EN Editor Saul Leese sits down with Emma Barrett to discuss what makes a great indy event business and the lengths it needs to go to.
Meeting Emma Barrett for the first time, it’s easy to understand why so many people admire her for what she’s achieved in a short space of time. Barrett, who started Hampshire-based, Broadway Events 10 years ago, is about as nervous as I am doing my first interview for EN. No pressure.
I quickly explain to her that this isn’t one of ‘those’ interviews, and she’s under no obligation to bombard me with facts and figures, far from it. I just want my readers to get a flavour of what it’s like to run a successful indy business in today’s competitive landscape.
Barrett is currently preparing for Broadway’s latest instalment of Childcare Expo on 27/28 September at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena.
“We have to do everything on a shoestring! When you have those last few stands to sell, it’s so easy to just chuck a few seats in there. But we don’t do that at Broadway, so we came up with a feature area called Eco Crafting at this year’s Childcare Expo. Literally, everyone is scrabbling together empty milk and water bottles, as well as used cereal boxes from home, so visitors can make elephants and paint them.” She laughs.
“We even came up with a rock painting feature, because they’re free, and kids love decorating and hiding them.”
Barrett is deeply immersed in her market, and understands that her visitors (mainly Nursery and Early Years business owners), suffer from relentless Government cuts, and she feels compelled to come up with ingenious ways to save them money.
“The Government has brought in this ‘33 Hours’ initiative with no additional funding to cover the shortfall in staff, so nurseries are really suffering. I’m trying to give them ideas to inspire them and show them that kids don’t always need toys to have fun.”
Barrett studied Radio Production at college but at the ripe old age of 18, she decided she wanted to organise events and ended up at a Capital Corporate Events, which were launching Credit UK at Manchester Central. The show never took off, and she found herself sending scores of CVs around the industry until she got her lucky break with Wave Exhibitions in 2004, on The Care Show.
“I was event manager doing everything, as there was only me and the MD, Lorne Cheatham and I absolutely loved it. We then launched a second show in Harrogate in 2005 which didn’t go so well, so we moved it to The NEC. I was only 21 at the time and it was brilliant because these two shows were turning over £800,000. Back then, that was a lot of money for two little shows. I was probably part of the deal when they sold it”, she laughs.
In 2006, UBM acquired the show and she found herself torn between loyalty and ambition. In the end she cut a deal with UBM to work for them 3 days a week, and with her former boss, who had launched Ocean Events, the rest.
“I was only 23 at the time and I needed to make a decision about going full-time. I didn’t like working at UBM because they had a way of doing things and I’d gone from doing everything to just the sales, despite exhibitors calling me all the time about everything from, marketing to operations. I didn’t like losing control, I’m definitely a control freak.”
Loyalty won and Emma was back in control, launching the Nursery and Work Wear Shows at Ocean. In 2009, Barrett found herself at a career crossroad, asking herself if she should have stayed at UBM and tried to climb the ranks. She knew she had to do something and decided to launch an operations company because she liked that side of the business the most.
“I was about to set up this business and many of my exhibitors said why don’t you launch an Early Years exhibition in The Midlands as there’s a real need for it. I felt a bit like, ‘I can’t do that’, but then out of the blue an insurance company in the sector approached me and said I should do it and they would be the headline sponsor. I contacted a few key exhibitors and the next thing I knew I’d launched Childcare Expo at the Ricoh Arena in 2010. That first year I did everything on my own, I rented an office, as I knew I wouldn’t be motivated enough to work from home; I did the whole lot that first year.”
She launched the show with an impressive 90 exhibitors and 2,000 visitors. In 2014, Haymarket, owners of Nursery World Magazine and Nursery World Show, announced they were scrapping their show and wanted to be media partners. She used this opportunity to get into London but found herself in difficult situation after Mark Allen Group acquired the magazine and decided to launch a show back in London.
“I was worried at first because we had invested so much time and energy in the London show but what saved us was the strong relationships we had with our exhibitors. We quickly expanded and launched a Manchester event in 2016, to strengthen our brand and reach and we now have three national shows.”
Broadway Events celebrates 10 years of Childcare Expo this year and now produces 10 events including a series of roadshows across three sectors.
What sets Broadway Events apart from many other companies, is their personalness and they really know all their exhibitors and a huge chunk of their visitors too. Emma’s idea for a roadshow (She now has five), came again from her customers. In 2010, the recession was keeping people firmly rooted to their desks.
“My suppliers told me they wanted to see people but the people they wanted to see were finding it increasingly difficult to leave the office, so would you do some regional events for us?”
I launched Childcare Roadshows in Glasgow in April 2011, Old Trafford in June 2011 and Brighton in 2011. They were essentially pop-up events. Easy to put together, often held at stadiums where the parking was free, and they were much easier to get to.”
Two years ago, she went through a rigorous interview process to get on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses course. Essentially, a mini-MBA and now benefits from sharing ideas via Whatsapp with 35 other like-minded businesses.
She also joined an AEO Enterprise programme where she chose Andrew Evans, then Centaur’s CEO, as her mentor.
“I’d turn up and write about 10 pages of notes. I wanted to get everything I could from meeting him. He helped me massively, he’s a brilliant operator. He’s got so much knowledge, but now he’s at a smaller company, he’s now asking me how do certain things as a smaller business.”
Barrett is passionate about events, she adds: “I’m motivated by excitement and I love being onsite and love seeing this thing you’ve worked so hard for being created right before your very eyes. I love hearing that buzz of the relationships you’ve created between exhibitors and visitors.”
On the future, Emma has big plans. “I very much would love to do an acquisition but the market at the moment is just crazy with the deals they’re doing. Or at least a new launch; I love the research and bringing something together. The best piece of advice I can give anyone is ‘Don’t be working in your business but be working on it to be able to grow’. I don’t just want to stay in these two sectors, I have bigger plans. I want to be in ExCeL selling to bigger companies that can afford bigger stands.”
The icing on the cake for Emma was when she won an EN Award last year. “When we won the EN Indy Company of the Year ,we were really proud, everyone always enters awards and for smaller businesses its quite hard to get recognition and the bigger companies invest heavily in awards. It was amazing how many of my peers were so happy for us.”
Emma also doesn’t want to be seen as a leader to women but appreciated as a person who has achieved a lot.
I know a lot of strong women in the industry who are very high up and I think as an industry we do OK, and as a woman I’ve never really felt disadvantaged. I think it’s because I’ve always had a strong work ethic and just never let it affect me. If I was in a different industry, I might notice it more and I think this industry is pretty good. I think it’s more about surviving 10 years.