Make an exhibition of yourself: How to bag a bargain at the interiors shows

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The design diary is filling up with new shows faster than you can knock up an Ikea storage solution. As this year's season kicks off, Lena Corner gives an insider's view of bagging a bargain.

The exhibition season is upon us. In the next few weeks anyone who has the faintest interest in home improvement can choose between Interiors UK in Birmingham (22- 25 January), Surface Design in London (7-9 February) or the power tools and colour charts of Totally DIY (5-7 February). And if, perchance, your resolution was to finally get round to building your own home this year, there's more. You could try the National Home Building and Renovating Show (29 March to 1 April) or EcoBuild at London's ExCel (20-22 March). This year it's estimated there will be between 1,500 and 2,000 exhibitions and last year they contributed in excess of £10bn to the economy.

It seems we are no longer content with trudging to our local high street on a Saturday afternoon to buy stuff, now we want our shopping experience to be a "show" complete with live "theatre" and celebrity appearances. And what's more we want to pay to do it. This year the price of an average ticket to one of these shows is now around £14.

"The exhibitions industry has shown amazing resilience in the face of the economic downturn," says Karim Halwagi of the Association of Event Organisers. "People appreciate the power of face-to-face business. It's permission marketing, whereby you're allowing a company to promote to you by virtue of the fact you have chosen to go to the show. You don't get that with television and print, where adverts appear before you randomly."

Over the past few years, Halwagi says, there has been a big shift towards making the shows much broader. "Trade shows have moved on from the old aisles and booths format," he says. "Now they are much more interactive, featuring live events, expert seminars and much more audience participation."

As co-owner of a new flooring company, The Colour Flooring Company, at the tail end of last year I suddenly found myself plunged into the wonderful world of the trade show. In quick succession, we took our flooring first to 100% Design in Earls Court, then Grand Designs Live in Birmingham NEC followed by the Ideal Home Show Christmas in November.

It was a sitting-round-the-kitchen-table, spur of the moment decision to sign up to 100% Design, which we did a week before the show was due to open.

It was a steep learning curve. Did we want a shell scheme or space only? A raised floor or a flush one? Did we want spotlights or were we going to bring our own? We had no idea. The costs started spiralling – the space itself, which was just 2m x 4m, cost almost £3,000. We gave stylist Beth Corner (no relation) two days to come up with a design for the stand and asked cabinet-maker Tom Perkins from Quendon Interiors to create a bespoke desk to house our flooring samples. Then after navigating the Earls Court car park in a hired van and a day setting up, we were ready to go.

The good thing about 100% Design is that it's an edited show – every exhibitor has to pass under the discerning eye of creative director Julieann Humphryes, head of design for Yoo – so quality is high.

"We only want original design, we don't do copies and presentation is key," says Peter Massey, exhibition director. Also, crucially it's a trade show, so you're not going to find gaggles of day-trippers out to bag a bargain, but instead architects, designers and retailers all serious about doing business. Last year nearly 19,000 went, so it's a big, highly targeted audience. We were inundated. We spent four days frantically chopping samples to keep up with demand and repeating our spiel about our lovely colours and how hardwearing it is, until we were blue in the face.

Bouyed by this success we signed up to Grand Designs Live at the Birmingham NEC. Again, it was a last minute decision. They clearly needed to shift the final few spaces as we managed to barter the price of the stand down by more than £1,000.

It all felt a very long way from the slick Channel Four show from which it was a spin-off. Two of the busiest stalls were the burger stand and the man flogging plastic photo frames, who drew crowds all weekend. It was a bit pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap. And what's more our stand was squeezed in the kitchen section between ovens and fridges – utterly useless for anyone shopping for a floor.

Weeks later it was on to the Ideal Home Show Christmas. Again we got a knockdown rate (£1,300 down from £2,800) and again it was the market-style traders who were doing a roaring trade – those magic vegetable peeling kits were flying out. Because it was the Christmas show, it was all about fake snow, gospel choirs and people stuffing cheap gifts into carrier bags. The man on the stall opposite, who'd also got in for a cheap rate, resorted to doing magic tricks to drum up interest in his water purification system. The woman on the vertical garden stall sold nothing all weekend and the patio furniture stand to our left was just left unmanned all weekend. Still, we had a prime view of the "theatre" and got to see Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen gabbling on about something and another celebrity, who I couldn't name, showing how to make festive flower arrangements. It felt very much as if the movement towards the live act has been taken one step too far.

There were many things we gleaned from the vantage point of our shiny new stand. If you are serious shopper, forget the Christmas shows – they have moved too far away from the original point. Also steer clear of the shows that come heavily laden with celebrities. It's all very well cramming in to watch Linda Barker divulging the secrets of her signature look, but really, what's the benefit? Also never go on the morning of the first day. At the NEC our first lot of frazzled visitors arrived to tell us they'd been queuing for two hours toiget in the car park. The best times to go are after three in the afternoon when the crowds thin out, or better still on the late night opening (most shows do one during the run) when it's lovely and quiet.

On the upside there are definitely bargains to be had. Most traders offer special discounts just for the duration of the show, but avoid being taken in (at the NEC there were an inordinate number of visitors wandering round with twee decorative wicker baskets which someone was clearly knocking out cheap). The best time to get real bargains is the final few hours of the last day of the show. This is when people are thinking about taking down their stalls and display product can be picked up at big discounts.

At the NEC, state-of-the-art cookers that had been on display for five days were going for half price.

Ultimately for us it was worth it, our sales shot up. Compared to the response we got from a couple of adverts we'd placed in the press, the trade show won hands down.

We failed to implement a discount code for each exhibition, so have no idea how much business we got from each show and so no idea if we'll ever do it again. As I say, it was a steep learning curve.

colourflooring.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links