it seeks to make better use of hall space and the Lifestyle zone, which launched at Spring Fair 2011, was so well received that it is now an Autumn Fair staple.

According to Bidwell, the average visitor stays for 1.5 days but the team is looking to grow that number. More exhibitors to see, more in terms of seminar content and more people to meet mean that visitors will stay longer, he explains.

“You have to make sure that a visitor’s time is well spent and that they go away with information that will guide their business,” he adds.

Going fishing

On display at Autumn Fair are campaign details for the new-look Spring Fair. Its presence will breed familiarity, says McGuinness, and by the time Spring Fair International opens on February 5, 2012, Emap will have invested over £1.2 million in marketing, show features and an international buyer programme.

From the moment visitors arrive at the NEC buyers will be assisted by over 100 extra “here to help” staff, who have been drafted in specially for the February exhibition. They will be dedicated to “helping buyers shop the show”, according to Bidwell.

A team of “bus buddies” on the car park shuttles, Circle line buses and at bus stops will help visitors get their orientation from the minute they leave the car park, while staff will once again hand out free pastries to early bird arrivals.

Better traffic flow around the show will optimise the crossover buying potential. Inside the halls, wide, boulevard-style aisles with seating running down the middle will keep footfall flowing smoothly and give visitors a chance to rest and recharge during the fair.

Bidwell explains: “We see the majority of our growth coming from Europe. Our biggest growth opportunity for Autumn Fair is Spring Fair. There’s a big pool
to fish in if we want a larger Autumn Fair audience. An increased Spring Fair audience will come through European growth, direct mail and a hosted buyer programme. We had 300 buyer meetings at Spring Fair 2011 and we’re going to increase that in 2012 and do some pre- show matching. It’s something we’d like to do at Autumn Fair 2012 too.

“But at the moment our challenge is to ensure that the moves around Spring Fair are as smooth as possible.”

According to Bidwell and McGuinness, there’s nothing in the market that is comparable to Spring Fair or Autumn Fair. Harrogate Home and Gift does not have the breadth of product, and they see Ambiente and Maison & Objet as their only competition, and they are European events. Unlike, their European counterparts, entry to Spring Fair and Autumn Fair is free, and Bidwell does not believe in charging for trade shows.

Says Bidwell: “I think it’s a model that everyone works to and while it is an obvious financial move our retailers and visitors wouldn’t thank us for it.”

Concludes McGuinness: “Ultimately, the buyer is the most important person in this process. We have huge ambition to grow in size and in terms of audience, and in order to do that we knew we needed to change. At the moment, it’s about us looking to the future, shaping the future and fitting the right puzzles into the right halls like one big jigsaw puzzle.”