Game Fair 2017. Hatfield House. MD of Gamefair James Gower.

Ahead of the Game Fair’s first day tomorrow, the event’s MD, James Gower, outlines his vision for the festival of the Great British countryside

With over 60 years of experience it is no wonder that the Game Fair is described as ‘Glastonbury for the Green Welly brigade’. Ahead of the three-day event, the organisers continue to attract exhibitors, with over 1,000 traders set to decamp to Hatfield House on 26-28 July. 

History is one thing, but what we want to know is how the fair moves with the times. Following the 60th anniversary celebrations at Ragley Hall last year, and the Hatfield House show in 2017, managing director James Gower has spotted an evolution in the event. 

“We learned how powerful the venue can be due to its location and proximity to vast areas of population and amazing transport links. Hatfield House truly is ‘Where Town Meets Country’, which is the strapline of Lord and Lady Salisbury’s unique estate.

“The impact of this is almost organic and the reason why influential brands and businesses such as Hunter, Aga, Bentley, Le Chameau, Land Rover and top gunmakers including Rigby and Boss & Co have chosen to invest in the event again alongside 150 new exhibitors,” he explains.

In the show’s second outing at Hatfield House, James assures guests that everything people know and love about the Game Fair will remain in place. However, notable additions will include the world’s largest show garden and a beefed-up range of attractions geared towards shooters. 

“We are adding a night vision tunnel and observation platform for optics testing and consumer handling. Also, we are delighted to be installing the George Digweed-designed clay shooting line, in a new location alongside Gunmakers’ Row. And back by popular demand are chef James Martin, gundogs, the UK’s largest falconry show, sponsored again by Katara, S’Hail from Qatar, and 1,000 exhibitors.”

Balance its core audience of field sports enthusiasts and the family crowd is what some view as The Game Fair’s biggest challenge. James explains he sees it as more of an advantage for the shooting sports: “The one thing common throughout our audience is their universal passion for the countryside.

“Diversity within that is the event’s strength and commercially very important. For example, whilst we have over 70,000 shooting enthusiasts, we also have an additional 50,000 people that we can introduce to shooting – a core audience and a potential one.

“In that respect we are very similar to events like Goodwood and RHS Hampton Court, which have a core audience but play a vital role in attracting new people. There are a large number of quality and important regional events but they tend to cater to a solely enthusiast audience. 

“Clearly, The Game Fair attracts huge numbers of enthusiasts and trade visitors too, but crucially we attract newcomers and our broad appeal spreads in to mainstream media so we are able to share and educate with important messages from the sector, industry and community.”

Creating an interesting and diverse environment is key for increasing exhibitor numbers, especially with those outside of the shooting community. The Game Fair has regularly secured 1,000 exhibitors and 120,000 visitors over the last few years and remains on course to grow in 2019. 

“I’m confident that we will achieve more than 120,000 visitors this year,” says James, “especially with BASC enabling members to have complimentary access. With major brands from across the globe lining up as sponsors, our unique event maintains its market-leading position as the biggest and best festival of its kind anywhere in the world. Above all, it must be relevant, and it must be good quality.

“It is important to listen to customers, but there is also a momentum that is garnering interest. The feedback we receive from exhibitors indicates that The Game Fair is a great place to generate leads. Our visitors relish the opportunity to browse and sample what is on offer from different retailers all in one place. They often make their mind up to do business in the days and weeks that follow.” 

As the marketplace continues to change, the Game Fair has had to adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the consumer, and James believes that the show is perfectly placed to meet the needs of the trade. He explains: “The Game Fair is the biggest event in the calendar for manufacturers and retailers in the shooting sports sector, so it is of course the perfect platform to market and launch products and services. 

“But it’s about more than that. It’s an opportunity to build a brand through relationships – by liaising face-to-face with existing customers and supporting the industry as a whole. You can’t put a price on all of these benefits.

What about the influence of the internet, ostensibly making it harder than ever to find bargains at game fairs? James argues that the internet era has benefitted the events industry. “There are more festivals than ever,” he says.

“The internet allows communities to come together online but events are vital for face-to-face socialising. The internet is also a great marketing tool. The Game Fair is vital for showing your products, and visitors still fill their boots. It allows them to touch, feel and experience products.”

However running a commercially successful show in such an increasingly competitive environment is not without its challenges, as James admits: “The business model for national events has changed beyond recognition. There have been a few casualties for those failing to modernise. Revenues from tickets, stand sales and sponsorship are important, but data and a 365-day presence of an event brand now plays an important part. 

“The Game Fair has international interests as well now. We have reached out to form various small collaborations in Europe including joint ventures at IWA Nuremberg.” 

Other events include S’Hail, a hunting and falconry expo to be held in Doha, and sponsoring the Falconry Village at this years Game Fair. While the organisers continue to explore options as far afield as Qatar, back in the UK they are building on the current successes at their two venues, Ragley Hall and Hatfield House. 

“Our strategy has been to consolidate the event in two venues for the time being. Part of modernisation has been the installation of infrastructure including fibre optics for Wi-Fi and communications, electrics and plumbing. Businesses serious about trading at The Game Fair cannot do without these facilities.

“Having said that, The Game Fair’s board is now looking at longer term objectives including additional venues. We will all need to innovate and respond to legislative and market demands to ensure we are around for another 60 years. That’s my job.”

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