COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the events industry. But it also gave some organisers an opportunity to pause and look at their business. Read on, as James Gower, managing director of The Game Fair, reveals all…
“I have been working in the events industry for 30 years and have experienced some tough times but nothing like this,” says James Gower, managing director of The Game Fair, the annual outdoor event that celebrates the countryside. “We left our offices in February last year to give working from home a trial run, but we never returned.”
Gower is talking to Stand Out about all things Game Fair, including the last 12 months in business. Whilst hard and heartbreaking, the pandemic presented Gower with an opportunity to make some changes.
Now, The Game Fair is based in shiny new offices, which are in fact an old stable block, in Hertford’s Panshanger Park, and the organising team are back at their desks, planning for The Game Fair 2021.
“The workload is suddenly dramatic,” Gower continues. Not least because Gower has just purchased a new show – the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Scottish Game Fair.
“After 37 years of running the event, the trust did not want to take the risk of running the event,” Gower adds. “I was worried that if they didn’t run it then someone else would, so we have taken it on permanently.”
According to Gower, event businesses have either taken advantage of COVID and grown through acquisition, have sat tight and mothballed or have disappeared altogether. The Game Fair paused but it “never stopped”, he says.
In fact, Gower explains that COVID-19 was a moment to pause and analyse the business. What changes could be made and what needed to be done? “If it wasn’t for COVID, it was something that we would never have done because we wouldn’t have had the time.
“In 2020, I restructured, invested in technology, accelerated our website, moved offices and brought in a new board of directors. Richard Hease has joined us as chairman and Future’s Jonny Sullens sits on the board too. Plus, we have taken advantage of the Government’s Kickstarter scheme and we have employed two new event assistants.”
He continues: “We’re starting the season from a good position. When we announced in 2020 that The Game Fair 2020 would not be taking place, most of exhibitors rolled over their bookings and when the reopening roadmap was announced in February, we got more calls. Now we’re on track to deliver our event at Ragley Hall in July.”
However, Gower says that not all organisers are as optimistic as he is. As many – particularly county shows and associations – appear more cautious. Their nervousness does not help the wider industry, Gower states.
He explains: “If a county show says that it is not running, exhibitors think it’s because they are not allowed to. It spooks them. So that’s a PR exercise that we have to deal with on a regular basis. It doesn’t do the industry any favours. Except we’re picking up new exhibitors because of it.”
Gower and his team are currently assessing management plans and site designs to ensure that visitors, exhibitors and staff feel safe on site. The event site is being made 10-15 per cent larger and Gower is also having to assess his supply chain and source new suppliers, as some have committed to work in new sectors.
He continues: “The pandemic gave me an opportunity to expand. As organisers, we roll from one year to the next. COVID forced me to have time off and to look and so I must remember that what I now have is a good result, it’s a good outcome.
“The last year has also shown me how deep I can dig. I have more resolve than I thought. My business partners decided they wanted to run a different course, so I restructured. The business is now more agile.
“Now I am simply looking forward to opening my shows and working with my team.”
The Game Fair will take place at Ragley Hall from July 23-25 and the Scottish Game Fair will run from September 24-26 at Scone Palace.
Images: The Game Fair/Tweed Media/George Gunn