Once the ribbon was cut, swarms of buyers, manufacturers, distributors and suppliers started scrambling over each other to get through the doors. It wasn’t long before the stands were invaded by the thronging crowds and exhibitors were overrun with customers vying for their attention. Only the fashion shows brought respite as the bold and playful music stopped some visitors in their tracks, who then followed the sound to the back of the hall, where they found fabulous garments being showcased. After being impressed by what they saw, they immediately went to the participating stands and bought up the entire collection...
Okay, I confess: this picture is more of an organiser’s dream than what actually happened at the inaugural Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show on 2nd and 3rd April at the Birmingham NEC. But it’s no exaggeration to say the show passed even our wildest expectations.
Serving the Industry
As the only exhibition dedicated to senior buyers, specifiers and suppliers operating in the vibrant and dynamic working garment industry, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show has been running for many years. In fact, it was only launched this year, after director-e managing director Yvette Ashby and Ocean Events managing director Lorne Cheetham joined forces to set up an exhibition especially for the corporate clothing, workwear and PPE industry.
Before this, the industry had no other dedicated exhibition, despite being worth an estimated £450 million in the UK and making around 32 million garments each year. Others had tried to set up a similar exhibition in the past but had had little success, and the memories of these exhibitions still ghosted the industry, meaning any subsequent attempts had a lot to prove.
With this in mind, the air was a bit tense just before the show was due to open. Any concerns, however, soon proved unfounded, as over the two days around 1,600 visitors came through the doors, leaving a trail of leads, orders and some very happy exhibitors in their wake.
Making a Stand
CKL was one of the first stands to greet the visitors as they entered the hall. The UK-based distributor of workwear, corporate clothing and leisurewear had erected an impressive white stand, with its distinctive purple branding emboldened across the front. Marketing manager Bali Rakhra said: “It’s a great position for me as an exhibitor. I’ve had lots of customers come onto the stand and have received some really good leads. I’m definitely keen to re-book this stand for the next show.”
Exhibitor Tom Roehricht, deputy chief executive at William Sugden & Sons Ltd, is also planning a repeat performance. He said: “The Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show surpassed our expectations, with a number of quality buyers visiting our stand, all showing significant prospects for future business. As a company we will certainly be attending the show next year.”
Other companies who have quickly signed up to secure a spot next year include Mascot International, who received over 100 leads from the show and one significant order; Supertouch who plan to double their stand in size; and CAT Workwear whose industrial style stand stole much of the limelight.
A Hall of Plenty
All companies exhibiting, whether they were big, small, well-established or new, appeared to receive their fair share of visitors. Stanley Russell, owner of C+ Advanced Performance Textiles Ltd, was flooded with enquiries. “I’ve been run off my feet with lots of great interest in the new technologies of Solar‘Res and Evolution,” he said. “This is the only UK show we have done and it definitely meets our requirements.”
Susan Waters, managing director of Cotton Roots, said: “As a relatively new company that has never exhibited at an exhibition before, the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show provided a perfect opportunity to introduce our fair trade, organic and sustainable clothing to the industry. All the visitors who visited our stand provided high quality leads, which we are looking forward to following up after the show.”
Some exhibitors had travelled from as far as China, Japan, Pakistan and India in order to be a part of the show. The workwear garments made by Best Apparel, which is based in Karachi and has manufacturing facilities in Pakistan, Mexico and Central America, were given an ‘excellent reception’ according to vice-president of sales, Roberto Medina. He said: ‘‘we are exhibiting at the show in order to establish ourselves in the British market’’.
Meanwhile, other exhibitors were feeling the benefit of having their garments showcased in the fashion show. Richard Clough, managing director of Prêt Apparel, said: “We’ve had a fantastic show, meeting high quality companies and securing further appointments on the strength of all meetings. Our involvement with the catwalk show has worked extremely well for us.”
