Virtual trade show ‘next best thing’ for Make it British

Written by Isabella Fish, and originally published by Drapers

Make it British Live 2019

The virtual trade show format is the “next best thing” for Make it British amid the chaotic coronavirus outbreak, exhibitors have told Drapers.

Last week founder and CEO of Make it British Live, Kate Hills, was forced to postpone the UK manufacturing trade show until further notice, in light of recent developments with the Covid-19 coronavirus. The show was due to take place on 17-18 March at the Business Design Centre in London.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we have tried hard not to do this, but we no longer feel that the decision to keep ‘business as usual’ is in line with worldwide medical developments”, Hills told Drapers.

“Because our show was at the tail-end of the season, it was really bad timing. We knew that a lot of exhibitors were nervous about going, as well as visitors and speakers too. Financially it’s a disaster because we’ve already paid for the venue, staff, contractors, etc. We’ve also been told by the venue that shows in the summer/autumn are having to cancel, which will have a knock-on effect for re-organising.

“We are hoping there will be some indication from government regarding compensation from cancelled events.”

Exhibitors and visitors to the show have expressed their disappointment at the postponement of the show, but agreed it was the right decision.

“Make it British plays a vital service in championing manufacturing close to home”, Emmaline Vaughan Ronson, founder of Source Lingerie said. ”We need events like this to draw attention to those who are operating here and then encourage people to place orders that respect the unique position manufacturing in the UK can bring.”

The director of one company due to exhibit said: “I’m fully supportive of the decision to cancel. I sympathise with the show organisers who had a very difficult decision to make.”

However, he added: “The impact on us is likely to be slightly negative, as we usually pick up some business at this show. I have to emphasise that we’re a small company and can be skewed by just a few enquiries.”

Dawn Robson-Bell, managing director of tartan manufacturer Lochcarron Scotland, agreed: “Naturally we were disappointed that the Make it British Live trade show has been postponed however, under the circumstances we completely understand why this has happened.

“This would have been our first time of exhibiting at this event and we had been keen to try out the show and just see the make-up of the visitors, UK and international. We are seeing a greater interest in Made in the Scotland and we were looking to find new prospects who perhaps were not already aware of our brand and our products.

“We are hoping the event will be rescheduled and we believe that there is a growing demand for British manufacturing which we hope will prosper again in the future.”

Make it British Live will be postponed until further notice, but the organisers are planning to launch a new virtual event called Make it British Virtual Expo, which will take place online at the end of May. All visitor tickets will automatically be transferred to the virtual expo in May, as well as being redeemable against tickets for a rescheduled live show.

Hills said: “From our point of view the most important thing is to connect those manufacturers at the show with those who attend – and that can’t grind to a halt indefinitely because of the coronavirus. So, we are going to do a virtual show, exactly the same as the real show – it is something we have been thinking about for the past 12 months. Putting on an event is a really costly thing, and as a small organiser we can’t afford to do it more than once a year. We wanted a solution – and the coronavirus has sped up that whole process of making this happen.”

She added: “The virtual event will include everything that the live event does, including the conference, the networking and the workshops. Each exhibitor will have their own virtual booth that they will be able to ‘man’ for the duration of the show using a webcam that can be attached to any computer.”

Adam Mansell, CEO of UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) told Drapers: “This is a really difficult time for all businesses at the moment and postponing the show is a blow for manufacturers that were due to exhibit but understandably, safety is the number one priority.

“The virtual show is the next best thing for what is practical and possible at the moment and we look forward to coming together as an industry when a new date for the live event is secured.”

Other exhibitors have also welcomed the move towards digital, suggesting virtual trade shows could be the future of events in the coming months.

“I think a virtual trade show is a brilliant idea”, Lucy Blackley, CEO at Bombyx PLM (product lifecycle management), a software solution for product design and manufacturing industries, due to attend this season’s Make it British, said.

“I think it’s definitely needed and creates a sense of community whilst we can’t be together during these tough times. It would be great to see everyone doing this.”