18 May 2024, 20:37
By Furniture News Jan 17, 2014

UBM explains decision to relocate Interiors

Last week, the organiser of Interiors UK confirmed plans to completely overhaul the show’s existing format, and move it from its long-established Birmingham location to London, and from January to May, becoming The Furniture Show at May Design Series. It is one of the most significant trade show developments in recent years, and the industry rumour mill has been rife with speculation – Furniture News spoke directly to Andrew Stuart, group director for organiser UBM’s Built Environment division, in an attempt to clarify the situation …

Firstly – why choose to implement such a huge overhaul?

The move we’re making is driven by a number of things, as you can imagine. It’s no secret that Interiors has contracted over the years, and following a detailed period of consultation it has become clear we need to enhance our proposition. As Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

For some time now we’ve been doing a lot of research – including commissions from independent researchers – into what the market wants and what the best way forward is.

One thing that’s been shining through is that people are frustrated by the sheer number of events and how fragmented the industry is becoming because of that – everyone really just wants one big UK event that they know is the “place to be”, and the place to go every year – not having to wade through a selection of 13 or 14 different shows all saying they do different things.

“We can hopefully get the show on a growth trajectory again, which is ultimately what’s driving this move”

Equally, over the last five years there has been a 35% decline in domestic furniture production, so although the UK market is still very strong and buoyant, we can’t ignore the fact that its import element of it is growing.

So, to give our buyers exactly what they want, we do need an element of international product as well, and we haven’t been able to successfully do that from Birmingham – for whatever reason, international furniture suppliers don’t see Birmingham as an international destination.

London is probably the most happening city in the world at the moment – it’s very internationally focused, statistics show that around 75% of all the world’s leading architects and specifiers’ HQs are in London – so in terms of the design marketplace, it makes a lot of sense.

Equally, we want to attract international visitors and buyers to help UK companies sell product overseas, as well as wanting to attract international exhibitors to enter the UK market. All these reasons support our strong belief that London is the best destination for this event going forward.

You talk about unity – but it’s already likely that a new show will emerge from the ashes of Birmingham’s Interiors UK …

I’m sure the NEC will be speaking to different people to see if there’s any appetite to step into our shoes. That’s not something we’re going to be involved with. Our focus is all about making the Furniture Show at May Design Series as successful and large as possible.

We’ve got close to 500 exhibitors this January and we’re very focused on delivering a strong and profitable show for all concerned next week – then it’s all about making the migration to London as successful as possible. We’ve got a list of over 1000 companies that have exhibited over the past five years, so we’re also conscious of a lot of companies that, for one reason or another, no longer exhibit at Birmingham – so we’re also hoping we can entice them back to the party with a new proposition. 

Can you tell us more about the research that influenced your decision?

We frequently speak to our customers and gauge feedback. In this case, we also had the help of an independent consultant called JWC, who carried out a pricing survey for us late last year. They spoke to a number of our exhibitors, current and past, as an independent consultant. Their remit was really to work on a pricing project, but within that scope, they got a lot of anecdotal feedback about how exhibitors feel about the event, their return investment, etc.

So, that research was a really strong indicator for us of what the market was feeling – and sometimes, let’s be honest, it does help having a fresh set of eyes that aren’t immersed in the day-to-day working of Interiors.

From that research, we embarked on a bit of follow-up ourselves, speaking to as many exhibitors as we possibly could. We offered them two strong scenarios, we gauged feedback on the London move and the rationale behind it.

“I don’t think we’ll find a single one of our exhibitors that doesn’t want to sell product overseas should the opportunity present itself”

It’s important to add that UBM are the biggest organisers of furniture shows around the world. We run the biggest show in the world (Furniture China), the biggest in India and Malaysia, and we’re launching in Russia, so we’ve got a really big footprint internationally in furniture shows, and we’re keen to leverage the full power of that by creating a proposition in the UK that’s attractive to international exhibitors and visitors – the feedback that we were getting was that that wasn’t currently the case.

What are the pricing levels likely to look like for exhibitors at the new event?

