Spring Fair 2014 Review

A chilly February morning found myself and Sam at Ipswich station, drinking coffee and discussing Sam’s current heavy cold which was in full swing and had her relying on cold medicine to get through the long day ahead of us. As you can imagine, as her little brother I was full of sympathy and in no way trying to sit a little further away to limit my chances of catching it.

Our long day began with a four-hour train journey to Birmingham which was surprisingly affordable (we booked well in advance) and disruption-free. We were heading to the NEC for Spring Fair 2014, “Europe’s definitive retail exhibition”. This is an event for businesses, so not everyone can attend, but with 70,000 people visiting over six days, there are a huge range of attendees from large companies, small businesses and unique organisations like Echoleft.

Sam Parnell and Max Shelley on the train.

Our intrepid adventurers, Sam & Max on the train to Birmingham for Spring Fair 2014.

I’ve already written a little about why we were attending, and we spent the journey talking about what we’ve spoken to people about, the types of things they are looking for and the types of companies that we would seek out.

My first tip if you’re attending next year: plan in advance. It’s so huge, and there are so many people to talk to that you could lose yourself in each hall for hours. Make a list of who you want to meet in advance and try and reach out to them. I found the mobile app really useful, much better than I was expecting.

You walk straight off the train and into the show. Your pass gets printed off by a very helpful team of people brandishing barcode scanners at anyone who looks a little lost and then you’re free to wander the halls, getting scanned at every entrance. Presumably the constant scanning is in case you get lost amongst the greeting card aisles and they need to send a rescue team to come and find you.

Make sure you take plenty of business cards, they’re essentially a new currency at events like this. Although despite this observation you still need to pay cash for lunch, no matter how many business cards you try and give to the lady behind the till at the pizza restaurant.

The exhibitors were great. Everyone was lovely, as people tend to be when they’re trying to sell you things, but beyond that there was a real sense that people cared about the things they were producing. Sam and I deliberately sought out smaller, independent individuals and teams and they were a joy to talk to, telling us all about their processes, the products and their customers.

Everyone was intrigued with Echoleft, I don’t think there were many people talking about end-of-life planning at Spring Fair. Those that didn’t already make memorial products were really interested to see how they could get involved to create something enduring for bereaved people.

I’ll be putting together some posts about some specific companies that we met that could be really useful for people, in the meantime if you are interested in finding unique memorial gifts then get in touch and we’ll try and connect you with them.

After 5 hours, we were ready to make the long journey home. Sam’s cold medicine was wearing off and an impending tube strike meant making a short unscheduled walk around central London but we were buzzing from all the ideas we’d seen. We can’t wait to share them with you.