Is this the Silly Season?

Neil Thomas comments as the show goes on...

A question for greenkeepers and the trade. Was BTME/ClubHouse 2003 a good experience for you and of subsequent benefit to your club or company? Our experience at BIGGA HOUSE clearly indicates that an overwhelming majority of those in Harrogate this January would reply (and indeed are replying) in the affirmative to that question. We've written to all companies, visited stands during the show, elicited views from the Steering Committee and carried out a comprehensive review. We can say, with conviction, that the vibes are very positive, perhaps more so than at any previous exhibition in Harrogate.

Every event of this size will present problems and where issues have been raised, these have been dealt with on an individual basis and points noted for improvement in 2004. Yes, there will be some adjustments next year which are currently under consideration by BIGGA's Board of Management and being discussed with the Steering Committee. These will be announced in the May issue of Greenkeeper International magazine.

So is that it? Well unfortunately no if you've been reading the industry press. 'Damn with faint praise' is the phrase which comes to mind. Coverage tends to start with dark suspicions of the visitor figures. Surely there is some conspiracy here they ask? Record figures again this year, how can it be? Let's answer that one. BIGGA engages an independent company for its registration procedures before and during the exhibitions. They're not BIGGA's figures as such and, believe it or not, there are ethics involved here as far as we are concerned even if that is not the norm elsewhere. BIGGA is not in the game of manipulating figures. Indeed one journal actually does suggest that more may have made their way in through a loophole which we will seek to close next year. So yes, we are proud of the attendances and surely that is exceedingly good news for the trade and the profession especially when we are being told that more 'buyers' were in evidence this year.

Reading through one trade publication left one quite perplexed. It questioned the point of shows in general and then having argued one way and the other appeared to conclude that anyway there are too many shows. This, of course, is a well worn argument and 'showitis' appears to be a recurring annual 'complaint' which merits discussion. Outbursts of this 'complaint' normally occur twice a year in late September and late January and coincide with the SALTEX and BTME/ClubHouse. While the vast majority see 'health' benefits for their companies and clubs in participating in these shows, those with 'showitis' are bent on eradication as the solution to their 'complaint'. Drastic perhaps and time for a shot of reality. This would suggest that there are two main aspects to any show, the company displaying its goods and the customer in attendance to consider his purchasing options or indeed to actually place his orders. Yes there will be others present with peripheral interests but the core of any show is the company/customer relationship. We read much with regard to company costs in relation to these shows and these we know are considerable. But we hear little of the customer, in our case the greenkeeper. Whatever happened to 'the customer is king?' He has decisions to make, a budget to spend and, at the end of the day, his decisions have a direct affect on the profitability of a company. Many of our members oversee large budgets for their clubs and it is in Harrogate that many of these budgets are allocated or actually spent. In essence both parties need each other and in the ability to bring them together through a vibrant and successful show lies our success.

A company may well consider it a more viable option to meet many of its customers over three days under one roof in Harrogate rather than have people on the road accomplishing this over a much longer period. That is not for BIGGA to decide. The important point is that companies exhibit at Harrogate, or at any other show, after a considered judgement that it is in their best interests. BIGGA has no inalienable right to believe that companies will continue exhibiting there year on year if that is not indeed the case. So we appreciate their custom, work through a Steering Committee and make every attempt to meet the particular needs of individual companies who are incurring substantial costs. Neither do we forget the customer in providing a show and educational programme which will make him want to return in future years. Finally we look ahead, witness the advent of the ClubHouse exhibition. We will aim for it to grow and prove a long term success. In turn this will benefit the whole event and those who partake in it, be it company or customer. BIGGA is under no illusion in that we must continue to produce each year successful exhibitions for both the companies and their customers. We stand or fall on that and if we fail BTME and ClubHouse will disappear, which in the current argument would indeed mean two less shows. 'Hallelujah' will be the reaction of a vocal minority. The evidence would suggest that this would not be in the best interests of the industry or the profession. Rest assured BIGGA has no intention of letting this happen. We have been in Harrogate since 1989 and intend for the exhibitions both to continue and grow in the future. In the great British tradition, we can assume that some will continue to try and knock us down. So be it.

The machinations of the industry press are, therefore, becoming somewhat tedious. The irony is, of course, that these same publications are beneficiaries of the BTME/ClubHouse. They are there in force, talking to their own customers, securing advertising for their publications and generally enjoying a successful week. Good for them and we are much pleased in that regard.

Jumping on bandwagons or being negative thereafter presumably makes for good copy, though one particular journal appears to have gone quite downmarket on this occasion. In an attempt to titillate its readers it shows far more interest in 'exhibitors' at an alternative venue in Harrogate as its photographs only too clearly demonstrate.

How the industry press choose to cover BTME/ClubHouse or the show scene in general is their own business but patrons of the BTME/ClubHouse will surely see such copy for what it is worth - the generation of publicity for the publications in question and with little other merit. It certainly won't distract BIGGA from staging a successful event in Harrogate next January and setting out to attract still more exhibitors and visitors. We believe that the demand for BTME/ClubHouse will continue and we will be here to meet it whilst fulfilling and hopefully exceeding expectations for both companies and their customers.