The inaugural National Running Show took place at the NEC last month and I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of the things that we have learned from the event. In this article I’ll be talking about why we launched the show, what we did (the good and the bad) and how we did it. My aim is to give you some insight into how large-scale exhibitions work that will then enable you to make better informed decisions about the events that you attend or organise.
Why Launch a Show Just About Running?
Running is a hot market right now and if you look at the Sport England 28-day participation reports, running is always towards the top. The emergence of free-toattend providers such as Parkrun, combined with the increasing popularity of large scale running events and the mainstream emergence of OCR and Ultra races means we are rapidly becoming a nation of runners. Most people have access to a safe place to run and the financial barriers to entry are comparatively low to other sports. This means we are potentially just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of current participation stats and I believe that the running market will continue to grow exponentially over the next few years.
However, conventional wisdom dictates that runners don’t spend much on equipment, because they simply don’t need it. There was a feeling amongst many in the industry that runners wouldn’t attend an exhibition and that they wouldn’t spend the money required to cover participation costs (given the low margins in some areas of our industry.) As a runner myself I knew this was wrong – I spend a fortune on equipment and am always buying new gadgets and kit, much to my wife’s disdain. I was desperate to attend an event about running and I knew that my running friends were too.
I should also mention at this point that I’ve organised hundreds of exhibitions and conferences and having been working in the events industry for over 15 years both my personal and professional interests had been piqued! I quickly evaluated the other events in this market and decided I was going to launch my own version and that it would be different in the following ways:
1) Focussed on Running – a narrowcast event rather than a multi-sports show where running is the poor relation stuck in the corner
2) Held in January – the right time of year for runners to plan, adopt brands and try new things
3) Large Scale Event – we needed volume of both attendees and products to make the event work, we needed celebrity speakers, at least ten thousand visitors and a large, accessible venue
4) Community Lead – enabling and engaging the community rather than selling to them – offering them inspiration and advice to accompany the usual kit, technology, nutrition and races
5) No Association with a Race – avoiding the nervousness that can accompany visitors to pre-race expos and prevent them buying or trying products
6) Make it cool – provide fun things to do, access to celebrities and give visitors genuine value for money
So, with the plan fully formed, I left my well paid corporate job at one of the biggest events organisers in the world and with the support of my business partners Darren Pinder and Rebecca Richardson (also the founder of Breathe Unity PR) we decided to make it happen.
What We did
The show itself took place on 20 & 21 January at the NEC (the UK’s largest exhibition venue) and was sold out with over 120 stands in a packed hall at the NEC. Over 23,000 people registered for tickets but there was no guarantee that they’d show up, especially with snow forecast on day two (normally that reduces attendance by about 20 per cent.) Generally, (for a consumer show) you can expect 40 per cent -50 per cent of your registrations to attend on the day but there are a number of variables that can affect this (price paid, when they booked etc.)
The actual attendance was 12,451 over the two days which was a 54 per cent conversion rate and significantly more than we’d hoped for. The audience were serious runners (52 per cent attending more than five organised races each year) and were willing to spend big money (visitor average trainer spend of £50-£100 was 59 per cent and £100- £200 was 31 per cent.)
This was incredible but did mean that the show was a little bit too busy at points and we even had to go to ‘one-in, one-out’ for about 30 minutes on day one for visitor safety. It also meant that some of the features were oversubscribed and several of our exhibitors ran out of stock on day one (the poor flapjack man drove all the way to Devon to bake more stock through the night and still ran out again on day two!) As problems go, this was a nice one to have but something that we need to address for next year.
How We Did It
Without revealing too many of our secrets, here are some of the things that we did that you might be able to apply to your own events:
Engaged the community – we had almost 100 brand ambassadors around the country promoting the show. We engaged with races and community groups such as Run Mummy Run and UKRunChat. Unusually for a live event, 47 per cent of our audience heard of us through social media and over show weekend we had a reach of over ten million on Twitter alone. We also attended several races with our exhibition stand.
Worked closely with our exhibitors to showcase the latest products and innovations. A number of products, events and books were also launched at the show. This wasn’t and never will be a discount show, it is a showcase for all to be proud of. We supported this with regular and consistent PR and promotion of happenings at the show.
Offered extra things to do – run clinics, physio assessments, Saucony’s Treadmill Challenge, free Gait Anlaysis and lots more – all free to visitors.
Contained and managed the visitor flow by distributing features evenly throughout the hall and ensuring sufficient catering was inside the room.
Added the wow factor – speakers such as Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey, Sean Conway and Ben Smith were available both on stage and in our meet and greet area – the aim was to create an experience that left the visitor feeling they had experienced more than just a place to buy things.
Hopefully these are things you can take back into your own events, but I am limited by word count so please do contact me if you’d like to chat about these in more depth.
Clearly, we need to grow the show – the audience and exhibitor demand vastly exceeds what we were able to deliver in year one. Here are a few of the cool things we have planned:
- Doubled the floor-space to allow more room for visitors
- Grow attendance to 20,000 (registration target is 40,000)
- More big-name speakers (Paula Radcliffe and Vassos Alexander already confirmed)
- More partnerships with big running brands – some big announcements coming soon!
- More features and more capacity for popular activities such as gait analysis
- Trade day added on 18th January – find out more at www.nationalrunningconference.co.uk
- This is just the start for us and there is so much more to come – innovate or die as they say!
The National Running Show 2019 will take place on 19th & 20th January at the NEC and we hope that we see you there!