As the Game Fair prepares to celebrate six successful decades, MD James Gower speak to Gun Trade News to share a preview on the future of the event…

BRITAIN HAS COME A LONG WAY IN THE PAST 60 YEARS.The nation had yet to be introduced to Paddington Bear; let alone be subjected to two movies featuring the Peruvian marmalade lover. The M1 had yet to replace 200 miles of B-roads between London and Leeds. Britain was also in the midst of the infamous Cod War; a reminder than the nation was being embarrassed by the Icelanders long before Euro 2016.

The Game Fair debuted in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire in the same year, 1958. Having toured the country it is now enjoying a mini- renaissance under the guidance of James Gower and his team. Preparations are under way at Warwickshire’s Ragley Hall for this year’s event between 27-29 July – the second time the show has been hosted at the stately home under the current management.

“We’re delighted to be back,” says James, the Game Fair’s managing director. “We are much more prepared and have focused a lot on the infrastructure of the event, improved wi-fi, and added plumbing and electrics.

“This is like a blank canvas. There will be a lot of British institutions, and we have the opportunity to make things fresh and modern. One focus will be our 60th anniversary, so we will are building a museum and have arranged two evening concerts with Ronnie Scott, who themselves were formed just a few months after the first Game Fair.”

Backed by big business, such as Barbour, the events often draw in retailers and distributors, creating a foundation of support and reception for visitors. A competition is being held for guests to explore long-forgotten wardrobes to find their oldest Barbour clothing. “Its great for the retailers and guests to be involved with Barbour on a face-to-face basis,” adds James.

The very first Game Fair, back in 1958, was filmed by Pathe news. Of course, it’s not exactly the same event today – it’s always branching out to meet new markets. Working with a cross- section of industry associations, the event is intent on building relationships and recruiting ambassadors. The show has amassed 150 new exhibitors since the 2016 Ragley rendition, now up to around 800 in total.

“The footprint of the fair hasn’t changed though, so there won’t be any gaps. Everywhere will be full and vibrant – the atmosphere will be great,” says James. “To demonstrate our confidence, we have doubled the size of the restaurant and got a brilliant ambassador for game in James Martin. He’s always so positive and is already taking expressions of interest.”

In addition to the 60th celebrations, the Game Fair are putting on gold and platinum packages for guests. It’s a scheme that is on track to book up completely, and just one of the many partnerships the fair have been building up over the past few months.

“The partnerships are key. We have teamed up with OmniCapital to provide ‘beginners bundles’ for shotguns and airguns; this includes the purchase, training lessons, and magazine subscriptions. This helps put new recruits on a path where they are introduced responsibly with the correct safety gear and tuition.

“We are expecting around 120,000 guests including newcomers, but we make sure that the event is not intimidating. We keep things relaxed and engaging, its pretty unique and I’m pleased to be a part of it. On Saturday afternoon – at around 3pm – we are expecting a landmark moment: our five millionth guest!”

2017’s event employed nearly 4000 people to get the show up and running – that’s nearly as many people as attended the very first Game Fair in 1958. James points out the progress that has been made: “Looking at the film from 1958 you’ll see that health and safety simply didn’t exist. There were people taking shots over people’s heads.

“From our perspective the show has grown up. Thats not to say that there’s a boring obsession with red tape, but now it looks the part and is accessible for everyone. The community is much bigger now than it used to be because it has been made more visible with a high-profile and mature approach.”

Working with thousands of organisations to complete the logistics, behind the scenes

efforts are massive, but often overlooked. James is still asked how he fills his ‘downtime’ after shows are successfully delivered: “They don’t understand the logistics are vast! For example, the preparations for a single dish can include the transport of Alaskan salmon, having fridges delivered on time, and having generators and fuel to run them. This is just one of thousands of planning considerations! Last year I started writing a list of people to thank – I gave up because the list is endless.”

However, as history has shown us, an event can quickly lose its unique appeal; without this it can struggle and may even disappear completely. James – a veteran with 30 years’ experience in the market – knows the key to success in remaining relevant.

“It’simportantthatthefairstaysinthespotlight. That’s why we run the debating seminars and the cookery theatre. People sometimes question why they’re there but it’s important to talk about game, and how it enters the supply line in a sustainable and responsible manner.

“It can be difficult to bring character to an exhibition hall. Of course there is a place for indoor shows – the British Shooting Show which is great for enthusiasts, and where else are you going to hold an event in February!

“We aren’t trying to compete with other shows. We have our own audience and amazing settings. We provide relevance, experience, advice and are welcoming to all. Our aim is to reflect what the industry is, and what it wants. The beauty of the gun trade is that the traders are not simply salesmen – they are enthusiasts who have probably been in the industry for years. Sometimes having a hand to hold is important to help people take the next step.”

With a contract in place to do one more show at Ragley and two more at Hatfield, the Game Fair can continue alternating between the two

until 2021. But James also wants to ensure that neither location is exclusive. “They both have very unique aspects; the proximity of Hatfield to London encourages more newcomers and the spend-per-head is the highest it’s ever been. £75 million was spent there last year.

“On the other hand, Ragley is a classic English estate. It’s in the English heartland; quintessentially British. It’s a classic, so we have all bases covered. We are open to adding more venues – there’s a demand from the borders and the north. It’s part of the strategy to share and bring new people in.

“In terms of educating the public, a lot of people in Hatfield don’t even know that Hatfield House exists; there’s 10,000 acres just hidden away. Lord Salisbury – a chancellor for the University of Hertfordshire – is also pushing to introduce the game trade to the university syllabus and bridge the gap between countryside and city; this would be a great step for the industry.”

Despite an encouraging emphasis on attracting newcomers to engage with the industry, there is also a movement to rekindle former friendships; Daystate are among the trades big hitters returning to exhibit. Hopes are high that the attendance record will be smashed by Sunday. Standing apart from other shows, the game fair offers free parking and free entry for under-8s. But as well as catering for visitors, James also knows the importance of drawing exhibitors.

“We encourage a lot of B2B trade. So we have made it cheaper to exhibit than before and cheaper overall, this is so people aren’t alienated. This is all possible thanks to the team of brilliant people who are committed to delivering an excellent 60th anniversary, lining up the 2019 Fair and preparing for the next 60 years.” GTN


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