Paul Slaney, managing director of Showlite, on the positive challenge of trying to do more with less.
If there’s one thing an event and exhibition supplier knows, it’s what constitutes an ideal world. Our ideal world would have 21-day build-up and breakdown slots, floor plans agreed and fixed months in advance, and an international response team to prevent volcanoes from erupting, rivers from flooding and drones from causing chaos to international travel plans.
Of course, the world is far from perfect, and we recognise that our ideals are going to be quite different from other peoples’. In the absence of this utopia, supplying events, whether that’s space-only builds for exhibitors or shell scheme for an entire exhibition, requires a portfolio of skills, techniques and practices to be able to cope with rapid and radical changes, unforeseen circumstances, and the most likely event ‘niggles’.
These skills and techniques are what define the well-established, successful, event suppliers. They’ve been hard won through years of experience of delivering exhibitor satisfaction. That experience confers flexibility and agility, and the kind of background knowledge and understanding that is required when, there are last minute floor plan changes, an airport closes or there’s a power cut.
Timing is all important, so sequencing and logistics need to be very carefully worked out. The slightest hiccup can cause a pile-up further down the schedule, so it’s essential to keep an ever-present eye on timings. When things do go awry, and they often do simply because of issues like traffic, you need to have alternatives and options ready to go.
Fundamentally, the practical challenges of creating successful events need to be met with partnership
In common with the rest of the business world, there’s the constant pressure to ‘do more with less’. It might sound like a contradiction, but it is actually a positive challenge. We recognise that the more customer satisfaction we can deliver per pound spent, the better position we are in to win more business. The difficulty is that we can’t simply carve chunks off our margins – we need to innovate, and we need to innovate all the time.
From new shell scheme systems to the wholesale adoption of low wattage LED lighting, it’s crucial for event suppliers to follow innovations closely, and pinpoint any technologies, products or systems that can help us deliver more for less cost. Innovation in sustainability is going to become a large part of this in the future, as more and more businesses discover the cost of waste.
On a crude level, sustainability means reducing waste, recycling and reusing, which make excellent economical as well as environmental sense. At Showlite we recycle 100 per cent of the carpet we deploy, and much of the shell scheme too. Where metalwork is damaged, we recycle it into smaller functional pieces, cutting out only damaged sections. The more costs we can ameliorate through our sustainable practices, the more resources we can deploy on behalf of exhibitors and organisers.
The show floor presents its own set of challenges. A lot of these problems can be easily avoided or solved in-situ by being ready for them, building in agile thinking and thorough contingency planning.
We understand the problems, especially during build-up and breakdown times. Too much access control can result in delays and time overruns, while not enough access control can put an event at risk.
Fundamentally, the practical challenges of creating successful events need to be met with partnership, teamwork and trust. Resolving many of the practical challenges presented by events will always need to be a collaborative effort.