19 May 2024, 22:46
By Furniture News Jun 21, 2021

Clarion's Zoë Bonser on this summer's show relocation

This year’s first large-scale UK furniture exhibition, Manchester Furniture Show, will go ahead from 18-21st next month – but not in Manchester. Paul Farley quizzes Zoë Bonser, the director of Clarion Events’ Retail portfolio (also incorporating January Furniture Show, Home & Gift, Top Drawer and new online platform, Reveal) on the reasons behind the move to Harrogate, and what visitors can expect to find …

I’m guessing demand is high for this event – from both would-be exhibitors and visitors?

It certainly is! After what will be nearly 18 months with no large-scale buying and selling opportunities, there is a tremendous amount of pent-up demand. We made the decision to run these shows after much consultation with the market – exhibitors, visitors, and other stakeholders – and in a recent survey, 87% of visitors stated that they will return to live events when they get the opportunity.

Why was the decision made to relocate the furniture component to Harrogate? Why not vice versa?

We are co-locating the shows this year due to space availability and venue restrictions, plus it benefits our customers – there is a lot of cross-over in the furniture and home and gift markets. Our main aim is to service both markets, and create the first opportunity for buyers and sellers to meet in person. 

To be really clear, this is a co-location, which means Manchester Furniture Show (MFS) in Harrogate will have its own registration process, entrances, exits and halls, but a crossover point will connect both events. 

What are the benefits to regular MFS visitors of doing so?

Co-locating the shows in Harrogate further strengthens and secures MFS. It gives exhibitors the opportunity to network and do business not only with the usual 5000 buyers, but with over 10,000 additional Home & Gift buyers, while giving buyers the opportunity to explore product from 50 furniture show exhibitors, and over 650 additional suppliers, across four days. 

There are a lot of suppliers which are relevant to both the home and gift market, and to furniture and interiors, so both buyers and suppliers will benefit from the co-location in Harrogate. 

All VIPs are invited to the VIP Indigo Lounge – a space for food, refreshments and meetings. And, of course, the return to live events wouldn’t be complete without plenty of food, drinks and parties for everyone. 

For first-timers, how easy is it to reach Harrogate?

Harrogate is easy to get to, especially by train, with the service between London/Edinburgh to Leeds/York running every half hour (through the week), with average journey times from London of around 2-2.5 hours, with a short connecting train at York. The train journey from Manchester and Birmingham has just one change, at Leeds or York.

The Harrogate Convention Centre is clearly signposted from the A61, postcode HG2 8NZ. There are 200 car parking spaces available at centre (HG1 5LA), and hundreds more at the Great Yorkshire Showground. We’ll put free transport on from the showground to the centre, to make getting to the venue as easy as possible.

Zoë Bonser

Are there any plans to make the relocation permanent?

This is the plan for one year only. After the last year, it makes sense for us to bring the industry together in one location, but next year we are hoping, like everyone, for more normality – including with our live shows.

Who are the key personnel involved with managing and selling this year’s show?

The co-located shows will be driven by: show director, Russell Rule; head of sales, James Howard; and head of marketing, Amy Donnelley. Furniture show regulars may recognise sales manager Shona Carmichael and marketing manager Kate Pilling.

Further strengthening the live shows team, we have: senior marketing executives Charlotte Simpson and Emma Telford; senior sales manager David Westbrook; and sales managers Paddy Wallace and Ben Myatt. Our ops team is made up of senior operations manager Abigail Quesnel, and operations managers Marisa Beckman and Lisa Howlett. 

The team and I can’t wait to get to Harrogate and meet as many of our customers as possible in person!

Can you give us an idea of some of the exhibitors confirmed for MFS in Harrogate?

We are delighted to have already confirmed some great fantastic names including ALF, Venjakob, Alfrank, Buoyant, GFA, Kettle, La-Z-Boy, Rauch, 3C – Das Sofa, IFD and more. James and Shona are in the process of contacting all of the exhibitors you would expect to see at MFS, and we know the line-up will be compelling – this is set to be a stellar return to large-scale events for the furniture industry.

MFS is renowned for its social side. Can Harrogate offer participants a similar experience?

