24 May 2024, 15:16
By Gavin Boden Sept 25, 2019

Exhibitions – use them or lose them!

In the UK we have two main furniture trade shows – the January Furniture Show, situated across five halls of the Birmingham NEC, and the Manchester Furniture Show, at Manchester Central (formerly the G-Mex) in the centre of Greater Manchester. 

Both are equally important to the industry, enabling retailers, however big or small, to come along free of charge and take a look at all the latest trends the UK’s furniture industry have to offer. 

Although I didn’t exhibit at the latter this year, I did pay both shows a visit. While doing so (and since) I’ve spoken to some big names in the industry about them and how important they are to the industry, and a lot of suppliers are thinking the same thing – that if retailers don’t start supporting them, we risk losing them.

Timing

The NEC event takes place in January, one of the busiest trading months of the year for retailers, and the worst month for extreme weather conditions including snow, rain, ice and all kinds of public transport issues. If you order at the January show you can expect delivery to be made any time from April to July. 

The Manchester show, on the other hand, takes place in July, which normally has superb weather conditions. If you order at this show, you would expect delivery to be made in the weeks leading up to the busiest trading periods of the year.

Duration

Because the January show occupies five halls of the NEC, it really requires retailers to be there for at least three of the four days – but I feel that, even in three days, you wouldn’t be able to get around and see all the wonders it has to offer. 

Even though it’s a lot smaller, the Manchester show would still require two of the three days to see it properly. Based in Manchester Central’s main hall (and a couple of smaller halls around it), it has some pretty big exhibitors (even though it’s a smaller show).

Networking 

The networking possibilities for both shows are endless, and although the January show has a higher attendance, retailers have to find accommodation scattered around the West Midlands area, whereas because the summer event is in the centre of Manchester, all the hotels, restaurants and clubs (are they even a thing now?!) are all within a mile’s radius of the centre, so the networking is amazing. 

I find that on the evenings of the Manchester show, you can’t go anywhere without being seen – it creates an amazing atmosphere around the exhibition.

Multiples

Because the January exhibition is a much bigger show and incorporates flooring and interiors products, it attracts a lot more visitors from outside the furniture sector. But I will say that both exhibitions attract the big buyers – Furniture Village, John Lewis, Costco, DFS, Argos and ScS among them – so it is always worth exhibitors being there so they are visible to the big retailers. 

But the industry cannot survive on multiples alone – independents are its bread and butter, and, in my opinion, traditional independent retailers are more important to the survival of the industry than the big boys.

I know it looks like I’m swaying towards the Manchester show as my favourite exhibition – but there are strong reasons why, and I wouldn’t think that many retailers or suppliers would disagree with me. 

The very first organisers of The Furniture Show sat down with the NEC and were told that the only time they could hold a show of that size would be January. They put up a bit of a fight, but, at the end of the day, the NEC wouldn’t move – and that is the only reason the largest furniture show in the UK takes place in January. 

Everyone in the industry knows that it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way it is. I still love the buzz which is created at the NEC (even though it’s a cold one), and it’s amazing to amble round and see all the amazing designs on show.

The Manchester show, on the other hand, is only three days long. It’s easier for retailers to go round and find everything, it’s in the centre of Manchester so the networking and social side is amazing, and it’s in July, a month that promises great weather and great travelling conditions. It’s also easier for retailers to get away from their businesses a this time, and the orders they place will be delivered at a better time of the year.

The last two years of evolution within the industry have been very important for retailers, and the next two will be even more so. So, what can they do? Because business has been tough, retailers need to raise their game, and actually make sure they visit these exhibitions to get the most up-to-date, on-trend furniture on their shopfloors. 

But that isn’t what is happening. The attendance of the last two shows has been disappointing (and that’s putting it lightly). Retailers are staying away – and we all know why. Retailers want to spend all the time they can in their stores, to maximise conversation rates and make sure they don’t spend any more money than is absolutely necessary. 

Because business has been tough, retailers aren’t visiting the shows in the numbers they used to, and it’s such a shame. In my opinion, there are too many shows throughout the year – and retailers will be far too busy to visit every one of them – but the two main shows, in Birmingham and the NEC, have to be visited. If the footfall gets any worse they may disappear, and retailers won’t have one place where they can go to see all of their suppliers.

Suppliers spend thousands exhibiting at these shows – on floorspace, staff, logistics, hotels and other expenses. All they want is for them to be supported – please don’t let these platforms disappear.

Gavin Boden is a furniture sales and marketing professional, and runs his own company. GB Agencies. He also writes children's books in his spare time.

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