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What is the Future of the Event Trade Stand Application Form?

“The paper ticket is not dead. Long live the paper ticket!” claims Ticket Zone COO Wayne Munday in an article by Access All Areas. Yet this was challenged by Tore Totland, chairman of the Norwegian ticketing company TicketCo, who advised “As far as TicketCo sees it, it is not only the paper ticket which is dead. We consider ticketing as we know it as dead, and quite frankly we are surprised that Ticket Zone, Skiddle and Eventbrite sees it otherwise.” 

Great news for ticket purchasers, a company who is topping the current ticket sellers with yet another option – but what about the traders who participate at most of these ticketed events?  They also have to ‘book’ to attend.

I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to events. Long enough to know the pain points from both the organisers and traders side when it comes to buying and selling event space and pitches.  The trade stand application form is a must have for planning and health and safety purposes, so why when you Google Trade Stand Application are most organisers still using downloadable PDF's?

The issues of application forms, lie not so much with the big boys of the more specialist conference and exhibition world, who tend to deal with corporate business once or twice a year, but down at the grass root level of the outdoor and smaller indoor events, where traders are smaller, yet book between 20 and 150 event pitches per year.

Not so long ago I attended a weekend conference for country shows as an exhibitor.  The room was, more or less, filled with very mature and experienced committee members, representing over fifty events.  In no uncertain terms, these delegates were advised ‘You and your events need to get a grasp of technology now, or suffer the consequences’. 

When I approached some of these delegates about their trade stand application forms, and asked why they still preferred using a paper based version (PDF's/MS Docs downloadable or emailed attachments), these were some of the responses:

 “I’m not into computers really”

 “I have all the time in the world to process exhibitor information, I’m retired”

 “Online systems are too expensive (or too complex to master), what if they ‘go down’”

 “None of our traders have ever moaned about filling in our forms, so why change?”

“Card fees are too expensive, cheques and bacs is easier for me”

"My broadbands not very good, so its easier to receive them by post"

One said “If they don’t want to come they don’t need to fill in our forms”.  Wow, what an arrogant attitude!

Yet most of these events sell visitor tickets online, though an agent, using card payments, some even had their own ticket platform!

Now it’s true, many trader exhibitors out there also need to embrace technology.  There is no reason whatsoever, for businesses of any size not to get on board either.  From banks offering support to ‘get online’, to basic computer courses at night school, and drop in centres or libraries, but I guess it’s how you view the future of your business though.  With our own online business, we come across (and I have to say its not many in the grand scheme) website users who blame our system for not working.  Yet when we start diagnosing the problem, it’s their lack of knowledge about the basics of using their computer/­tablet/­mobile phone which has let them down. 

A few weeks ago I was speaking with one of my trader friends, who sells her beautiful, self-butchered game meats on her trailer at various events UK wide.  She was moaning, understandably, at the number of application forms she was having to do, in various formats it was a nightmare.  Over one hundred for this year alone, some trade stand application forms were so complex she’d given up, or so lengthy that she had put them on the back burner. 

One event had meant her having to download a 17 page Adobe document!  It was not autofill compatible, so she’d printed it all off as it stretched from page to page, completed the form by hand – repeating her business details seven times for various contractors: electrical, water, banners, advertising, camping, waste removal etc, then scanned it all, attached it to an email, along with her ‘bespoke’ risk assessment for that event, her insurance documents, catering HACCP docs, then sent a cheque by registered post!  Getting to the post office where she lives in the middle of Yorkshire, in Winter, was not easy either.  Then there is the increasing cost of postage!  She advised “I don’t have the time in the world for this any more, I wish more organisers would use your system”.  She is not alone in her experience.

I asked her if she’d ever complained to the organisers about the length and incurred costs of some of these forms?  Her response was typical of those I’d asked before “If you moan about their application system, you’re deemed a ‘trouble maker’ and not invited back! There’s plenty of competition out there to replace us unfortunately.”

She went on to advise

“The smack in the teeth for me is when I burn the midnight oil, finally getting time to complete some trade stand application forms, only to get subsequently rejected, despite being told my Street Food stall was ‘suitable’ by the organiser.  Reason for the rejection?  I’d taken too long to respond!  How am I to know if that organiser had already filled their stands before I'd had chance to apply? That was nearly an hour of my time wasted, I could have spent it with my family, or dressed several pheasants!"

