In a period of substantial and ambitious growth, Matt Benyon and Alison Church from Artexis Easyfairs tell the story of humble beginnings, talent development and owning a vision.
Everyone has a story to tell. We’ve been telling stories for centuries. Long before we could even write them down, stories have been crucial to our evolution.
For Artexis Easyfairs, the story is quite a simple one, Matt Benyon, managing director, UK and Global tells EN.
When Benyon started at Easyfairs, he didn’t join for the nine people that worked there at the time; he joined for a vision.
“I completely believed in what Eric Everard [CEO and founder of Artexis Easyfairs] wanted to achieve, from day one,” he says.
“He is a hugely inspirational man, and I think there’s probably not a person out there that’s met him and wouldn’t say that. He just sees things differently; massively opportunistic. Where the rest of us were finishing our snakebite and blacks at the student union bar, he was selling his first show.”
Everard, a former UFI president, is the principal owner of Artexis Easyfairs, and organised to represent five different regions: Benelux, Nordic, DACH, Spain and UK and global. It is on the right course to continue to develop these hubs to launch events, acquire new events and drive profits.
“When I started, it was all about the vision and what they wanted to achieve. People that join us now wouldn’t know what it was like when Alison and I joined. We were a very different company,” Benyon explains.
“At the start, it was a case of everyone having five jobs. You’d be office manager, ops manager, HR manager, finance manager and sales director. That’s what happens when you launch and acquire companies.”
The firm has been on a spending spree over the last 18 months, expanding its global portfolio and recently ranking in AMR International’s Top 20 Exhibition Organisers.
“Eric’s vision is simple: Get to €200m [approx. £170.36m] turnover by 2020 and €40m EBITDA. The growth is huge at the moment. The growth in this year from last year is probably the greatest that we’ve seen,” says Benyon.
In the Benyon’s mind, there is no doubt that the firm will reach the €200m; the only doubt is what new target Everard will set.
“We would like to take more venues where we’re running shows. It’s a slow burner, finding venues, but we are investing a lot of time in doing that. You can see we’ve gone from just a handful of venues to 11 of our own in a pretty short time,” he adds.
“Maybe part of our success – or even a big part of our success – is that we are a family company that’s privately owned. Everybody will talk about Eric a lot but he’s a big driver and a big inspiration.”
“There are two arms to the company,” Alison Church, marketing director, UK and Global explains.
“We had Artexis, which is the venue side, and we now have 11 venues. That started before Easyfairs, in 1997. The first venue opened in 2002, which is Antwerp Expo. We then took Artexis into the Nordics in 2011.”
Running completely independently, Everard was in charge of both companies but each had their own structure and their own systems.
“Then we had the Easyfairs side, which was much newer, we’re only 12 years old now,” she adds.
“One area where we’re different is that we get really close to the visitor. We really know our communities.”
Creating greater value for communities is so important for Easyfairs, Benyon tells EN.
“That’s the fundamental difference I’ve seen working here, which is to get close to your visitor. If you don’t know what keeps them awake at night and you don’t know what makes them tick or what they do in their day job, then how on earth can you communicate, and how on earth can you find the exhibitors that want to sell to them, and perhaps more importantly that they want to buy from?”
Not many in the industry may know this, but 80 per cent of the group’s profits year-on-year are reinvested in the company.
“The more profitable we become, the more money we’re able to reinvest. And we’re investing that money in launching more shows and making acquisitions,” says Benyon.
2016 in particular proved a bumper year for acquisitions, which saw the organiser acquire World Water Works, the show for coastal, waterway and port developments, from ESC International in August.
This was followed swiftly by the purchase of Dutch organiser Evenementenhal, raising its portfolio to more than 200 events.
Evenementenhal organises 78 events, most of which are B2B trade shows in the agriculture and horticulture, transport and logistics, automotive, shipping and building and construction sectors.
Prior to that, the firm took the decision to divest Maintec and Facilities Management earlier in the year, to concentrate the organiser’s focus and resources on the growth of its international portfolios in engineering, packaging, oil, petroleum & gas storage, and the laboratory, pharma and healthcare sectors.
The news followed Easyfairs’ large acquisitions, including UK Tech Events (organisers of Advanced Engineering) and Oriex (organisers of Packaging of Perfume, Cosmetics & Design and the Aerosol Dispensing Forum).
Another major acquisition includes CCR Expo from Nineteen Events, late last year.
The clinical cosmetic and reconstructive event, which is co-located with Practice Management Expo, has grown exponentially since its launch in 2013, attracting more than 5,000 practitioners and 200 suppliers in attendance.
