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April 3, 2008

Does strategic review mark start of happier times for dmg?s Ideal Home Show?

When dmg world media announced the closure of the Ideal Home Show Scotland last month, it cited “difficult market conditions and a consistent deterioration in attendance over the last few years”. This is, of course, not the first time that the Ideal Home Show has hit upon turbulent times, but will the show be able to turn around its fortunes in a market where its main competitors are also feeling the pinch?

The Ideal Home Show was hitting the rocks towards the end of the 1980s before a series of takeovers saw it reach its full potential through the 1990s. Michael Franks now chief operating officer of dmg was a major force in turning around the show’s fortunes then and has been instrumental in the recent strategic review that hopes to bring it back to its former glory days.


Changing rooms: The home interest super brand
is undergoing a major overhaul for 2008

“The Ideal Home Show has been around for 100 years and has had to change and evolve to stay at the forefront of its field,” explains Franks. “Recently we’ve witnessed a drop off in attendance, we had three particularly difficult years between 2003 and 2004. We assumed that the falling visitor rates were due to outside forces, as these shows coincided with the start of the Gulf War, the Madrid bombings and a week of heavy snow. Sadly, this assumption cost us a march on our competitors.”


Doing your homework
Had dmg done its research at this point it would have seen that the attitudes of its audience were changing. The event was seen to be becoming a photocopy of itself year on year, and was starting to lose its excitement. “As word of mouth is one of the most important parts of building attendance, we needed to re-find the excitement factor,” adds Franks.

Between January and April 2007 dmg undertook a major review of the show. The research focused on exhibitors and non-exhibitors (who should have been exhibiting) as well as visitors and non-visitors, before during and after the show, as dmg wanted to find out not only why people were coming to the show but also why they weren’t, and what changes would help bring more people in.


Franks appraisal: Essentially, the research
revealed that the show had lost touch
with its audience



“This research gave us an extremely clear picture of who our audience was and what they wanted,” says Franks. “We were then in a position to look at what would make the show work moving forward. Essentially, the research revealed that the show had lost touch with its audience. The revolution in online searching means people don’t necessarily come to shows to search for items anymore as they do this on the internet, so we needed to reappraise how we approached things.”

Mass market appeal
There have been some key successes in the exhibitions arena in the home interest sector in the past couple of years – notably Media 10’s Grand Designs Live – and while Franks is eager to applaud the success of these shows he also points out that the Ideal Home Show represents a very different proposition. “This is a mass market consumer show that is over 24 days and must get at least 400,000 people through its doors,” says Franks. “It is much easier to make a success of small niche shows over three days than it is to run something of this magnitude. Although we’ve never been short of ideas, a lot of the time these ideas have not transformed into reality and I’m sure this is what has damaged our word of mouth.”

The group didn’t feel it was in a position to relaunch the show for 2007, instead the 2008 event will see the benefits of the company’s strategic overhaul. Indeed, in many respects it makes more sense for 2008 to mark the start of a new era as it is also the show’s centenary. “We’ve found there is terrific goodwill towards the Ideal Home Show brand, it’s been around for ages and people really want it to survive, which makes us confident we can turn things around,” says Franks.

As part of the turnaround, dmg needed to define its new target audience. “We did a break down of who actually comes to our show and we’ve split these people into three catageories: Home makers/young buyers, who are into the more mainstream ‘flat-pack’ home solutioons such as B&Q and Ikea; Accumulators, those looking to add value to their properties – often with children; and Third Agers, people looking to simplify and declutter,” explains Franks. “In between these are the people just coming for a good time and those on a mission to buy.”

Making life easier
Franks also explains that they have looked to reduce the duplication across the show, in conjunction with this they have also decided to limit the show to just the ground floor, and have created a string of themed areas – shops within shops, if you like – to reflect the key interest areas, such as bathroom, kitchen, home improvement, shopping and garden solutions, and make it easier for people to locate what they are looking for.

“We are aiming to offer a range of good, better and best products across these areas to cater for the budgets of our different target audiences,” says Franks. “We have been searching out new and innovative products and suppliers for next year’s show. What is extremely important is that all our exhibitors fit within one of these profiles. We are also adding an ‘ask the experts’ feature where people can turn up and book appointments with experts to get advice on anything from self-build to interior design. People will also be able to book these appointments online. It’s probably fair to say that we’ve tried to go back to our roots with how you help people.”

Indeed, the website will play a key role in forming a relationship between the visitor and the show in the future, the site will stay live for the whole year and will be introducing people to the brands as they come on board. “We also hope to be able to offer people the ability to buy from suppliers online,” adds Franks.

Of course, with 2008 being the centenary show, it doesn’t stop there. “As the main feature of the celebration we are reproducing a Kensington-style square, with three houses done up in the style of a different era – 1908, 1958 and 2008. You will be able to enter these houses and see a time line of brands throughout the ages. Also on site will be a 6,000sqft dream home and an eco house of the future.”

Franks is keen to make the point that this is not just a cosmetic makeover. “This has been a huge operational task for the team – our new head of marketing, Mike Sommers, whose previous accolades include turning round the Woolworths group, has made a very significant contribution, and Robin Beaman, show director, Sarah Stoddart, sales director, and Andrea Hurst have been the driving forces behind the process. We strongly believe that we can do something about this and find ways to bring the Ideal Home Show back to its position as the leading show of its kind, but for now the important thing is resuscitating and revitalizing the brand,” he concludes.

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