David Harrison, group exhibition manager on the PPMA Show, and Paul Wicks, founder and owner of Showlite, talk about shared business values, birthday celebrations on a forklift, gales and a long-standing partnership which has lasted nearly 25 years.
When eight founder members established the PPMA in 1987 it was with the aim of holding their own trade show. Unhappy with the UK show landscape at the time, they decided they could do a better job.
The rest is history – the first show took place a year later in Telford with 40 exhibitors and has gone from strength to strength.
The event outgrew Telford in 1993 and has taken place in a number of different venues since including the NEC, Wembley, G Mex and ExCeL before making a permanent home at the NEC. A joint venture with Reed Exhibitions was announced in 2001 lasting until 2013 when The PPMA Show once again became independent under the guidance of David Harrison.
Today, the PPMA Show remains the flagship event in the machinery supply calendar and continues to attract a high calibre of visitor. The recent event which took place at the NEC delivered 7,500 visitors and 350 exhibitors representing 1,500 brands.
Accompanying PPMA on the journey over the last 30 years has been Paul Wicks, founder of Showlite, who has worked on every single edition of the show, firstly as an electrician and for the last 25 years with his company Showlite.
This is a long-standing relationship like no other. Harrison, who has been with PPMA for 25 years comments on the partnership: “There’s a reason we’ve been with Showlite and that’s because they’ve contributed to our success. We can certainly attribute the continued growth of PPMA down in part to the smooth and seamless build up on the show each year.
“We share the same business values – integrity, honesty, service and trust – and we can completely rely on Paul and his team to deliver. Showlite is an intrinsic part of the team, completely reliable and always on hand to fix any problems. Nothing is too much trouble. Showlite has a total focus on service.”
Paul Wicks remembers the early days at the Telford Racquet and Fitness Centre as it was then. “In those days the venue had just been bought from the council and had to be boarded out before each event to protect the still very valuable tennis courts. There were no mains to speak of and for PPMA Show we surrounded the building with generators and air compressors to service the show and had to fly all services in from overhead.”
“It was cherry pickers and catenary wires and at least two days solid work to install the mains, on top of a three day build for contractors. Today, we get just three days to do the complete build even though it is still the most technical installation that we undertake.
The physical size and quantity of the supplies required and our continued promise to work with each exhibitor to provide options to help keep their electrical spend at a realistic level is a challenge which we rise to every year.”
Wicks continued: “Over the years we have seen it all. Machines dropped on the cobbles at Manchester G Mex, a spike holding down a marquee hammered through an underground mains cable and I even broke my thumb and wrist at one Telford PPMA build. Whilst rushing to reading a plan I got my boot lace caught in some discarded timber in the aisle.”
David Harrison remembers the year it blew a gale: “Before the days of hall 3 at Telford, the show ran in a marquee. To make the marquee level the flooring was 1.8m tall on scaffolding at one end and Showlite would run their cables under the marquee and up through the floor. Anyway, the year of the gale the whole marquee swayed and moved about and a cable was pinched by the scaffolding creating an intermittent fault that took a while to find.
“Sadly it was the PPMA Chairman’s stand that was affected and he wasn’t a happy man! But it was a testament to Showlite that they worked tirelessly to find the fault and fix it as quickly as they could.”
“When PPMA came out of the joint venture with Reed Exhibitions, it was vital for us to prove we were capable of running a better show. It was important to have a professional safe pair of hands and Showlite were the only supplier who has stayed with the show, right from the beginning, through the joint venture and up to the present day.”
Paul Wicks comments, “I look forward to this show every year. It is extremely high pressure due to the timescale for an event of this complexity compared to the luxury of years gone by, but it feels very special to be part of a team, who I have worked with annually for the majority of my working life.
“We have enjoyed birthday celebrations on the forks of a forklift, team building events standing on the top of a telegraph pole, team caricatures drawn, days out watching rugby, sailing, team meals, drinks and Christmas dos. I am extremely proud to have been a very small but important part of their show.”
“However, there is one downside for me, I have a son Tom who was born on the 26th September 1993 and because of The PPMA Show I have only ever made it home for his birthday on a handful of occasions in his 24 years. I hope he understands now!”