Navigating the Trade Only Show in the U.K.

From Dale Denham, senior vice president at A.S.I. USA:

I just returned from attending the launch of another trade show, but this time in the United Kingdom, where it seems that some people think there is an opportunity for a better trade show.

The show was held in Coventry and hosted by Trade Only, which positioned the show just a few weeks after the Promota Show – held in Birmingham in mid-February.

trade only
Upon my arrival, unlike most people who visit the U.K., I opted against public transportation and decided to rent a car. I thought it would be a good refresher to drive on the left side of the road, since the last time I did that was in Australia in 2001.

Luckily, the car had a navigation system, and the experience of driving on the left and sitting on the right provided an interesting parallel for my experience at the show: while most times the ways of doing business in our industry are similar, no matter where you are, at other times it can be an entirely different experience.

In fact, one can easily be confused by terminology or be disappointed by expectations if one doesn’t have “friends” or a guide to help you navigate through the nuances of the marketplace.

When driving, it was my navigation system that guided me: “at the roundabout, take the 3rd exit…” At this trade show, it was the helpful staff at Trade Only. They helped me understand terms unique to the U.K., like “be spoke,” which means “custom.”

During setup day, Trade Only staff wore yellow jackets embroidered with “WE’RE HERE TO HELP.” I thought this was a great idea and it made finding assistance a snap (but they were not willing to wear red derby hats, like at ASI Shows).
Trade Only claims to have the industry’s only education sessions at a fair in the U.K. It hosts power sessions running nearly every hour, to educate distributors on a multitude of topics.

trade only
The power sessions were well-attended, and everyone I spoke after them with seemed very happy with the show and excited about the format.
However, in the “States”, it is fair to say that almost no supplier would have been happy with the show traffic. Martin Varley, CEO of the Dowlis Group, expected somewhere close to 1,000 attendees and had convinced the industry’s largest suppliers to exhibit in large stands.

BIC, Mid Ocean Brands, Supreme line (owned by 4imprint in the U.K.), PF Concept and more all had relatively large stands and ample staff to support the traffic. By the end, there were 856 distributors who visited the show – near projections – and still 100 more than the Promota show.

As I left, I chatted with my new friends who I met the night before, expecting mixed reviews. Instead, I received generally optimistic comments from the exhibitors.
One exhibitor shared that “we had good meetings today, and based on some of the contacts I made, I expect several good orders to come from this show.” Others echoed that the results would be tallied in the coming months, based upon the number of catalogs given away.
A supplier from Germany said that he expected to give away 500 catalogs, but instead he only gave away about 100.
The show overall was good by U.K. standards and most exhibitors expect to be back next year, when Trade Only will have a full year to promote the show. They launched this one only four months ago.

Like the PSI Show earlier this year in Dusseldorf, Germany, as well as other European shows, food and drink were available often and at practically every large stand.
In comparison to the PSI Show, this show was smaller, but appeared to be the largest show in the U.K.
Some say it is hard to understand why it isn’t larger, and some attendees mentioned to me that there is a lack of an organization, like ASI, to drive the industry to change.

Others said it is simply the size of the market, which is estimated by Trade Only at one billion pounds, and still others believe that the current trade association – Promota – has its challenges in trying to grow the industry.
Trade Only is aiming to prove that the industry can grow and bring more business to U.K. suppliers and distributors.
And, no trade show would be complete without a gala.
Trade Only didn’t hold back at the end of the first night. Its gala provided incredible food and the entertainment, including a surprise trio of singing cooks, guests and organizers (you had to be there…) A very funny comedian was also on stage and finally, Shayne Ward – the UK Idol – topped off the bash.
Trade Only ended the show with a bit of a surprise for the exhibitors. It announced that it was moving the 2008 show from March to January 29th and 30th, overlapping with another new show announced in Amsterdam – by a group called PRO 8.

So yes, there are now seven large shows in January 2008 for suppliers to consider:
* ASI Show Orlando – Jan. 3-5
* PPAI Expo Las Vegas – Jan. 14-8
* PSI Dusseldorf – Jan. 10-12
* Imprint Canada – Jan. 11 and 12
* PPA Canada – January
* PRO 8 – Jan. 29-31
* Trade Only – Jan. 29-30

The locations are scattered across the globe and each country has its own method of doing business.
Yet, interestingly, in my experience attending trade shows overseas, it appears that these seven shows from multiple organizers will likely follow a familiar and widely-accepted format that works – regardless of what country you are in.
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