Talking Trade… with Gordon Thomas

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With anticipation building for PATS Telford next month, Gordon Thomas, of show organisers Impact Exhibitions and Events, reflects on how great it will be to welcome people back to pet trade shows.

About Gordon

Gordon is a director at Impact Exhibitions and Events, the company that delivers the hugely popular PATS events. He’s worked in the exhibition industry for over 30 years and says that his team particularly enjoy delivering PATS: “Organising shows is totally a team effort, I just happen to lead it. We genuinely all love doing it.”

We are so excited that the return of PATS Telford in September means that retailers and suppliers will be able to meet in person, at an event, for the first time in over 18 months.

The event on September Sunday 26 and Monday 27 at Telford International Centre takes on even greater significance this year as it will be the fi rst ‘live’ UK pet industry exhibition since our last show — PATS Sandown — in February 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Because of the increasing demand for stand space, we’ve actually grown the exhibition in size, taking a third hall at the Telford International Centre for the first time. Preparations gathered pace after some restrictions were lifted on May 17, including allowing the resumption of indoor events with a maximum capacity of 1,000 visitors at any one time. It was a massive moment for us because we met the capacity criteria and could definitely go ahead with our plans to stage PATS Telford in September.

Eager to be back

From speaking to pet product companies, we’ve learned that they can’t wait to exhibit all their new products which they’ve been developing over the past year or so and, as importantly, establish the connections with their buyers and the trade. We work in such a brilliant industry with such lovely, sociable exhibitors and visitors.

The huge boom in pet ownership during lockdown means the pet market is very buoyant — it’s not surprising that everyone in the industry is eagerly anticipating a return of a live PATS Telford. We’re well on the way to attracting around 190 exhibiting companies, which will be a record for a PATS exhibition. Visitor registrations are already higher than in previous years, even at this early stage, and we believe this is a sure sign that buyers are eager to meet up with their suppliers again. They can’t wait to see and touch all the products that will be showcased. There is a real thirst for PATS Telford and we’ll be playing our part in helping the pet industry to build back better.

New products on show

When we launched PATS in 2009, our goal was to provide an event where the pet industry could come together as one, under one roof, to share knowledge, experience, new ideas, and the great relationships that this trade is renowned for. The industry thrives on the face to-face interaction between suppliers and retailers, and a forum like PATS, where new products can be showcased, touched and examined, is a real must.

Our PATS New Product Showcase is a great opportunity for visiting retailers to see everything that is new and decide what to stock for the coming season. With so many new launches ready to be unveiled, we have already expanded the space for the Showcase at Telford 2021. It is designed to help visitors locate the latest and most exciting products coming into the pet industry, as they are all gathered in one extensive display and grouped into nine different categories.

Once a visitor has seen products they like, they then have the opportunity of visiting the stands of the manufacturers or suppliers of those items to discuss in more detail. There is an information card beside each product, giving details such as suggested retail price and where in the show you’ll find the item’s exhibitor. All entries in the Showcase are judged by a panel of independent retailers for the New Product Awards on the first morning of the show, so the results will be known and highlighted throughout the halls for the rest of the exhibition.

Winning an award can be the launch pad to huge sales. Manufacturers can be confident that successful products have a great chance of becoming bestsellers because a panel of pet retailers decides the awards and past winners admit that it can certainly increase the profile of the items to the trade. As well as having the chance to see the latest products being launched on to the market, there will be a whole host of other activities designed for retailers to grow their business.

Free-to-attend seminars cover a wide range of topics, where visitors can benefit from sales and trends expertise from retail and marketing gurus. Attending a talk is one of the easiest ways to discover new ideas that could help boost a retail business. Most seminars last less than half-an-hour so they won’t take up a huge amount of a visitor’s buying time. In addition, the show hosts the ever-popular series of grooming demonstrations and workshops.

What is it like organising a pet trade show?

As organisers of the UK’s number one pet industry exhibition, it’s great to receive feedback from both exhibitors and visitors and one of the most popular comments is that the shows have created a real community spirit over the years. We have worked together for so long on so many events, prior to launching PATS, and have always tried to create a friendly and welcoming environment where people can network and have fun, as well as achieve their business goals. To close the first day of the show, we’ve always held a drinks reception for exhibitors to help them wind down and discuss the topics of the day with people from other companies.

We also support the prestigious PetQuip Awards which are presented on the first evening of PATS Telford and this is another example of the industry coming together to socialise as well as reward excellent performance. I’m proud of the fact that Impact Exhibitions & Events is the UK’s most experienced pet and aquatics trade show organiser, with over 100 years of combined experience in staging events. Since its formation in 2007, the company has staged over 30 trade shows. Having this experience is vital in ensuring the shows run like clockwork. There is a lot to organise but the Impact Exhibitions team is well skilled in delivering a smooth event.

We always welcome feedback from both exhibitors and visitors and will make changes as a result of comments received. The work behind the scenes is intensive to ensure that every eventuality is covered once we get on site. But that’s when the best bit of our job comes together: meeting and greeting everyone at our shows. We love the build up and seeing the whole event coming to life and meeting everyone again. It’s a very different matter when you see the show breaking down and the exhibitors going home, for days afterwards there is always a real sense of sadness that everything is finished. I know that it’s a bit of a cliché but we all love coming to work. No day is the same and the biggest thing we have all missed through lockdown is speaking to and meeting our exhibitors and visitors.

There have been many interesting and hilarious things happen at shows over the years – too many to mention here. But a couple of incidents spring to mind: On one occasion, we evacuated the exhibition halls at Harrogate when the fire alarm went off. Five Fire Brigade teams attended, only to discover a spider had crawled into the alarm. Thankfully, we were outside for only half-an-hour and the exhibitors and buyers trooped back in and just got on with the show as though it had never happened.

At our first ever show at Sandown Park, we were so excited that we decided to play John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’ over the tannoy on the first day of the build-up. There were only contractors in the halls and we thought it was a bit of fun, especially for our colleague Annie Foord. However, within a minute we had the security guys rushing into the office to tell us they hadn’t turned off the racecourse tannoy and the dulcet tones of John Denver were disturbing Sunday morning golfers.

The UK pet industry is full of great people and companies, and it is great to be a part of it. We can’t wait to be reunited with everyone at PATS Telford in September where we can all move forward with optimism.