Friday, 4 December 2009

Are exhibitions on the way out?

I was fortunate enough to attend the Carole Nash NEC Bike show last week. I worked in the bike industry for a couple of years so I know it quite well. The bike industry is suffering just as much cars despite less media coverage about it. New bike sales are significantly down year on year, and we are seeing major manufacturers downsizing teams in Superbikes and Moto GP or pulling out altogether

What about the punters though? The NEC show is a mecca for any bike enthusiast – a chance to see next season’s bikes unveiled and buy a load of gear. But this year no Harley Davidson stand, no Honda stand. Two of the major brands have pulled out of the show and Ducati had a tiny stand that looked like an afterthought. So is this a symptom of a declining industry? Or is it that exhibitions just aren’t what they used to be?

Both have stated that they are concentrating on customer experiences and showcasing bikes on track days or demo days rather than exhibitions. This indicates that the brands are really looking for closer customer contact and interaction than an exhibition can provide. It also suggests that the return on investment isn’t there.

This is backed up by the fact that the leading bike insurance provider Bennetts pulled out of the NEC show over 5 years ago. Not going to the show?! It was a sacrilege at the time but hasn’t done them a jot of harm thanks to the British Superbike sponsorship in its place. Arch rival insurance provider Carole Nash has taken the opposite view, as title sponsor of the whole event, they have put large sums of cash into the event with a huge expensive looking stand.

Interestingly, both Harley and Honda are attending the London Motorcycle show in February. It is highly important that all the major manufacturers are at a bike exhibition for visitor numbers to maintain. Clearly bike industry providers have alternatives to exhibitions these days so what can the NEC bike show do to improve their proposition?

Well I could come up with a really clever solution but actually in this case it comes down to a simple insight. Chatting with exhibitors, cost is a major factor. Not just the cost of the stand but the cost of staff. A lot of staff are working silly hours over 10 full days (not counting the trade day) and juggling the day job at the same time. A brand just can’t afford to employ 10 staff exclusively on the stand and what would be the use anyway since temporary staff aren’t able to talk confidently about the brand and models?

The NEC bike show is doing a lot right. As an organiser you have to work hard to attract the numbers. Competitions, VIP guests, events at the show. All of this creates a lot more interest for the visitor than just stands. However if they just condensed these activities into 5 days instead of 10 days, it would make for a more exciting and full day for the visitor and would reduce costs for exhibitors by up to a third.

So in conclusion it’s a question of being practical and getting the customers expectations to meet the trade’s scope and budget during these tough times and the NEC Bike show will be the focal point in the biking calendar for many years

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