“This is an impressive event that has already seen solid growth in its three-year history, but also it has fantastic potential for exporting to new markets,” Benyon adds.
“Easyfairs is committed to investing in and continuing to grow the flagship Olympia event, while simultaneously exploring new and exciting markets for launch. Artexis already plays an active role in healthcare-related events in countries like Sweden, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Algeria, so we will be well placed to do this.”
The firm, which has around 700 members of staff, wants to continue making acquisitions, but also looks to continue investing in staff and training and offices.
“Our development is continual, rather than making a huge jump from one system to a new system. We continually update it so people need to be continually trained,” says Church.
“We integrate a lot with N200|GES, to streamline everything we do from a marketing process point of view. When I started, at a local level we were only about 20 people. And we’re now, including our satellite offices, over 80 people.
“I think it’s grown from being a really small team trying to cover everything to a bit more streamlined in terms of processes. We’re a bit more organised about what we do. We invest a lot more time and effort into content and into understanding the show and the format.”
The team has grown from a really small company to what feels like a “more grown up”, medium-sized business, the pair say.
Benyon adds: “Our region has grown into a medium-sized company in itself, but the big difference is that we’ve become a global player. We’re one of the global leading exhibition organisers, and we’re super proud of that and it’s an amazing achievement.”
What’s most notable is that the firm isn’t where they want to end up yet.
“Eric’s ambition is to become top 10, and why not? I don’t think there’s a single person in this company that doesn’t expect exponential growth year-on-year; it’s in our blood to grow that fast,” he says.
Easyfairs has become a much bigger business and a global leader, adds Church, without the restrictions that large companies can sometimes face.
“They have shareholders to please and we’re privately owned. We can move at a faster pace. As we’ve grown none of that has changed. The management is still very accessible, very involved day-to-day. Everybody knows everybody. It’s got that family feel to it. A family with very high expectations.”
Fun. Hardworking. Fast-paced. Dynamic. Rewarding. These are the five words the two directors use to describe the company, off of the top of their heads.
“It’s what keeps us going, working so quickly. When you travel halfway across the world to deliver a show, get back on a Thursday night at midnight and you’re still happy to skip into the office on a Friday morning; that’s a rewarding environment,” Benyon says.
“I think that’s how you can see a marketing assistant joining as a graduate and two and a half years later being a marketing project manager,” Church adds. “They work really hard, they put a lot in. We expect a lot but then they get a lot back. They fast-track their career in a way that I’m not sure is necessarily as easy anywhere else.”
It’s surprising how little people know about Artexis Easyfairs, when you look at the number of events and venues the group host and organise.
“I think it’s quite interesting, having done a lot of interviews recently, you still get people coming in saying, ‘I don’t know that much about Easyfairs’, and I sit there and tell them about what we’re doing and how big we are as a group and it’s almost like people’s eyes widen and they’re like, ‘Wow, really?’ and so I think we’re starting to get past that,” says Church.
“We never had to scream and shout about it,” Benyon adds. “We’ve had our strategy; we’ve been doing our thing. I always talk about the plcs: they have to present positivity constantly in the press, to keep shareholders onside and get investment. Other companies that have venture capitalist companies behind them are similar because those VCs change hands every few years.”
Church adds: “We’re very open as a team. If someone has an idea then they know they will be heard, and they feel like they have a voice. I think that’s the biggest thing, especially for some of the younger members or people who are starting out in their career. It’s very rare that companies allow some of the younger members of the team to put forward an idea and actually listen to it seriously. I think that makes a big difference.”
What also makes a difference, and is something that the firm can scream and shout about, is the announcement that Easyfairs have been shortlisted in not one, not two, but five award categories in the 2017 EN Awards, including Best Event Director, Best Use of Social Media and Best Brand Expansion.
“We are also great at keeping staff. We think we’ve got a really fun environment, but it’s also tough. The thing I would say about Easyfairs is that you’re a sprinter, but a sprinter who can sprint for a long time, then you’ll do great here,” explains Benyon.
“When you’re launching that many shows and acquiring that many events and integrating companies and looking for venues and growing at the speed we’re growing, you’ve got to want to run really fast.”
Church says it helps that the environment is a fun one: “There’s no big hierarchy, there’s no red tape. Decisions can get made super quickly. We haven’t got time to prepare for long meetings so we make decisions very quickly. This means that if there is a problem, then we can normally fix it pretty quickly.”
In a company like Easyfairs, when you’re launching shows and integrating acquisitions, experience is essential. And, from speaking to Benyon and Church, a vision and exponential growth seem to be necessary too. The Artexis Easyfairs work ethic is clearly working for the group, and helping them on their way to becoming a global player.