All under one roof
Leisure Industry Week is one of the key events in the leisure sector’s calendar. Mick Owen headed for Birmingham to join the throng to see what they would find.
Greenfields Sports Turf Systems at LIW
Precor take a stand
A trip to the NEC in Birmingham has the tendency to put things in perspective. The vast halls and endless echoing corridors are not built on a human scale. Whether you arrive by train, plane or motor vehicle, the approaches all serve to belittle the individual visitor. Add to this the vast array of esoteric industry shows running cheek by jowl with some taking up five and six of the hangar-sized exhibition spaces and the leisure industry’s place in the pantheon is clear: at two halls for three days Leisure Industry Week is big, but not that big. Which considering the fact that this is the largest get-together for the broad sweep of the leisure industry is somewhat salutary.
Surely if all the suppliers of gym equipment were present alongside the caterers, the governing bodies of sport, the soft play equipment manufacturers and the entire National Licensed Business Show then the event would take up more space than this? Well yes, but there were some notable absentees. First up – or not up this year – were Life Fitness UK, one of the big beasts in the gym equipment world. Where were they? According to a source they decided instead to host a two-day conference for their own clients, partners and key contacts [including TLR: see elsewhere in this issue] a couple of weeks before the LIW show arrived at Planet NEC. The biggest governing body of sport in Britain, the FA, also passed up the chance to press the flesh at Birmingham, as did the likes of Sport England and the CCPR. All of which raises the question of who got it wrong: people like Life Fitness and the FA or the 400-plus exhibitors that did commit?
Being built on a monolithic scale, the NEC handled every issue of visitor throughput easily. There were few queues – although one hapless colleague did spend nearly half an hour trying to get a press pass – and all the expensive amenities were available and accessible. There was plenty of room to move amongst the dizzying variety of stands and most exhibitors made an effort to produce more or less entertaining ways to attract attention. And there seemed to be room in the various seminar spaces and arenas. But perhaps some of these open spaces should have been populated by visitors? The footfall figures have not been published yet but the tumbleweed blowing down the walkways of the pool plant section of the show on the first afternoon may have been indicative that LIW TV, a complex website and the promise of “more than 100 education sessions” had not created sufficient buzz in the out-of-home leisure business. As one seller of a fairly esoteric piece of pool paraphernalia said strictly off the record, “It is a bit quiet.”
Leisure Industry Week started in 1989 as a commercial reaction to the loss from the calendar of the Sports Council’s RecMan conference and nowadays the exhibition is owned by the conferences arm of CPMi, which itself is part of a multi-national company called United Business Media. Accurately describing what companies of that size do can be a challenge but essentially their people are from magazines and events; magazines like Farmers Weekly and events like Informex, which “focuses on the specialty chemicals market”. This is their second year in charge, having bought the show from Ithaca Media following the 2006 event. Ithaca had begun the overdue process of rejuvenating the show and the 14,000 visitors that attended last year represented a 50% increase on the 2005 total. Our researches indicate that both the second and third days were significantly busier than the day TLR attended and although the final footfall figures will be down on last year the quality of those visitors was such that one exhibitor went as far as to say: “This is the best show we’ve ever done. If we can’t convert business from the leads we’ve seen this year, then frankly we shouldn’t be in jobs.”
This would fit well with the CPMi description of LIW as a business-to-business event. They are keen to encourage the sort of behaviour shown by Lynne Niven, business development manager with Edinburgh Leisure, who said, “We came here to buy and with all the suppliers in one place it was easy to just work down our shopping list. Getting here from Scotland could not have been easier. I am really impressed.” What CPMi don’t like are students clogging up the place and people without order books. Here we offer a direct quotation from an exhibitor: “The numbers are down a bit on last year but all you’ve lost are the juniors and the dross. We’re still seeing very senior decision-makers and actually the audience is more concentrated as a result.”
And this is the ambivalence at the centre of the event’s future. If CPMi are serious about making LIW a focal point in the industry calendar they need to accept that not every visitor can be a buyer; but to keep their exhibitors happy they need to focus on bringing in the big hitters and pruning ‘the dross’. It is the view of this reviewer that this year’s walk-up visitor – faced for the first time with a £15 entry fee – is next year’s buyer and that inviting people to attend education events and persuading organisations to co-locate their own conferences at the NEC runs counter to the business-to-business ethos that spells commercial success. CPMi are creating the conundrum that threatens their continued success. People just aren’t quite sure what LIW is for.
Mick Owen is managing editor of The Leisure Review
The Leisure Review, October 2008
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