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May 2, 2008
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Chequemate! Marshall Plan a masterstroke as UK contractor enters global era




Early last week, the NEC Group confirmed its deal to bring in joint venture partners, GL Events (out of eurogiant contractor General Location). This is part of the revised service offering from the UK’s largest exhibition and conference facilities provider reported by EVENTS:review last week. And on Friday Nick Marshall, chief executive of Melville Event and Exhibition Services, delivered his own big news with confirmation that the UK contractor (including its data services arm, CTS) has been acquired by American giant GES for an undisclosed sum.

“This is good news for our customers, good news for Melville and good news for GES,” Marshall told Events Review. “Our customers, be they organisers, venues or exhibitors, will benefit from GES and Melville best practice, from future investment in technology, from an even better service, and an enhanced customer experience.”

Nick Marshall, chief executive, Melville Events and Exhibition Services


Suffering through oversupply
‘UK contracting’, the within-industry term for services provision, has been under pressure for over a decade as the UK exhibitions industry itself has matured. For example, shell scheme (the walling that forms your organiser-provided stand) was available to exhibition organisers in the mid-1980s for £25 a metre. Now it is available for as little as £10 a metre. The same erosion of value and return on substantial investment applies to all the other essential contracting elements, including floor coverings, furniture hire, electrical services and, to a lesser degree, registration and data services.

The reason is simply the classic ‘oversupply in a consolidating market’ scenario. As a result, for the last decade the largest UK contractors, such as Melville, Opex, Stanco and Early Action Group (EAG), have been forced into cutting each other’s commercial throats, while exhibition organisers have milked the commoditisation of the services provided by them in an effort to sustain growth and/or prop up pressured margins.

However, contractors and venues have shareholders too, and pressure is being applied to the respective boards thereof, resulting in a flurry of moves across the exhibition industry floor as grandmasters, including Melville’s Marshall and Thandi, chief executive of the NEC Group, vie for position both within their established fields of supply and beyond.

The introduction of GL by the NEC reinforces the group’s intention to lead industry growth, if it has to, via vertically integrated services and the establishing of new services and businesses not least through the ‘Corporate Playground’. The ‘Marshall Plan’, meanwhile, takes Melville into a global era of traditional services supply (from the west coast of the US to Abu Dhabi) with ample financial resource to gear up in the value-added data, content and experiential sectors.

The next move
Quite where that leaves the smaller UK contractors – Opex, Stanco and EAG – depends very much on whether they seize the opportunity to deliver value-added services to the organising, venue and exhibiting communities they serve, or succumb to the banks as a result of oversupply in the commodities they provide, or simply they accept invitations to join the global playground.

The next move on the board, for example, could see GL making a play for Opex, which would provide a platform to reach the London market in addition to its recent install in Birmingham (albeit, and maybe because, the joint venture with the NEC is currently limited to ‘value-added’ services, such as bespoke shell scheme and exhibitor management solutions).

Leon Clifford, managing director, Melville Events and Exhibition Services

 

Meanwhile, access to the GES coffers will excite new Melville managing director Leon Clifford. A shrewd operator and formerly at Reed Business Information (RBI), he is no fool when it comes to realising the potential that such investment can bring to Melville's data services arm, CTS, run by David Edwards. With investment no longer the barrier, Melville and CTS’s ability to deliver the combined digital and experiential marketing services on behalf of the media owner and the corporate marketing sectors won’t be far from their agenda.

What’s more, Edwards will be able to offer new digital services to existing CTS customers and also to a newfound global market. It is not difficult to see how such an approach would put clear water between Melville and CTS and their competitors, while also bringing joined-up value to the media owners. They, too, have huge ambitions, particularly in wanting to add digital channels to market for their customers, and Melville and CTS will be well placed to provide both the experiential and online glue that sticks the communities and events together, 24/7.

For Opex, Stanco, and EAG, this will be a week of much chin-stroking. As media owners accept the financial limitations of the traditional exhibition business model and get to grips with the potential to exploit its brand and community assets beyond the confines of the exhibition halls, so the contracting businesses will need to be on hand to deliver a more intelligent and creative set of solutions.

The Marshall Plan has secured Melville’s position on the global board of play – the others will have to wait. And one thing’s certain – it’s unlikely that GES and GL would be pumping cash into UK events contracting if there wasn’t money to be made…

 

To see the recent interview with Leon Clifford on the changing patterns of visitor behaviour, click on the CTS logo in the scrolling bar at the top of this page.

 


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