The winds of time are changing too quickly while we struggle to recover.
The announcement this week of the sale of Exponet is significant and it reminds me how in the last three years so much of the business events sector has seen accelerated change and how much knowledge and relationships are leaving the industry.
A combination of companies closing, mergers, acquisitions and retirement or management replacements pretty well covers the changes but it does raise the issue of how much knowledge is walking away and the impact of what will be left.
On many occasions I have talked about how we used to do business on a handshake and we all knew what companies stood for.
This change is by all means not incremental and I believe this is just the start of a major evolution in so many ways. Sadly a lot of knowledge isn’t being passed on as some of the older personal are also now a little bit behind what and how quickly things are changing and we can’t live in the past but below I have an idea where an exchange could be established.
Here is a snap shot so far of the changes (I apologise if I have missed anyone)
- Info Salons no longer exist
- Trade Event Registration no longer exists
- Agility no longer exist in the event business as a dedicated service
- There are new General Managers/CEO’s at exhibition centres across the country including
- Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
- Darwin Convention Centre
- Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
- Cairns Convention Centre
- Adelaide Convention Centre
- Exhibition Park in Canberra
- Sydney Showground
- Exponet has been sold to the long serving CFO and the founder and MD are now retired.
- Moreton Hire service is now managed by the children of the MD
- Harry’s have a management team including the founder’s son
- Expo Direct has been purchased by Patti’s Hire
- At least 12 mainstream stand builders and contractors have closed while some have pivoted to other sectors like kitchens/ shop fitting
- There is new management at the associations – EEAA, MEA and BECA
- The two longest serving labour hire companies in both NSW and VIC will close their doors at the end of the year
So what does the above mean and what are the impacts?
We now have a situation where venues are behaving like stand contractors (particularly the major venues on the East Coast) picking and choosing what business they will take, when, and on their terms. Such a contrast to last year when they were happy to get any booking. Now it’s down to whether they can actually service the event.
The incentive to launch and refresh new events is currently not there, and we have crazy situation where new people want to enter the industry to launch shows but can’t.
Without the return of backpackers (and apart from some sponsoring staff out of Asia) contractors simply don’t have a pool of casual staff to draw on and the retirement of experienced staff, especially at grass roots level of carpet lays and shell builds, adds further impact. This also flows through to freight forwarding and electrical support, so many do not have the resources to service the existing market. There are no incentives and there is nothing sexy about working at midnight lugging panels and carpet. Maybe some CEOs should get their hands dirty and do it themselves – they will quickly learn that there is NO INCENTIVE to do what we ask many to do at the current hourly rates especially when they can make more money in say, the building industry.
In case it has been missed by readers, there are now numerous examples of expos across the country that have had show openings delayed and some show setups not completed by the show open time. This sends a poor message to clients, both exhibitors and visitors.
There are new players emerging, but the speed to meet demand and the knowledge required, is possibly years away. Instead of EEAA holding a conference with the same format, topics and speakers as in 2018 and 2019 maybe their energy would be better spent getting experienced builders to hold training days for the emerging labour forces. What a novel idea that would be – passing on knowledge of how shows are built rather than a talkfest of CEOs and management, they are still clearly living in the past if they truly believe their program is in touch!
Organisers also have to change, in some respects their hands are now being tied, I know from experience being both frustrated and annoyed that venues that took bookings in 2021 are now saying we can’t accommodate them, and contractors (not all) are price gouging, largely through their own poor decisions, that all said organisers can’t do the same thing as in 2019 and expect things to be different and I am not convinced we have evolved enough.
Then there are the clients – both exhibitors and visitors.
Exhibitors are paying 30-40% more for hire items, and worse, many are struggling to find contractors that will build shows. So booking the space is actually the easy part, the full delivery is increasingly difficult and the forecast of changes will only impact this further.
Visitors have returned strongly to face to face events – swapping screen time for live face time, however when they see expos still being built or opening late, and shows not changing, they are becoming dismayed.
The next generation
Most importantly what isn’t being catered for is the new generation of managers/owners coming through, yes there are awards for emerging leaders which caters for encouraging and recognising young people but what about the succession of the industry. Moreton hire, Harry’s and Expertise Events to name just some have the next generation in management/leadership roles but these people are relatively unknown in industry roles as the associations seem to rely on the old guard in most roles, the future real leaders (who don’t fit into the emerging leaders role associations promote) don’t have their own network with each other (truth be known they have probably never met or even know who each other are)and this has to start as they have different ideas and hold the key to the longevity of our industry and I would encourage them to identify and reach out to each other and build a connection.
TAFE and University courses don’t deliver real experience knowledge. As part of the older generation we learnt on the floor long before purpose built centres, we had to learn to adapt and compromise on our feet. Today shows get checked for mark out by 1m carpet tiles and when things go south many of today’s staff don’t have the skills to think on their feet and solve it. A practical school house open day using industry experts, who have seen it and done it all, before they ride off in the sunset, could just tick the box.
We need to wake up, stop talkfests around same topics and duplication between various industry organisations, stop focussing on awards and the back slapping and get focussed on the core issues. Maybe any company that has funds to attend conferences and award dinners should think about shoring up the industry as this is most important sustainable action we can do to help ourselves.