Exhibition News February 2019 - Page 30

FEATURE 30 “He didn’t know that my family connection was exhibitions, so we had a lot to talk about. Here was I at a German exhibition contractor’s company understanding everything that he was doing because I was familiar with it back home in England,” he continues. “We’re talking 1968, and the Germans still very much remembered the war, but we got on very well. We didn’t dwell on the past, we just liked each other. “We talked about the way stands were built in the old days, with stock panels, wallpaper and paint and how laborious it was, how it took ages to do and how there must be a better way. We developed with others an aluminium system, the first aluminium system designed to build exhibition stands, and it was launched to the press on 6 December 1968.” The system, which was reusable and easily recyclable, became the first system used at the NEC and ExCeL London, and enabled organisers to rapidly reduce build-up and breakdown times. “There’s still nothing better or quicker,” adds Armitage. “We got rid of a whole trade in the industry – painters and decorators. We cut tenancy times enormously and reduced the cost of shell scheme. The price that it is today is a fraction of what it was. Venues have done very well out of it because they have more shows and organisers have shorter tenancies and shorter builds.” Armitage was present in South Africa to celebrate the 50th birthday of Octanorm at the Octanorm Service Partner International event in December 2018. A changing industry Throughout the course of Armitage’s 50-plus years working in exhibitions, innovations like inkjet printing, changes in badging and registration and an increased focus on sustainability and health & safety have all made their mark on the industry. One of the most noticeable changes has been the evolution of the industry’s associations, a change Armitage doesn’t see as a wholly positive one. His grandfathers were actively involved in the formation of the National Association of Exhibition Contractors, which subsequently became BECA (the British Exhibition Contractors’ Association). Nowadays the three exhibition industry associations – ESSA, the AEV and the AEO – February 2019 | exhibitionnews.co.uk share an office and often work cooperatively on various industry projects and working groups, which is where Armitage believes the issue lies. “It’s vital to have an association, but they should be independent. I don’t think the poacher should be in cahoots with the gamekeeper,” he explains. “They have different priorities, although they rely on each other. Venues don’t like organisers; I know they are their lifeblood and their customers, but organisers are trying to screw down on tenancy costs, they’re trying to nick days when they can for nothing and they’re trying to get exclusivity. It’s a battle of wits between the hall owner and the organiser. And all of this with the contractor at the end of the food chain picking up the scraps. “I don’t think they should be in the same club. But one should never forget the exhibitor and the visitor, without them we are lost. It’s five-legged stool.” EN