Autumn Fair exhibitors raise concerns over Connect scheme

Published on: 7th September 2023

A team from the show organiser met with disgruntled exhibitors to discuss their grievances over the newly-implemented Connect meeting platform on the last day of the show.

Daniel Ward, head of Sales at Autumn Fair exhibitor Craft Buddy, shared this photo of the gathered crowds on LinkedIn earlier this week

The last day of Autumn Fair witnessed truly extraordinary scenes, as a group of around 200 disgruntled exhibitors gathered at the entrance to Hall 20 to protest at several bones of contention, principally the newly-introduced Connect meeting platform.

Connect was announced with a fanfare earlier this year, and the Autumn Fair was the first event at which the system went live. Unfortunately, numerous exhibitors were not happy with the results: one company from the Kids’ & Play sector of the show contacted Toy World earlier this week to complain that not one of the eight appointments which had been set up over the first two days of the show via Connect had showed up for their meeting.

Exhibitors seem particularly unimpressed with the fact that the Connect scheme is mandatory for all exhibitors, and there is no option to opt out. Some exhibitors also complained about the cost of the scheme, which they felt did not offer value for money.

The situation was apparently compounded when exhibitors received an email the day before the show opened, advising them of stand price increases for next year of up to 9%, and warning them that if they didn’t immediately rebook their stand, they could be at risk of losing their current location. Although this is a strategy which has been previously used by the Spring and Autumn Fair organisers, it appears that on this occasion, the combination of a robust sales approach and the disappointment over the implementation of Connect became the straws which finally broke the camel’s back.

After a few days of exhibitors discussing the situation amongst themselves, a large group congregated at the entrance to Hall 20 before the show opened on Wednesday to make their feelings known. To their credit, The Hyve Group management team responded quickly, setting up an impromptu meeting with around 20 exhibitors (although I gather no toy companies were present at the meeting).

Toy World also understands that the meeting involved senior management of the show, rather than just the sales team. After the meeting, an email was sent to all exhibitors which indicates that the show organisers received the message loud and clear that there are widespread concerns about Connect, and that they would be pausing to reflect on how to operate the scheme moving forward.

Nicola Meadows

Nicola Meadows, divisional managing director of The Hyve Group commented: “I really appreciated speaking to the group of exhibitors this morning who shared their thoughts and feelings about the onsite experience, the delivery and outcomes of Connect and the general feel across the show floor.

“We have listened and were able to have a constructive conversation and would like to reassure all our exhibitors that while we evaluate the overall show, gain further feedback and follow up with each of them, their location and rates will not change. In the meantime, we will not be increasing rates and the onsite offer will be frozen for the next 28 days.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all our exhibitors for persevering with us and continuing to provide feedback. We know how important these shows are to the industry and want to continue to listen to feedback and experiences to make the show the best it can be going forward.”


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