27th January 2010
Keep calm and carry on. That is the message from John Lawrence, director of exhibition stand contractor New Dimension.
Like the bosses of many companies within the events industry, he experienced a year of mixed fortunes in 2009.
"We've lost some long-standing clients, we haven't lost them to anybody else, we've lost them because they're not going in to shows. But we've gained others," he said.
Some clients have been lost because they could not afford to exhibit at shows, whereas others have booked exhibition space only to find subsequently that the event was cancelled.
"It's a bit of a mix and match. It is very odd, I would never have predicted that at the start of the year. All in all it ended up about even, but for most peculiar reasons."
Mr Lawrence has 40 years of experience in the events business and has seen two recessions come and ago. This is his third. So he is well prepared to deal with the challenges businesses face both during and following the emergence from an economic downturn.
But even with his experience, he finds it difficult to predict exactly what lies in store over the year ahead. Having spoken to clients, it seems that 2010 could have its ups and downs just as last year did.
Mr Lawrence said that some people are waiting to see if they can get financial reductions on exhibition space from event organisers before they choose to buy into a show, which could mean lead times for bookings are short once again.
As far as New Dimension is concerned, business is looking buoyant, for the first six months of the year at least.
"Just before Christmas, we knew that we were pretty well booked right up until June, which is a pretty healthy state of affairs. July and August are usually holiday season and then we start off being busy again so we're doing OK in terms of turnover and work coming through," Mr Lawrence explained.
But the company is having to offer clients more for their money.
"I feel that we have to do a better than normal job - and we normally do a very good job - and now we have to go the extra mile to make sure our clients feel they are getting very good value for money, at least from us," he explained.
While free design was not even heard of 20 years ago in the exhibition stands business, it is expected these days.
"It's all the add-ons that we have to do," Mr Lawrence explained.
"If we say we are exhibition stand contractors, that just assumes we actually design and build the stand, which is what we've done for a very long time. Now we're actually becoming exhibition contractors, the stand is just one part of it. We have to do an awful lot of other things that the client expects," he continued.
Marketing is also becoming even more important, Mr Lawrence said, particularly as the UK works towards coming out of the economic downturn.
"I remember in previous recessions, the attitude was towards the end that unless you were flying the flag for the company then people thought you were in financial trouble," he commented.
"We will without doubt carry on promoting, which is something that we didn't do an awful lot of and haven't needed to for many, many years," Mr Lawrence continued.
While 90 per cent of New Dimension's work comes from recommendation and word of mouth, the firm is now having to venture out into the competitive field and market itself.
"For every big company that packs up, another four start, so the competition is stronger if anything," Mr Lawrence added.
The company is also looking to employ more people this year.
"I am as positive now as I ever am and ever will be. I've got two recessions under my belt and I know how to handle this one," Mr Lawrence concluded.