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Spring into action

by Joe Gallop

Hyve Group’s Julie Driscoll says the community spirit of the events community meant there was no option but to host Spring Fair 2022 in its usual February slot, despite Covid-19 uncertainty. EN visits one of the UK’s largest trade shows at Birmingham’s NEC

It was hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu when speaking to Hyve Group UK regional director Julie Driscoll halfway through the third day of Spring Fair.

Driscoll had previously told EN over the phone about the joyous moment of the doors opening at the NEC back in September for Autumn Fair, and it was a familiar feeling for the return of Spring Fair, which was also co-located with womenswear trade show Moda.

Talking over the comforting and familiar hum of a trade show crowd in Hall 5 of the NEC, 15 months since Spring 2021 was postponed, Driscoll says, “The sense of community is really important, and not to underestimate how excited people are to be back together.

“When you hear exhibitors euphoric, hugging you in the aisles and saying, ‘thank you so much for putting the show on, it’s been my best trade show in 60 years’, you can’t help but get goosebumps.”

Driscoll, who is also deputy chair of the AEO, says Spring Fair needed to have its February slot, which it has done for the past 75 years aside from 2021, due to the show’s strong community spirit: “99.9% of our exhibitors said we have a duty to run this show and there was never a doubt in their minds that they wanted it to go ahead,” she says.

“Retailers have been at work during the pandemic, so it doesn’t faze them coming to a trade show.

“When you’ve got a community that’s behind you that strongly, it’s an easy decision.”

Driscoll adds that there was never a plan for the event to be held in a hybrid format as customers “do not want to buy via a PDF” with Hyve instead using “digital products to fuel connections”. 

A Moda catwalk in Hall 2 of the NEC

Gazing across the colourful hall, she adds, “Look at it, it’s so tactile, you really need to touch and feel the product – that’s the beauty of a trade event. Our exhibitors have said retailers have big mistakes buying online because the quality hasn’t been right. For this ecosystem, it’s about live interactions.” 

Having been trialed at Autumn Fair, day two of Spring Fair saw the official launch of Hyve’s Curated Meetings, which are short, pre-scheduled one-to-one meetings between vetted buyers and brands based on mutual interests. 

In Hall 4, Hyve commercial product manager Monica Todd mentions the buzz she saw in the Curated Meetings lounge area, hailing the launch as a huge success as hundreds of meetings took place. Driscoll says Hyve previously looked into whether international buyers could dial in virtually to use the meetings, but she adds, “We’re confident that for Autumn Fair international visitors will be back in their droves and in fact 12% of this show is international, compared to 11% pre-pandemic. “We are expecting at least 15-20% international exhibitors for Autumn Fair, because we’ve had such a strong interest in the show.”

A big blooming show

The NEC is of course a huge venue and navigating the eight halls may have been overwhelming for those returning to a show for the first time in months. But thanks to the Spring Fair app, visitors were able to find their way around using an interactive floorplan and integrated GPS, similarly to Google Maps. The app also features AI product recommendations based on users’ profile and interests, which was just one of the ways Hyve invested in this year’s show, says Driscoll. “Digitally enabled trade shows are what we’re doing and we’re using technology to digitally fuel our products,” she says. “It means that visitors get even more value from their experience.”

Another way Driscoll claims Hyve invested in the show is introducing more awards, such as the Good Retail Awards, which she says was about “bringing people together at as many touchpoints as possible”. 

Hyve also launched its Sustainability Trail on the app, which enabled users to find products with a green leaf, highlighting sustainable and ethical supply chains. 

Similarly, Hyve’s Power of One campaign, first launched in 2019, once again encouraged those in the retail supply chain to pledge to make one small sustainable change to their lives, such as scrapping paper receipts. Driscoll says, “It’s not just about sourcing and selling sustainably, it’s also about treating each other in a more holistic fashion such as checking in with people and thinking about mental health.

“A key learning from Autumn Fair was the sense of community and spirit that’s been built during lockdown and ensuring that’s carried on throughout business.” 

When asked what she was most pleased about Spring Fair and Moda, which featured 229 exhibitors and over 350 brands, Driscoll cites strong return on investment for exhibitors, the quality and number of visitors, as well as introducing the new features. 

On being co-located with Moda again, Driscoll says Hyve noticed a similarity between fashion stores and home and gift shops in terms of what was being sold, meaning a crossover buying audience was a logical next step for Spring and Autumn Fair. “This has worked brilliantly well,” she says. “During the pandemic we took time to talk our exhibitors and visitors about what it is they wanted, where they wanted and what was going to make the difference to their businesses.” 

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