A little while ago I was kindly asked by the organisers of the FIT Show to come and attend the Exhibitor Day for the 2019 show. Today was that day, and these are my thoughts on what to expect from the next trade show, and what the biggest issues are going to be. Hint, it’s NOT Brexit.

Aim of the day

This gathering isn’t aimed at visitors, but at those exhibiting. The idea is to get them energised and tooled up to ensure that they make the most of the three days of the show.

The day started at 10am. Well, it did for most people. I was delayed massively by the horrendous traffic that plagues our roads all over the country. I should have been there at 9:45am. Instead I clattered through the door just as things were actually kicking off at 11:30am with opening remarks from Paul Godwin and Matthew Glover. So no early networking session for me.

Throughout the day, various speakers took to the stage to explain the facilities that would be available to exhibitors to help their trade show run smoothly. For example, a company called LiveBuzz Events are the ones in charge of putting together all of the digital infrastructure for exhibitors. They’re in charge of the scanners you’ll remember. They also put together the registration processes, provide event staffing and event websites. This also includes apps and software that exhibitors can use to help manage the data and information they collect and use it to their advantage. Impressive one-stop-shop for all of this. Will be interesting to know how they will manage GDPR expectations around this.

One big theme that ran throughout the day was the use of digital platforms. 12th Man Solutions, a digital marketing specialist company, went heavy on the use of social media, email, video etc as a way to help reach the potential audience of exhibitors. Print marketing was mentioned as part of a wider marketing strategy, but it was clear that the main driver of visitor footfall is going to be pushed via digital means.

Half time and lunch was served. I was promptly dragged out to another room to have some promo photos done to form part of a wider FIT Show marketing campaign. So I’m sorry in advance if you start seeing photos of me online! There was about 90 minutes of networking and mingling at this point. It was a good chance for me to catch up with people I had not seen in a little while, as well as meet some new faces.

Second half begins and digital marketing is a theme that runs heavy. It’s clear the FIT Show organisers want exhibitors to really get out there in a big way in the coming months to make sure they bring in as many as people as possible. Exhibition space has increased 25% this year. That has to be filled with both exhibiting companies and visitors.

There was a presentation held near the end called “Seven Ways To ROCK Your Trade Show”. Speaking to a room full of marketing teams, much of what was said should be been bread and butter for any good marketing department. There was a mention of using fax machines as an additional method to reach out to potential visitors. A few eyebrows were raised at that one.

That’s a very basic summary of the day. But there were more important nuggets in between that I wanted to see talked about which was one of the more important reasons for my attendance.

DGB People

The big issue

Part of the day was dedicated to introducing a new initiative called Building Our Skills. This is a brand new programme designed to tackle the skills gap that our sector is suffering with right now.

For me, this is our single biggest threat to our sector. Far worse than Brexit. It’s worse because in stats explained by John Ogilvie of GQA Qualifications, 25% of all people in fenestration are due to retire within the next ten years, with no sign of any of those people being replaced by new talent. If that is correct, then I’m afraid that is going to be catastrophic. Imagine a small installer with 20 people, who will then lose five of those people and have no one to replace them. How are they expected to cope? You can forget about growth, they’ll be focused solely on keeping the business running.

Imagine it on a bigger scale. Take a company like Eurocell as an example. What would happen to that business if they lost 25% of all their staff over the next few years? Chaos, that’s what.

For me, the issue is simple: solve this now or forget about turning the situation around. I have been banging on about this for as long as I have had DGB. Yet it’s taken until now for our industry to really step into gear and think about tackling it.

That is where Building Our Skills comes in. This is a new plan to reach school leavers and show them the opportunities that lie in a career in fenestration. It already has backers of the likes of the FIT Show, Liniar, Selecta, GM Fundraising and others. It has to be a collective effort from the industry, and coordinated. If it’s not, and we cannot break the University blinkers that the education system is entrenched in, then we’re going to have little effect. That is why this is something I want to support and have to support. I will elaborate on this and the skills gap in future posts here on DGB.

The months ahead

According to what was being presented today, we can expect to see plenty of video and other digital content from exhibitors looking to get as many visitors to their stands and the show as possible. The reality is we’re closer to November than the start of October. Between now and the show is just 7 months. That’s not all that long, so most proactive companies should already be getting their marketing plans worked out and implemented.

I feel like the 2019 show is a bit of a peak moment for our industry. Brexit day will have been and gone, and of course that will be a talking point no doubt. But the skills crisis we face is one that we have to face up to right now, and at the 2019 show. We’ll not have this chance to get such a large part of the industry together in one room over three days to really hash this out and get behind a strategy to try and solve the problem. The crisis is acute. We cannot wait until the 2021 show to address the problem again. It will be too late by then.

In the months ahead I will also be planning my own coverage of the exhibition. Other than the FIT Show itself, I want to be able to bring the most comprehensive coverage of the show over all other media outlets. So I will be working on my own plans on what I need to do and how it needs to be done.

Thanks to the FIT Show team for the invite and I look forward to what will no doubt be another quality show in 2019.

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