Nathan Garnett, director of the construction & optical portfolio at Media 10, on breaking the mould with 100% Optical.
It’s one of the moments an organiser dreams of: a group of leading figures in an industry asking you to create a new exhibition for their sector.
“It’s not often a show gets launched because people ask you to do it. It’s a nice situation,” laughs 100% Optical event director, Media 10’s Nathan Garnett. “There was a show due to take place and there was a lot of concern among the people who had signed up about whether or not it would go ahead. We were approached by a couple of sources from within the industry who said, ‘can you help out, this show is potentially in trouble’.
We looked at it, we spoke with people at the Association of Optometrists (AOP) and companies from all different sectors within optics, and asked their opinion and they said, pretty much unanimously, ‘we need an annual show in London’.”
And so 100% Optical was born, with a hastily put together first edition taking place at the Vinyl Factory in Soho, London, and free exhibiting space offered to companies who had lost money on the failed show.
“They were there with us in that basement five years ago and they’re still here now,” says Garnett.
For its second year the show moved to ExCeL London and began to work on creating the go-to trade event for the optical industry.
“The concept for the show was, if you’re putting a show together for people who work in a sector then it should be put together with people that represent that sector,” explains Garnett. “We went to the AOP as well as other associations like the Association of British Dispensing Opticians.
“The optometrists and the opticians make up about 90 per cent of the market. We said, ‘can you put together the education programme, talks, seminars and workshops?’ We’re exhibition organisers; we’re not experts in optics. That was the concept and they unanimously decided that was a good idea. Every theatre has been packed, and that’s testament to the fact that the content is good; it’s world-leading speakers.”
Like many trade events, sessions at 100% Optical provide valuable training for professionals in the industry.
Optical professionals need to accumulate a certain about of CET (Continuing Education and Training) points each year or they are unable to practice, which makes the sessions a valuable addition to the show, and extra value that the associations are able to offer their members.
Passion for fashion
The optical industry is perhaps a unique combination of clinical education and equipment and fashion.
“It’s an interesting blend,” agrees Garnett. “The fashion side in London is a no brainer. That’s why we launched it in London because it’s the fashion capital of the world. We have a catwalk, which we introduced from the beginning because the industry felt a little bit neglected as part of the fashion industry. We thought the best way to show frames is to do it as you would fashion. It became our USP overnight.
“We couldn’t believe that of all the optics shows round the world, none of them do a catwalk.”
Another aesthetic element of the show is a turnkey package offered by the organiser, which provides the smaller, luxury eyewear companies with an alternative to a standard shell scheme.
“We build something bespoke and that works for them, explains Garnett. “We build it, put the graphics up and furnish it. They literally just turn up and that’s it, they’re off. This is fashion, so we make it look good.”
Garnett clearly wants 100% Optical to be more than just an event for the optical industry, and more than just a standard trade show.
“We’ve got ideas for next year, about how we can become even more diverse with our offering on the catwalk,” he tells EN. “Why should a trade show be boring? You should walk in and think, ‘wow, I’m so glad I’m part of this sector’. You should feel a sense of arrival.”
And 100% Optical certainly has that; making use of an idea borrowed from sister Media 10 show Grand Designs Live, visitors walk through a tunnel to enter the show, giving the organiser complete control over the attendee experience from the off.
For Garnett and his colleagues, this year’s show is a time for both reflecting on the show’s history and planning for its future.
“We’re five years old this year, but it feels like yesterday,” he concludes “When we launched it we did a five-year plan and we’re pretty much bang on where we thought we’d be.
“Now we’re looking at the next five, and we’re really excited about what that will look like.”