Stable Events James Gower

Stable Events James Gower: You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

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With COVID in our rearview mirror, it’s time to reflect on what the interruption taught us about organising large-scale outdoor events. James Gower, CEO of Stable Events, which organises the Northern Shooting Show, The Game Fair, The GWCT Scottish Game Fair and The GWCT Welsh Game Fair, says the newly consolidated market has meant the strongest events emerged even stronger…

When we were all confined to barracks in 2020 and 2021, the events industry scrambled to host virtual conferences, seminars, and online trading platforms for struggling exhibitors. Some people wondered if this move to online would be our new future – perhaps the pandemic had flagged that the traditional format of game fairs, county shows and agricultural shows had run its course.

This reflected the fact that consumer shopping behaviour was shifting and evolving. Modern buying habits had shifted online with people now buying what they wanted when they wanted in just a couple of clicks.

However, when the world finally opened up, no-one suggested that we stay online. In fact the reverse happened. The attendance at The Game Fair 2021 was astonishing. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive and joyous, as visitors and exhibitors were finally allowed to embrace and see each other again. People travelled the length and breadth of Britain for an old fashioned get together. Ticket sales were unprecedented and exhibitors reported record sales.

The feedback taught event organisers a lot. When outdoor events were taken away from us, we all realised what we had lost. So, as often happens with humans, our behaviour has lurched from one extreme to another. Now people are craving face-to-face transactions. No-one wants to exist solely through a screen. The soul-less experience of shopping alone through your smartphone is incomparable.

Another thing that happened as a result of the pandemic is a consolidation of game fairs in Britain. Events that were a bit vulnerable or weak and had not modernised were unable to survive sadly. This meant that the strong events became even stronger. This isn’t just game fairs, it is across the board, including music festivals and county shows. The ones left are more relevant than ever before.

The pandemic was a catalyst for positive change. It provided a window into what life would look like without outdoor events. People often need to know what’s missing before they appreciate what they’ve got. It gave us an insight and education that we would not normally have. Normally events would just keep rolling on, one after another, year after year, but the pandemic forced us to stop and evaluate what’s important. Despite the technology and all the clever platforms that are available to us that host virtual shows and conferences, none of them was able to come close to filling that gap.

In simple terms, events reflect what is being discussed at the time. So right now, game fair content is dominated by environmental topics such as conservation, tree planting, and carbon capture. The dialogue appears in the theatres, among the trade stand holders and is reflected in the things that are for sale.

The cost-of-living crisis is also something that’s at the forefront of discussions, both internally at Stable Events and among visitors. Nowadays, entertaining a family is hugely expensive. You won’t get much change from £100 a head if you want to go to the theatre, circus, concert or a festival.

It costs millions of pounds to put on The Game Fair. Back when it was run by The Country Land amd Business Association, when it was known as The CLA Game Fair, that cost was covered entirely by exhibitors and visitor ticket sales. Since then, Stable Events has endeavoured to evolve the economic model so that that cost is shared across a much broader group of stakeholders. We have focussed a lot of our energy on securing funding from outside the industry, looking further afield at tourism, investment banking, and oversees brands. Widening the net has been a crucial move for us. This means that the cost to exhibit is now more under control. Without those investments, exhibitors would have to pay double for the event to break even.

So what does the landscape look like for this year? Exhibitors, visitors and sponsors are all growing. The industry has probably never felt stronger. We are increasingly attracting interest from international brands based overseas. Game fairs are the market brought to life in one place. They are unique in what they offer. They provide everyone with an opportunity to press the flesh. They hold a mirror up to what’s going on in everyone’s lives and act as an industry barometer. They are as relevant today as they ever were.