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Retail Thursday 2nd February 2017

Numbers are good, but feel the quality...

by Dom Millar

Numbers are good, but feel the quality...

I was recently invited to join a round table discussion with other exhibition organisers. One of the subjects was whether footfall is the most important sign of growth for an event: is a show that’s sold out the best it can possibly be? You would have thought so, right? I can imagine the number of people that come through the turnstiles would be the most obvious metric to measure at consumer-focused events. The more the merrier.

But what about trade events, and real estate events in particular? Of course you need a critical mass of people for an event to work, but in order for it to be a truly successful and effective experience they need to be the right people.

At our original Completely Retail Marketplace at Old Spitalfields Market in 2012, we took the bold decision not to try to be all things to all people and limit the participation to three groups; occupiers, landlords and agents. Despite our reputation being on the line, and my FD losing sleep over the inevitable loss of revenue for a small company coming out of a deep recession, it was actually an easy decision for us. The event was conceived as an extension of our well established online marketing platform CompletelyRetail.co.uk. So to keep Marketplace 100% deals focused there was no need to involve the lawyers, car park managers and fit-out companies. What the retail market was demanding was a forum for networking and deal-making, without distractions and third-party selling. And that’s what we set about delivering.

Now, with some twelve successful Completely Retail Marketplace events in three territories under our belts, not to mention a couple of industry awards, we feel we’ve got the formula just right. We still police the delegation very carefully, and that’s probably why 100% of respondents to the survey after our last event said that they had done business, or will do business as a result of attending, which is extremely rewarding for the whole team.

Obviously deals can’t be done without occupiers being there, so our focus on attracting as many active retail and leisure brands as possible has been a major factor in our success. A diverse range from budget to luxury brands has steadily increased to a point where they now make up around 40% of the delegation in London, with agents representing many, many more. It's a crowded event space out there, but Completely Retail Marketplace London is the undisputed place to meet people that need shops in the UK!

But it’s not time to rest on our laurels, it’s not mission accomplished. I’ve been to so many events, both in and out of the real estate sector, that serve up the same format, the same panel discussions, year after year, and expect the same guests to pay for the privilege.

I think you really need to interrogate what your visitors want, and ask what will bring them back. This is especially important in times when people need to justify every hour out of the office and every pound spent on business development.

So do we practice what we preach? We like to think we’ve continued to innovate and improve the events. We’ve added features like Soapbox, the simple and efficient platform for emerging brands to tell their story to a room full of landlords and agents. I’m delighted to say many participants have benefitted hugely as a result. We’ve also had an increasing number of food operators keen to showcase their hot food at Marketplace as part of the free food and refreshments we’ve always included.

And of course there’s our beautifully-designed and feature-rich Different Magazine. Published bi-annually to coincide with our events, our eighth issue this April will have a readership approaching 12,000 property professionals. People love it.

So where do we go from here then? What’s the next innovation?

Although we don’t plan to change the back-to-basics, one-size-fits-all format that every company’s marketing budget enjoys, we are continuing to invest substantially in all aspects of the events and how we help our guests do more and better business.

Firstly, we’re investing in new look stands and furniture. Whilst this won’t help our delegates do more deals as such, it will certainly be a smarter environment in which to make connections.

It’s always very gratifying to see so many longstanding clients of our digital team using marketing material we’ve produced in meetings at Marketplace. Gone are the days of people struggling with armloads of printed brochures and plans. Digital marketing material is used by the majority now. At our next London event in April we are taking things further by bringing the power of our market-leading property portal into the event. We’re adding new features and introducing terminals powered by CompletelyRetail.co.uk around the venue and on our exhibitor’s stands. This will give delegates the ability to connect with the right people and find detailed information on retail schemes across the UK and Ireland, before, during and after the event.

And online the 100,000+ monthly visitors to CompletelyRetail.co.uk will soon be able to connect and request meetings with property contacts at the next Marketplace event. We believe retail and leisure occupiers find property information and opportunities by email and online, but deals are almost certainly always done face to face. We're in a unique position as our events and listing sites are surely a marriage made in heaven for all involved.

Returning to the subject of maximising the all-important retailer delegation, our newer events in Ireland and Amsterdam have introduced Marketplace events to hundreds of acquisitive international occupiers. Cross pollination between our expanding portfolio of events and strong Pan-European partnerships will be bringing more international visitors than ever to our Central London events this year. 

So to answer the question: “Is footfall the most important factor of growth for an event?” Well in our case, only if it’s the right footfall – and we believe that an appropriate format and constant innovation and integration of appropriate technology will continue to ensure that.

Many more ideas, plans and opportunities are starting to crystallise for The Completely Group and we’re only in January. It will not be business as usual in 2017, that’s for sure!

We’re really grateful to everyone who’s helped shape what we do so far. As always we’re keen to hear any feedback, so if you have any comments or suggestions then please contact me directly.