We will be offering exhibitors next week at Interiors the opportunity to rebook into The Furniture Show at May Design Series in 2015, and the prices will be in line with what they’re paying this year at Interiors.

One thing that absolutely isn’t going to happen is prices doubling now we’re moving to London, because we’re not naive enough to think that’s going to be palatable to many. One of our absolutely key requirements here is to keep the pricing of the show in line with what it has been – the prices for the Furniture Show 2015 at May Design Series will be exactly the same as they would have been had the show remained at Birmingham.

In terms of capacity, what possibilities does ExCeL offer?

It gives us the opportunity to grow the show again. We’re realistic – we don’t expect necessarily in 2015 for the show to take over the whole of the ExCeL, but we’ve got the opportunity to grow there. The ExCeL is a big venue, and they’re continuing to invest – they recently opened additional halls as well, so capacity is not an issue. We will be working to get the show on a growth trajectory again, which is ultimately what’s driving this move.

How is the new show likely to differ from its previous incarnation?

In terms of the composition of the show, the feedback we’ve got is that people want one big, broad-based show. We don’t want it to become niche in any way, we don’t want to target one sector over another – the way we’re going to zone the show gives us the opportunity to really have a rounded offering. There will be elements of contract there, but the profile of the show is not going to fundamentally change.

Everything you’ll see at Interiors next week, we very much anticipate that you’ll see in May 2014 and May 2015 in London. In terms of profile, we’re looking at a very broad-based show which covers the breadth of the market.

You’ve already got a good number of companies signed up …

We’ve been speaking to people over the past few weeks, and, by and large, they’ve been very receptive. If I’m honest I haven’t found anyone in the marketplace yet that doesn’t believe that we need a period of change, we need something fresh, something new. I haven’t found anyone that’s argued that ‘we like it just the way it is, don’t tamper with it’. I think everyone’s realistic that we need a new offering, to breathe some life back into the proposition.

In terms of the supply calendar that’s been laid down by Interiors in January for such a long time, do you feel that the trade will accept the change to May?

Yes. It’s not just a hunch, it was a big part of the feedback that we were seeking from exhibitors and visitors. That’s obviously the biggest change we’re making here – Birmingham to London is 120 miles, so in the scheme of things it’s not a huge shift, but the timeline was one thing we were very keen to validate.

The feedback we were getting was that January was actually becoming more of an inconvenience. With Cologne and Paris sandwiched either side, or overlapping in most cases, it was proving that some companies that would like to be active in the UK market were actually choosing big European shows instead of Interiors.

One of my pleasant surprises was that there were no real objections to the May timeline – people saw the benefits. It’s going to be a month after Milan, and it fits quite nicely into the buying cycle and the sourcing patterns. That’s the biggest change we’re making here, but we haven’t done so lightly or blindly, we’ve done extensive research on it, and the feedback supported the change.

So this new format will better facilitate visits from foreign buyers?

Yes, it’s very much an international market now, and I think one of the reasons Interiors has been having the challenging years it has is that it’s become a purely domestic show. The international element of the visitor audience has been reducing, as has the international element of the exhibitors. I don’t think we’ll find a single one of our exhibitors that doesn’t want to sell product overseas should the opportunity present itself.

How are you looking to develop the other aspects of the May Design Series?

Really just growing and developing on the 2013 launch, which saw over 200 exhibitors and went very well. The 2014 version will double in size, and we’re going to make sure we define the key districts to make it easier for the visitor to source the products that are relevant to them.

The Furniture Show at May Design Series will be the biggest single subsector, but then there will be Decor, Lighting [including Arc], Kitchen and Bathroom and DX, so each subsection will develop organically within itself. We’re also going to have international pavilions, using the UBM infrastructure of the big brands we have.

Any closing thoughts?

For me, personally speaking, just to continue to do the same thing year after year wasn’t an option – to keep rolling the same proposition out, hoping the wind might change direction, would be unforgivable. So although some might consider what we are doing a bold move, we believe it is absolutely right for our customers and the marketplace.

Reporting to Andrew Stuart are Suzie Ager, who remains the brand director for Interiors [The Furniture Show at May Design Series], and Andy Vaughan, brand director for the May Design Series.

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