National Running Show founder Mike Seaman says the biggest barrier to being an independent operator is running away with your own ideas.
Mike Seaman spent seven years thinking about his idea to run an exhibition for runners.
A runner himself he knew the existing shows – usually tied to marathons – were at the wrong time of year. He knew the kind of speakers he wanted to see, the type of sellers he wanted to buy kit from. But since taking the leap he has had a runaway success.
The first National Running Show in 2016 had 12,000 visitors. They now get 27,000. Exhibitor numbers have rocketed equally and his company Raccoon Events have now added the National Outdoor Expo, National Cycling Show, Snow Show and running show in Boston and Chicago.
With the exhibitions snowballing, Seaman is keen to expand further with their digital products – but he warns other independent organisers to seek outside advice as much as possible to make sure they don’t run away with themselves.
“Because I’d sat on this idea for seven years before I launched it, it was really rock solid,” says Seaman.
“I had taken it to quite a few people in the industry who are cleverer than me and said ‘tell me why this isn’t going to work.’ It just took off from there.
“The show started to grow and grow. Then I decided I want to create a business that looks a certain way.
“I wanted to just do consumer shows for people who want to be active outside. Then we looked other markets with similar emphasis on being active outdoors, so we launched cycle and snow shows.
“We now own a load of data and the next step for that is to diversify and genuinely become a multiplatform business. We’ve launched our digital asset and started making our own films.
“Sometimes these things just snowball. When you’ve got a good idea and it work it just rolls.”
Whilst the initial idea was all his own, Seaman credits getting outside help for keeping him on the right track.
“One of the things that is important as an independent is you often become the limiting factor of your business.
“If all the ideas come through you, your business will stay small forever. We’ve brought in good people into the board above me to check my thinking make sure I don’t go off and get too nuts, come up with too many crazy ideas.
“The worst thing about being independent is you never stop.
“I don’t sleep much at the best of times and you wake up and you’re on and you can’t put it down because it’s more than a job. There’s a responsibility, which I take as a personal responsibility, to every client, every visitor, every member of staff and every speaker. That’s quite a lot to wear, but that’s kind of the fun part as well.
“It’s like being a parent. You worry about everyone, but actually, when it goes well and they do well it’s really uplifting.”
Seaman’s company – like the events he runs are all about community.
“There’s a perception about sport being competitive but there’s this big rise in community led sport, things like Park Run, of course it’s timed but you’re trying to beat your own personal best as opposed to someone else’s.
“Community sport has come through into the spirit of this business. We are very ethically driven. By being on your own rather than part of a bigger company you have the opportunity to create your own ethics as well as the culture. The ethics are probably more important.
“If you want to be the shark who goes out and shafts everyone, my view is you might make short term cash but you won’t be here for long.
“The bit that is different about us is way we acquire visitors. We call it inside out marketing. It’s a community led marketing strategy. A lot of it is done online and through influencer marketing. What that does is reduces marketing expenditure. We have a free ticket model for those people and it enables consumers to come into show with more money in their pocket. But they also feel valued, not because they been given a free ticket or they tick a box. But they feel like they’ve got a say because they’re part of a community. We get so much love and support from the people that come and they give us all of the ideas and they are part of the content. If you genuinely immerse yourself in your community then you actually create something meaningful. If you sit as exhibition organisers just outside your community thinking ‘how can I make money out of them’ it doesn’t quite work.
“People spend a lot of time talking about what other people are doing and trying to be better, whereas I just make the best shows I can.”
At Raccoon the team agree. Seaman is focused on making sure all his staff get the most out of their roles.
Head of content Verity O’Brien says working for an independent organiser means their ideas are
“If you want to do more there is always the opportunity,” she says.
“Being independent does make everyone feel listened to. I knew Mike before and he said to me – come and work with me. I might not have had the experience to do this job anywhere else.”
Account manager Rachel Marsh describes Raccoon as “like a family”.
Marketing assistant Dominic Brown agrees: “You know everyone you’re working with so you can always suggest something new.”
Seaman concludes: “If you spend all your time doing things that are positive and solution led rather than negative and problem led you’ll actually have a better product and expend less negative energy. I haven’t got time to be arguing with competitors and trying to steal other people’s ideas. I’ve got enough of my own ideas.”
This year’s National Running Show at the NEC attracted almost 20,000 visitors.
This feature appears in the February issue of Exhibition News.