Any trader will put time zappers forms on the back burner for when they actually have time to complete them.  They would actually like a life outside of work too!  These busy, event trader SME’s, surely deserve better service?  The organsier suffers too – slow cash flow, then last minute trade stand bookings leading to frustration and stress.  Been there got the t-shirt!

Sadly, this is how way too many event organisers, still think and behave, many booking systems are outdated and it’s got to change.

The backbone of the UK economy, and for many industries its nutrient suppliers, are SME’s, those business owners up at the dawn chorus and going to bed when the Owls start twit twoo’ing, day in day out.  Many attend events to get themselves into the market place, or simply to be seen or lose out to new competitors, be this at a trade show, food festival, country show, business expo or even a simple craft or farmers market.

However, before we can encourage more organisers to jump to using online bookings, let’s look at the issues when organising an event, and find any valid reason to continue with a paper based system.

Today’s event organsier, however, large or small, needs to tick several boxes to host a safe, and profitable event, as I’ve experienced here are my top six in no particular order:

1.       Event Insurance

2.       Local council agreement and support

3.       Venue capability and a proper site plan

4.       Good quality traders with suitable displays

5.       Budget control together with contingency planning

6.       Sales and marketing

To add to the problem of course there is the need for decent broadband.  Fibre undoubtedly now reaches many outlying UK villages, but the speed drops when Openreach connect fibre to copper.  The further away from the exchange you live and the slower it gets, as I found to my near business peril.  However, there is nothing to stop an exhibitor coordinator, buying a laptop and going to the local pub/cafe where wifi is present for an hour over a coffee or lunch, to accept and decline some exhibitors a few times a week, and answering their emails?  I did this for three years!

 So what do event organisers ask their trader exhibitors for?

1.       Business details; name, address, company, email, social media/website, contact numbers, details of product.

2.       Stand package information – size or stand, tables, chairs, water, electric, banner rails etc

3.       Risk Assessment – it may interest you to know that there is NO set form in the UK for this. Not all organisers ask for Risk Assessments from their traders either.

4.       Trader Public, and in some cases, Employers and Product Liability insurance – any person selling to the public should, in my opinion as an organiser, have public liability as a minimum. 

5.       Payment and sign terms and conditions

All the above can now, with electronic signatures to ‘sign off’ terms and conditions, be done online.  Most sites like ours at Event Owl are pretty quick to load, hosting information ‘in the cloud’ and are available on mobile apps, again speeding up user time is key. 

For traders, trying to keep on top of what they’ve applied for, the outcome and the financials – especially when some ask for deposit payments, is also hard:

  • Some organisers simply want traders to call them to book a stand, and give say £5 cash on the day for a tabletop.  No comeback legally for either party in this case.
  • Some may want a small form completing and a cheque prior or bacs payment.
  • Some need a downloadable PDF/MS Doc completing along with other formal documentation.  Either you post or email as mentioned earlier – which tend to get ‘lost’.

Downloading a lengthy PDF, MS.Doc etc. form, together with terms and conditions, other large attachments etc. can take ages!

Certainly many event organisers need to really think about their trader exhibitor’s time, and reduce the repetitive nature of their application forms.  Especially those using additional contractors. 

Fortunately, there are thousands of developers offering various online solutions. Off the peg and bespoke online booking systems are indeed a great way for an organiser to save themselves some time, however, this is not solving the trader’s nightmare of reducing the repetitive nature of the beast.

My own site, Event Owl, offers an all-in-one solution.  It’s a unique system, which addresses the pains of both parties.  It may not suit all events at present, and we are constantly developing it for ease of use, but its delivering its promise of significantly reducing the repetitive nature for both the organiser and exhibitor trader.  Our site also has stock control – so if an organiser is overloaded with applications for a package, we’ll create a waiting list automatically besides other useful tools.  Its another alternative in the online mix.

So what is the future of the Trade Stand Application form?

Online, online, online. Go fully online as soon as possible and free up both your exhibitors time and concentrate on the delivery of your event.  Embrace technology, trust it and demand better broadband speed from the Government and your provider if needs be.  Why hold off any longer? There are packages out there to suit all budgets and all levels of experience. I swapped to an online system with an event I ran, successfully overnight, and bookings did not come crashing to a halt. Technology is here – use it!