After four days pacing the hall at London ExCeL last month, it’s fair to say I noticed a greater sense of optimism among attendees than at the same show two and a half years ago.
Talk of a market recovery has been rife for some time now and, in the main, that seemed to be endorsed by catering equipment suppliers at the event. Many pointed to the improving pipelines of their dealers and interest from end-users looking to spend again for their confidence.
It was certainly a different show to last time, what with the date being shifted to spring and all catering equipment companies packed into one half of the main exhibition hall.
The two-day tube strikes that took place during the course of the event were unfortunate to say the least, but as exhibitors pointed out, serious buyers and prospective buyers made sure they got there one way or another.
Those who have been working in this industry for any length of time have seen the show evolve considerably over the years — many manufacturers fondly recall the days when they would write orders on the stand and book several months’ worth of business in one hit.
But time has moved on. The advent of email, mobile phones and the internet, coupled with changing buying behaviour, means product is more accessible and business, generally, is easier to do. Exhibitions have simply become just one cog in a very big sales and marketing wheel.
However, the fact remains that Hotelympia is still the flagship show for the UK catering sector and thus the biggest gathering of catering equipment suppliers under one roof. No other medium provides quite the same opportunity to see so many faces and shake so many hands in the space of a week.
In my opinion, shows such as Hotelympia are all about expectation. And usually there is a correlation between the size of the investment (how big the stand is and the number of staff deployed) and the level of expectation.
So many factors can determine whether a company ranks a show a success or failure. One firm might get heavy stand traffic all week but come away with average sales leads, while another might be disappointed with footfall but land a big order or make a crucial contact on the final day. Which one has had the better show?
A company’s historic position needs to be considered, too. One firm with 15 years’ background in the market told me that when they first exhibited every lead was a new one. Now the business is established, most of their stand visitors are existing customers they are in touch with anyway.
I think we have to accept exhibitions for what they are: a platform to physically showcase products and services to a relevant audience and an opportunity to build brand and profile. And on that front, Hotelympia is still the number one UK foodservice exhibition for that.