Industry insights: outdoor and indoor events in times of Covid
In this month’s industry insights interview we speak to The Game Fair managing director James Gower (JG) and John Allison (JA), British Shooting Show managing director to reflect on the impact on shooting sports businesses after a year of Covid turmoil.
How did your team adapt to the remote working model?
JA: We finished the British Shooting Show in Feb 2020 on a real high, and then Covid hit and threw the majority of events last year into turmoil. We kept delaying indoor events and we’re very much monitoring the situation to see when the larger indoor events can take place again.
Initially lockdown was very demoralising for the team as it was for many, but now with the successful roll-out of the vaccination programme, and with summer around the corner, morale is picking up. There are still unknowns to navigate but we’ll continue to adapt and overcome.
JG: Fortuitously, our team was already working on a cloud-based system with our database and CRM hosted remotely. The whole team had access to shared content and work laptops so the technical switch to working from home didn’t have too much of an impact. We have 17 people working full-time, year-round organising the Game Fair so the main difficulty for us was in catching all the little bits of information that seem to flow by osmosis between people in the office and which doesn’t happen so easily via structured Zoom meetings. We have some staff back in the office and still run three meetings online everyday to ensure we’re communicating as well as we can; although you can migrate tech there’s no migrating the benefits of face to face passage of information.
What will it be like for your team as they return to work?
JG: The team are all really keen to get back into the office. We’re now fully installed in our new offices at Panshanger Park near Hertford, a former stable block, which lends itself perfectly to social distancing. It’s an enormous space in the heart of the country and everyone has their own stable ‘booth’, you could call it eighteenth century social distancing.
Looking to the future, the way we conduct business will also change. We won’t necessarily be rushing around the country for meetings and we’ll be embracing virtual calls where more suitable. We’ll still be seeing customers but it will be less frequent.
JA: We’ve spent much of this year working with our B2B customers and supporting gun manufacturers and suppliers through our digital marketing services. Like many companies we’ve used this time to hone our digital strategies and make ourselves more robust moving forward.
What led to the cancellation of the Game Fair in 2020?
JG: The decision to cancel the 2020 Game Fair happened in stages. Like many other businesses, the team started to WFH as a trial and just never went back. We delayed plans for the Game Fair, initially until September but in July we realised that this wasn’t going to happen. On reflection, we could have run the event in September, it would have been fully legal under the government’s covid guidelines at the time, but we felt like postponing was the right and responsible course of action to take.
Did you use the government’s furlough scheme?
JA: We haven’t needed to make use of the furlough scheme as some staff are self-employed or contractors. When the pandemic unfurled, we got together as a team to discuss the right way to restructure and adapt. We’ve known from the start that this would be a long-game, running events that draw 30,000 to events is great, but it also makes us a victim of our own success in terms of restrictions on social gatherings in the face of a global pandemic.
JG: We used the scheme initially, but by July 2020 we no longer required it. In terms of workforce, we’ve expanded and continue to recruit across marketing, communications and administration.
How did exhibitors react to the cancellation of the Game Fair and the Northern and British Shooting Shows?
JA: Like ourselves, many exhibitors have been looking forward to future events. We’ve seen a significant number of manufacturers asking us if they can increase their booths at next year’s event, and we’ve got a huge number of spots already filled. We had originally booked for halls 6, 7 and 8 at the NEC but we’ve recently increased this booking to include halls 9 & 10.
At first, there were widely held industry concerns that smaller and mid-range businesses in our sector would fold under the weight of the pandemic’s pressure. However, the majority have adapted and focused on online sales; we know they’ve missed the footfall and sales from physical events and that’s why they’re looking forward to the events re-starting.
I’d also like to extend our support to small businesses that may need some help at the moment. They can always contact us via shootingshow.co.uk/ or on 01258 857700 for marketing advice or guidance.
JG: Our exhibitors have been really supportive throughout with 95% asking us to keep their deposits and roll them over to this year. Visitors took a similar stance and very few wanted refunds. We tried to shape this positive response by communicating extensively with our customers and stakeholders and it seems to have worked, we’ve booked an extra 170 new exhibitors. We feel like we’re ready to come out of this pandemic robust and ready to go. Our concerns for the smaller businesses in our industry have been somewhat unfounded. Many of them have been supported by the furlough system but they’ve also been innovative and adaptive to the current situation. Many small businesses have had their best years to date, having embraced a digital presence.For other events businesses it’s been tough. They’ve had little capital and fragile commitments from participants.
What could stop the next shows?
JA: We’re hopeful that our events can run again very soon. The only concerns that weigh on our minds, are probably those that affect other international business organisations. These include, international travel restrictions and the outbreak of further Covid variants triggering more lockdowns. There is uncertainty about when indoor mass events will reconvene, but we’re optimistic and fully understand that the health of the general public is of paramount importance at this time. There’s also always a chance that ‘cancel culture’ could rear its head again in relation to hunting and wildlife management.
JG: We’re driving forward with optimism. We’re lucky that our event is outdoors and we can be compliant with all of Public Health England’s guidelines. That said, we’re not complacent and will be ensuring compliance across all areas of health and safety – we worked it out and there’s about 60 square metres per person!
What will your events look like this year?
JA: The British Shooting Show is on strong footing. It’s recognised by all of the major shooting manufacturers and we’ve got a strong pipeline for the next show, with stand footprints increasing and new halls to be rented. We continue to attract trade CEO’s from across Europe and North America, so we’re very much seen as on the same circuit as ShotShow and IWA. We just hope that international travel restrictions will be ironed out by the time the next show comes around.
JG: Aside from all of the new exhibitors we’ve booked for the Game Fair, the site will be its biggest yet. We’ve seen a real uptick in both ticket sales but also camping bookings. It seems as if people will be treating the event as a staycation.
What’s next for the Game Fair and British Shooting Show teams?
JG: We can’t reveal all of the information yet, but what I can tell you is that we have some new exciting events to unveil very soon.
JA: Our team will continue to make the British Shooting Show accessible and enjoyable for all ages. We’re a country with a gleaming record of gold medals from our shooting sports on the international competitive stage and we’ve got a gun manufacturing history to be extremely proud of. It’s in our DNA to keep championing the sport and educating people about hunting and fieldsports.