I am old enough to remember both the Royal Show and Smithfield Show in their pomp – and very fond memories they are, too.
I also remember their years of decline. These once-fine shows lost touch with their market like a DVD salesman trying to compete with Netflix.
Poor diary management on my behalf meant I was unable to make this year’s Cereals. It prompted me to ask myself a number of questions about the event.
By not attending would I miss out on vital knowledge or could I access that knowledge elsewhere? Is it relevant to my business or just a generic gathering? Will it influence decisions in the coming year?
Is it a valuable networking event or a chance to catch up with industry muckers (the distinction between “networking event” and “jolly” is carefully scrutinised in my house).
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I also asked these questions of a number of friends and colleagues who attended. Nearly all agreed it was a good event. It was well managed and orchestrated, well attended and a good day out. But is that enough?
In general feedback terms “well managed and orchestrated” is what you want to hear. It means there were no car parking issues and the loos were pretty clean.
“Well attended” in Cereals parlance usually reflects inclement overhead conditions. It means farmers can turn up because they are not busy spraying.
And “a good day out” would suggest a free entrance ticket, a good collection of freebies and a decent bacon roll from the accountant at lunchtime.
What I didn’t hear…
What I didn’t hear, however, were comments such as thought provoking, challenging or eye-opening.
This would have been the feedback that would make me feel as though I was missing something.
When the Royal Show was in decline, most said that it was suffering from too broad an offering – trying to be all things to all farmers, across all sectors, and not a specialist in any of them.
Has our world become so fast, connected and digitally plugged-in that people no longer attend Cereals expecting to find out something new? They attend to compare and contrast. To see in the flesh what they have already read or viewed online. And, of course, to socialise.
Rarely are there such things as an exclusive or a never-seen-before that draws people to event such as Cereals.
In the retail world, people’s habits are such that they will often view new designs in shops and buy online. In the arable world, we view online, touch and kick at Cereals and cogitate in the car on the way home.
The event doesn’t need to promote seismic change as long as everyone who attends is happy. But are they?
For many exhibitors and visitors, the benefits of Cereals are slightly intangible. So the organiser, Haymarket, needs to be very aware of its pricing. In my micro-survey, all commented that they thought it too dear.
If the cost of having a stand deters exhibitors from attending, the competitive disadvantage of not being on display will quickly disappear and others will follow.
Similarly, the event must be affordable for everyone involved in the arable sector, from students to chief execs.
If it loses its “must-attend” status as the marquee event in the arable farming calendar, the business model collapses. Exhibitors and punters depend on one another. If one stops going, the other will follow.
It would be a travesty if Cereals went the way of the Royal Show and Smithfield. Priced correctly, I am sure it has a bright future.