CHSI Stitches brought together more than 6,000 craft buyers looking for the latest products, new ideas and innovative suppliers, at the NEC on 27-28 February. Show organiser Steve Mitchell told EN how giving visitors an educational and inspiring experience was integral to the show.
Visitors are flocking back to live events because they want the extra features, says CHSI Stitches show organiser Steve Mitchell.
Organised by family-owned ICHF Events Stitches is one of more than 20 craft, cake and Christmas exhibitions across the year.
But for all their events- whether a 45,000 show at the NEC or a small regional craft fair, the team always like to see the reaction from their visitors and exhibitors in person.
“As a company we like to be on the floor,” says Mitchell. “I don’t just speak to the exhibitors, I speak to the visitors as well. It doesn’t matter whether consumer or retail, you need to get that snapshot.
“It’s important for the team to immerse themselves in the show. We are a small team. All that feedback goes back into the office to see what we can do to improve. You need to get every aspect.”
When planning their shows, features to engage visitors is paramount, says Mitchell.
“In terms of the visitor experience we are looking to give them something extra, that education, that knowledge, says Mitchell.
“From keynote speakers ranging from social media to navigating the high street. We want to make sure there is something for everyone. It’s really important.
“We start the day with the Craft Report – a sample of about 5,000
people across the industry – really to look at the new trends, what people are doing in crafts. We’ve been doing that for four years and it gives a real insight into the retailers, exhibitors and buyers are looking at what crafters are interested in.”
The Craft Report gives buyers and sellers alike insight into vital trends in their market place. The core industry report this year included a headline trends update as well as a special report on Going Green: Crafting to Net Zero. The report’s researcher, Linda Jones presented the results on each day of the show and visitors were provided with an excluive copy of the full report giving them valuable and up to date industry insights which can be used to benefit their businesses long after the show itself.
Speakers included authors, textile consultants, retail influencers, creative brand strategists, digital innovators and consumer behaviour experts.
Mitchell says that as well as having a stellar line-up – providing different options to engage helps improve the experience for all.
He says: “What we’ve done differently this year is speakers have given 45 minute slots and then breakout sessions afterwards – so up to 25 people can sit down with that speaker and go a bit more in-depth.
“I suppose it’s about offering value and insight.”
Mitchell says the added draw of extra features gives visitors more incentive to come. In the wake of the pandemic-induced virtual world the added extras are more important than ever.
“Yes, you come to buy or sell, you want to touch and feel the products and have face-to-face meetings, all that stuff we’ve been deprived of,” he says. “But you need something extra that you couldn’t get if buying online. We want to add multiple reasons to come.
“Overall the feedback is very good. Especially for the trade show people are telling us they’ve learned something, they’ve taken something away.
“We’ve evolved to have campfire sessions and the feedback from those has been great. Some people aren’t comfortable putting their hands up in front of 50 or 60 people so they want to have that one-on-one or more intimate experience. It’s accessibility.”
Keeping the agenda fresh means mixing the itinerary up – but there are features Mitchell would like to see return in future years- such as a catwalk for fabrics and yarns.
“This year we haven’t got workshops, but we’ve looked at whether the workshops are really working to the benefits of exhibitors and visitors. Next year we’d probably be looking to get more demonstrations on stands. It makes it more experiential, you see how the products work. We do it a lot at the consumer shows where you can make something and take it away. For the consumer shows we probably doubled the number of workshops. It’s a key part of the show, part of the experience.”
For Mitchell the experiential side
to shows will be the draw that
brings visitors back to prepandemic levels.
“Exhibitor numbers have been down about 50% this year but for the consumer shows only down by a third and we expect that to go up to only about 10% down,” he says.
“We’re in quite a privileged position, because we saw 35,000 people coming through the doors in November. It showed us we could run a safe show, everyone who came got what they came for, they bought and sold.
“If you listen to exhibitors the ones who did well during the lockdowns
had a good digital presence. But events are still really important to them because that’s where they meet their customers – and it needs to be experiential.
They are going to come out and do a workshop, watch a talk and meet up with the community.
“It’s got to be experiential, bringing the products to life.”
This feature appears in the April issue of Exhibition News.