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Curtain rises on Autumn Fair

by Joe Gallop

Hyve Group’s UK regional director and AEO vice chair Julie Driscoll tells EN about the innovation shown at this year’s Autumn Fair, which was co-located with Moda at the NEC

Plenty of creativity and innovation from event organisers has come out of Covid-19, as the team behind this year’s Autumn Fair and Moda displayed. The Home, Gift and Fashion Show, held from 5-8 September, introduced an Autumn Fair app and Remote Exhibiting package for international exhibitors, among other changes.

The show also featured guests such as Theo Paphitis from Dragons Den, whose Small Business Sunday (SBS) initiative was partnered with the show again to bring back the SBS Pavilion. Hyve Group’s UK regional director and AEO vice chair Julie Driscoll (pictured right) says although there was a feeling of trepidation going into the show from everyone in the community, the feeling was “incredibly joyous” the moment the doors opened: “It was a moment where we realised how retailers and the exhibitors really had missed the event,” she says.

What we did at eight o’clock in the morning was walk around saying thank you so much for coming to everyone and that we really appreciate you being at the show, and greeting the retailers as well. People were crying with happiness and were so glad to be back.”

In terms of approaching the event’s marketing against a backdrop of Covid anxiety, Driscoll says communication and transparency was key: “I think the more you communicate what you’re doing and the more transparent you are with your exhibitors and visitors, the more they will feel reassured that they’re coming into a space that is as secure as it can be, and that risk has been minimised.”

Hyve also created an extensive risk assessment document, which was shared with other event organisers. “I’m proud that we’ve gone above and beyond to share best practice and what we’re doing with not only the venues but also the rest of the exhibitions community,” says Driscoll.

Persona research

The show’s boss also says her team did a lot of customer research this year and spent a lot of time working on the taxonomy and understanding the customers’ personas. Whether it be exhibitors or visitors, Driscoll says the team understood how they shop and how they searched for things, while also understanding how exhibitors sell and how they describe products. “The new taxonomy on our website changed all of our descriptions, all of our search and PPC.”

She adds: “The app was a natural extension of that to ensure that our customer experience from an exhibitor and visitor point of view was really on point. It’s to ensure people can find newness, search the newness and provide newness easily.”

The app also livestreamed content for the first time, which was introduced by Hyve to keep in touch with its communities and for people who may not want to sit in a crowded content theatre.

The show’s Remote Exhibiting package, which was described by Driscoll as a “great success”, was introduced to ensure exhibitors who couldn’t attend the show due to of travel restrictions could still exhibit. The show welcomed the Shandong Pavilion, which showcased products from 30 suppliers from China’s Shandong Province. Stands were built, set up and staffed on behalf of the exhibitors by staff based in the UK.

Visitors to the Shandong Pavilion were able to see the products in person, while virtual sales meetings allowed buyers to speak directly to the suppliers. Driscoll says: “We had salespeople that spoke the languages of the exhibitors but also spoke English so that visitors could interact with them. It was a really great way of ensuring that we could give a breadth of offer to our community, while we were still struggling with the travel restrictions. Hopefully that won’t be the case anymore moving forward, but we feel we’ve figured out a number of ways to work around things.”

New innovations

Inside the NEC Driscoll says her team had extra boots on the ground this year with roaming ‘Ask Me Anything’ staff on site. Hyve also trialled its Curated Meetings matchmarking service, which involves short, pre-scheduled one-to-one meetings between vetted buyers and brands based on mutual interests. “We matched 70 exhibitors with 50 opted in buyers so it was a double opt in process,” says Driscoll. This means the return on time and the return on investment for everyone involved is better.”

As for measuring visitor numbers with womenswear, footwear, accessories and activewear event, Moda, Driscoll says: “We really focused on density, and it was extremely pleasing that our densities significantly improved exhibitor to exhibitor. Every single exhibitor had a fantastic show and we have never had such pent-up demand, it was incredible. We couldn’t get on the exhibitor stand.” As for feedback, she adds: “We had phenomenal amounts of positive visitor and exhibitor testimonials saying it was the best trade show ever, and some of these exhibitors have been at trade shows for 50-60 years.”

Hyve also debuted its online marketplace aimed at vetted buyers. “This is something that’s part of our omnichannel strategy, to really do things differently as we move ahead and use technology to provide product offerings which are the best for each of our different communities.” Driscoll adds: “Theo Paphitis stated that hybrid is absolutely the future for retail, but retailers should always have an online offering, so that you’re giving people choice.”


Another focus of this year’s show was sustainability, which Driscoll is heavily involved in through her work as vice chair of the AEO.

Hyve’s The Power of One campaign was introduced in the fashion industry and has been supported by the UN Global Goals initiatives. Driscoll says: “If every single person within the retail supply chain does one thing to drive towards a more sustainable future within their businesses, and they pledge that within the community and within our power of one campaign, then we can be driving changes together.”

Along with the AEO’s initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion, the association also has a focus on sustainability through its working groups. Driscoll says these groups are working with global partners within the AEO on a roadmap to net zero using the COP26 as a “launching point”. She adds, “I think all of us in the exhibition industry should be thinking of what we can do to help drive this forward. It’s a very good moment in time for us all to reflect and think about what we can do to drive towards a more sustainable future.”

This article was published in the Autumn edition of EN. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here

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