The fashion catwalk show, which took place three times a day, proved to be extremely popular with visitors, with quite a few returning to see it more than once. Choreographed by Hollywood dance professional Debbie Astell, the show’s mixture of sexy, sophisticated, funky and fun routines reflected the functionality and fashionable style of all the garments included.
Buy Buy Baby
Another feature that generated much interest at the show was the Buyers' Advice Centre. Here, some of the industry’s most experienced buyers were on hand to give advice to those new to the world of corporatewear sourcing and workwear and uniform procurement. Louise Johnson, the purchasing manager at the Royal Bank of Scotland, was one of the experts on the panel and said that she herself got as much out of the show as those who came to her for advice. She said: “The show has given us, the buyers, a great opportunity to network with our colleagues and peers and there aren’t too many of those opportunities around – especially at such an exciting venue.”
David Crawford, procurement manager for British Airways, agreed: “It’s a fantastic innovation to focus a show on the buyer’s needs and it will hopefully be the first of many more successful shows. I myself have got quite a few ideas from coming here and talking to people, which I’m keen to go back and work on.”
The show’s focus on the buyers in the workwear and corporate clothing industry was emphasised by the buyer’s cocktail party, which took place on Wednesday night. Yvette Ashby, co-organiser of the show, said: “We wanted to involve the buyers at every stage in this exhibition – including the cocktail party and the advice panel – because it's so important to hear what they have to say and learn from their experiences. Without the buyers and their experience and expertise, this industry wouldn't exist.”
Fingers on the Pulse
If having a hall of exhibition stands, a fashion show and a buyer’s champagne cocktail party wasn’t enough then the interactive workshop conference certainly completed the package of activities on offer. Throughout Wednesday morning, seven leading industry specialists took to the stand to talk about the latest practical, technological and ethical developments taking place. Global sourcing hotspots, the impact of European legislation on PPE, antimicrobial technology in workwear, eco-efficient fibres and electronic data management were just some of the topics that were presented throughout the morning. On the whole, the event enjoyed a good turnout and was well received. Emma Wood, a member of Russell Europe’s marketing team, said: “My colleague and I both found the conference very useful and came away with ideas to pass on to our colleagues in other departments in the company. I'm already looking forward to seeing the calibre of speakers for next year's conference.”
Food for Thought
One point raised by some of the exhibitors and visitors was that they would have liked to see more directors on the stands. Robin Vryenhoef, sales manager at Syscom, was pleased to see that quite a few of their customers were exhibiting, but also said: “Most people on the stands are sales people and we would rather speak to their directors face-to-face than pick up a business card and make an appointment.”
Ivan McIntyre Supertouch’s sales manager for Scotland, said: “The exhibition has not been the busiest that I have been to. It’s a bit small, but the quality of customers has been good and the event can only grow. We’ve got some good leads here, whereas we came away with nothing at the Printwear and Promotions Exhibition even though it was busier. The only thing that might cause a problem is the timing. With the Safety and Health Expo soon afterwards, people may be a bit wary about coming.”
A Job Well Done
Since the show has gone from being watched with bated breath to being the one to watch out for in the future, co-organiser Yvette Ashby couldn’t be happier. Overwhelmed by its success, she said: “Our aim for the show was always to put buyers in touch with suppliers, to provide a forum for them to meet together once a year to share ideas and inspiration and ultimately to help this industry grow. We successfully achieved our objectives with this show. This industry, from manufacturers and suppliers to clothing technicians and designers, is a community, and next year’s show will further encompass everyone relevant to this vibrant garment industry and all the different facets of it.”
She’s not kidding, either – plans are already underway to add a buyers’ award dinner and a young designer award to the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show’s repartee. But now that a show has come along that's earned the confidence of the industry, the sky really is the limit.
The Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show 2009 will take place at the NEC on 1st and 2nd April 2009. For more details email email@example.com, or call +44 (0)1425 470 666.
Photography by: Maria Barry