In a word, yes! Home & Gift is the social event of the summer for the home and gift industry, with plenty of opportunities to catch up with friends and colleagues with a gin and tonic or two on the lawn, a BBQ, cool food shacks, and the famous Home & Gift exhibitor party. The most popular social event is Sundowners on Sunday – hopefully we’ll get lucky with the weather again this year!  

Like the Manchester event, Harrogate has a fun, summer holiday vibe, which we know the furniture industry will enjoy. Harrogate is a really lively destination town, full of wine bars, restaurants, Yorkshire pubs and lots of spots to relax and have fun after a busy day at the show. 

Across the four show days there will be a number of ‘perks and offerings’ for exhibitors and VIP buyers to enjoy, including discount cards that offer -10% reduction in most bars, restaurants and cafes across Harrogate. Plus, Home & Gift is celebrating its 60th anniversary, so we’ll certainly be raising a glass or two to that.

Based on their Home & Gift experiences over the years, can the team share any useful tips for newcomers?

Great question! Some of the team have worked on the show in Harrogate for years – here are the tips that came up again and again …

Harrogate Convention Centre is a large site, and MFS visitors and exhibitors will have full access to explore Home & Gift too, so wear comfy shoes, grab a map, and enjoy – you might even find an unexpected product or bump into an old friend!

Also, make the most of beautiful Harrogate. There’s so much to do, from Bettys tea rooms to the famous spa – book now, as things will get booked up quickly. Harrogate boasts some fine dining and Michelin-recommended restaurants including Stuzzi and Three’s a Crowd, so they are definitely worth a visit for a treat. There are lots of lovely independent shops in town too, so bring your spending money. And, if the weather is looking good, remember that sun cream! 

How will coronavirus suppression measures affect engagement at the show?

I want to reassure the industry that safety is our priority, and we are working closely with the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), which is liaising with the Government directly on live event guidelines, to ensure the best possible experience for exhibitors and visitors alike. 

We will continue to share current information with our visitors and exhibitors as we get nearer to the show dates, once we know which precautions, if any, will be in place.

NOTE: Information regarding the safety procedures was updated subsequent to this interview – see related for details.

Given the uncertain nature of the restrictions, do you feel the show’s timing will work out? Can you comment on the likelihood of earlier fixtures going ahead?

We are confident that the show will go ahead. To put it simply, Clarion Events is committed to running these co-located shows, and we are delighted that we are able to run the furniture industry’s first and largest in-person event for buyers and suppliers to unite and do business in over a year.

Which exact moment are you most looking forward to?

My favourite moment of any show is when I hear the opening announcement come out over the Tannoy. The days and hours before the show opens are always quite hectic and a lot of fun and hard work – I cannot wait to hear the words “Home & Gift and Manchester Furniture Show are now open for business” ring out over the tannoy. This one will feel even more special, as we have waited so long and worked so hard to put this on for our industry. 

That’s when the buzz in the halls and marquees starts to grow louder and louder, and you can really see everyone’s hard work paying off.

Tell us a little about Reveal – what is it, and when will it go live?

Reveal is our new trade ecommerce platform, and will be a hub of product discovery, easy ordering, inspiration and insight, 365 days of year. It is a 24/7 digital shopfront, and a rotating shop window for suppliers. For retailers, it will be a daily dose of product discovery, and a unique opportunity to source, connect and buy, as well as to learn and be inspired.

Reveal is giving an exclusive opportunity for a limited number of retailers to gain early access to the platform from this month – those interested can sign up at www.info.clarion-retail.com/reveal-early-access – and the site will go live to the market this summer. If you would like your products to be featured on Reveal, find out more or request a demo, email [email protected].

Can you share any information about the January Furniture Show?

January Furniture Show will be going ahead in its usual footprint at the NEC, from 23rd-26th January 2022, and will be the largest event of its kind in two years. January Furniture Show now has a fresh new look to tie in with the launch of Reveal, bringing the shows within the Clarion Retail portfolio even more closely together. Watch this space as we move towards the largest furniture event in the UK …

This interview was published in the June 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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