The founder of Exhibition Girls on early show memories, building a promotional staff business and the lack of regulation in the industry.
At university I started working in promotions and exhibitions at the NEC to fund my studies. I loved the flexibility, meeting new people and the opportunity to learn about business.
I worked at a leading consumer PR company after graduating, assisting with press events and coverage for leading brands such as McVities, Odeon and B&Q. I decided to return back to promotional work and events where I then stayed for seven years – mainly working as a stand hostess and in sales and lead generation on exhibition stands.
My first exhibition was as a stand hostess for Sharjah Tourism, serving billionaire Sheikhs with Arabic coffee – a custom which has a very involved and strict procedure. I worked at hundreds of exhibitions as a stand hostess and was privileged to be the face of multi-national high-profile businesses from across the world.
I became an expert saleswoman – selling superyachts at the boat shows and French fashion to buyers at Pure London. I loved helping international exhibitors and small businesses who needed sales support and adapting to different people, environments and making a difference.
I was approached by a leading casino firm asking if I could provide similar girls to myself at the iGaming affiliate conference in Barcelona. I spoke to my friend who has an agency in Spain and we managed to book over 20 promotional staff at the event. I realised with my existing network, knowledge of exhibitions and my passion for helping exhibitors have the right type of staff, I could make a successful business. At the time – there was no specialist agency for stand hostesses at exhibitions. I am now in my seventh year – we now have another office in Cannes, France. I have excellent relationships with international colleagues.
I was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where I recently returned to live.
My dad was a sales manager for a major confectionary firm – an early memory was his return from the National Convenience Show at the NEC with a car full of sweets and chocolate for us.
I have always been very academic; I attended a girls grammar school and gained a first-class degree in English Literature from the University in Birmingham – with a dissertation in feminism.
I travel quite a lot for work. I am lucky to live back by the sea in Leigh-on-Sea and regularly cycle along the seafront and in the Old Town which is fantastic in summer. I also love yoga and I listen to lots of podcasts about business and sales motivation.
I love exhibition season and genuinely miss the requests from exhibitors and stand builders during the August quiet month. I opened my new business – ‘experience staff’ last year which is experiential and promotional staffing which means we are now busy seasonally but I still genuinely love exhibitions and love the opportunities, excitement and sense of achievement when an exhibitor is happy.
Exhibitions in the UK are filled with temporary staff – from the stand hostesses to the sales staff. The need for staff is growing. However, there is currently no regulation of the industry. Social media and the internet has opened up access to exhibitors and staff – anyone can start an agency and unlike in Europe there are no staff checks at UK exhibitions.
After the HMRC law change in 2015, all agencies should be paying their staff as ‘employees,’ not freelancers or self-employed. This provides employee rights of PAYE tax, public and employment liability insurance for exhibitors and also means employment status checks are run. Exhibition Girls is a proud member of ESSA, but there is still a lot more education required for organisers, venues and exhibitors in the UK.