With the British Shooting Show growing each year, it seems John Allison has a knack for turning his ambitions into reality. GTN gets the lowdown on trade, transport and the NEC
Tell us about yourself. How did you come to be in the event business?
The rich history of British country sports and country life has always fascinated me and was a big part of my childhood. As I grew up I found myself regularly attending game fairs up and down the country. I then formed a media company, FRL Media, promoting companies and products within the shooting industry. That led to me meeting John and Annie Bertrand at the British Shooting Show in Newark. We got on very well and shared lots of ideas and plans on how to develop the show. We decided to move the show from Newark to Stoneleigh, a major step that really increased the show’s profile. John Bertrand sold the show to me before he sadly passed away in 2014. The show continued to grow at Stoneleigh but if growth was to continue it became clear it would have to move to a larger venue. The NEC was the right place, providing a true international setting for our international brands while elevating our industry’s profile.
As well as the British Shooting Show you also own the War & Peace Revival Show. How do you juggle the two shows, and what do you enjoy about them?
I have always had a passion for country sports, military vehicles and history, so the subject matters of both shows are very much close to my heart. On the face of it the shows appear very different but there is a surprising overlap of exhibitors and visitors. The timing of the British Shooting Show in February and The War and Peace Revival in July gives us plenty of time to focus our attention on each show. To see both shows work incredibly well for the exhibitors in terms of trade and provide visitors with a thoroughly enjoyable experience gives me and my team a tremendous amount of satisfaction.
The British Shooting Show is now entering its tenth year. What are the strengths that have made it a success?
I believe the success of the show is down to the staff’s honesty and work ethic; it’s run by shooters for the shooting industry. The year-on-year increase in visitors and exhibitors is a testament to the BSS staff’s hard work throughout the year. We do everything possible to make it a success for exhibitors, encouraging retail trade by promoting their company and products on our websites and social media platform, absolutely free. We also make every effort to ensure that exhibitors are selling products or services that are shooting-related, which is a key way that the BSS differs from some outdoor events. That is by no means disrespecting game fairs, but the BSS must retain its integrity in delivering a ‘pure shooting’ show and not dilute its content with non-shooting products. That’s why people visit the BSS – they come to buy.
What have you changed since you took the show over in 2014? What were the biggest challenges and what’s your proudest achievement?
We’ve brought a new dynamic to the shooting industry with a British Shooting Show that truly is both trade and retail. Old school trade may well hold their hands up in horror: “Trade and then public – how will that work?” Well, the BSS has proven it works. It understands what the public really want, to gain ‘The Knowledge’ by talking directly to the manufacturers and distributors, and it delivers. It’s an opportunity for manufacturers and distributors to pass their product knowledge directly to the public, before forwarding them to a retail exhibitor to make a buy.
The British Shooting Show also has an increasingly global appeal. How important is the international dimension to the show?
Internationally the BSS is set to grow. The NEC, being served by Birmingham Airport, railway links and located on the UK’s motorway network, is a very easy venue to get to from all parts of the UK and abroad. Having international exhibitors will bring more international visitors and more attention from countries outside the UK, increasing the potential for global trading opportunities.
What would you say are the main functions of the British Shooting Show?
The British Shooting Show is primarily a trade and retail show. In a nutshell our aim is to provide the best possible platform for bringing together the shooting industry and the great shooting community. This promotes business networking and sales within the industry, as well as giving thousands upon thousands of visitors an unrivalled retail experience on an international scale. For the shooting industry the British Shooting Show is Europe’s largest public ‘shop window’. Where else can you see the industry’s leading and best manufacturers, distributors and retailers?
From 2018 the venue for the British Shooting Show will be the NEC, Birmingham. What were the reasons for the change in venue?
The BSS is now in its tenth successful year, and this success is no accident. The show has always been driven by the needs of the shooting industry and the shooting community. Each year the organising team meticulously analyses the feedback from the show to ensure the success of the next one. After the 2017 show at Stoneleigh Park, there seemed to be an overwhelming realisation that the show would have to move to a larger venue if it was to continue to flourish. The NEC was felt to be the ideal venue for several reasons. The larger halls, finished to the same high standard throughout the exhibition area, will give all exhibitors a level playing field; the location gives unprecedented access from the far reaches of the UK, Europe and further afield.
In changing the venue we were determined that there should be no extra cost to exhibitors or visitors, so very early on it was established that there would be no increase in prices for trade stands or visitor tickets. We’ve also pre-paying parking fees to ensure car parking remains free on the day. To ensure that set-up and takedown runs as smooth as possible the movement, the BSS’s own team will be directing the unloading and loading of stock from exhibitor vehicles.
There’s been talk of a trade-only area at this year’s show. Can you tell us some more about what you’re planning?
We’ve decided against having a trade-only area. There were some enquiries about it, so when we were doing the initial drawings there was a small area for trade stands only, but it turned out that in practice no-one wanted to be there. Things have moved on since we first introduced a mixed trade and retail show. Now, most manufacturers and distributors want to be at the coal face, so to speak, having direct contact with the public, educating them about the product ranges on offer and directing them to the relevant retail outlets.
Trade visitors will still be able to see the latest products first-hand, directly from the manufacturers and distributors. Trade personal identifications will ensure manufactures and distributors can focus on trade-to-trade business while other staff members deal with public enquires. We have proved the concept works; this year we have over 160 trade accounts attending out of the 600 exhibitors.
What’s new for the 2018 show?
The British Shooting Show has never rested on its laurels and will always bring new elements into the mix each year. We’re currently working to accentuate the international feel of the show, mirroring a similar impact felt when attending shows like SHOT Show in the USA or IWA in Germany. You will need to attend to appreciate just how much effort has gone our NEC debut. We’re committed to bringing the ‘wow’ factor to the shooting and countryside fraternity. See you there.