Sheffield International Venues is eyeballing exhibitions as a growing business opportunity. Mike Trudeau looks at what the city of steel has to offer organisers.
Sheffield is a city that once rang with the sound of hammers and sat under the hot smoke of industry. Those days have gone but the city’s size and central location make it a fertile ground for small and medium businesses. Although it lacks a mega-venue like The NEC or Excel London, Sheffield is a regional hub with a generous helping of smaller but reasonably-sized unique venues with cultural and sporting heritage.
Overseeing the facilities available is Sheffield International Venues (SIV), the company responsible for hosting entertainment and sporting events including the Sports Personality of the Year ceremony at Motorpoint Arena Sheffield. With many of the company’s spaces lying fallow for much of the year, SIV Events is re-calibrating its sights to target exhibition organisers.
According to SIV general manager Dominic Stokes, SIV does not yet organise its own exhibitions. But that might not be too long coming considering SIV’s firm hold on city venues and the fact there’s no other big-name organiser with much of a presence in the city.
Ice Sheffield, with its dual Olympic-sized skating arenas, hosts its first exhibition – the Ultimate Brides Wedding Exhibition – on 11 September. Stokes claimed the event is a kind of ‘dry run’ and hoped to use the Brides example as a case study to lure other organisers to the city of steel.
“We are very flexible but we need to be able to say we delivered a major exhibition and here’s what we can do,” Stokes said. “Ultimate Brides was looking for a new venue for its show and we were looking to move into exhibitions. It was an ideal time for both of us. Traditionally, we would have said we couldn’t handle that, but actually because we already had thoughts about exhibitions at Ice, it all slotted in.”
Boarding over the ice
Ice Sheffield gets a lot of business on Friday and Saturday evenings, but other than that there is a great deal of down time. So why not board over the ice? With flooring laid down, each rink offers 1,800sqm of flat space. It’s not a huge amount but there are plenty of organisers and exhibitions that could fill that space with stands and people.
Ultimate Brides originally took place at Sheffield’s Magna Centre, but organiser Richard Wilson told EN the show outgrew its original site.
“Last year we had 107 stands and this year we will have 147. We couldn’t have done that at Magna,” said Wilson. “Besides, the venue wanted to do a show so we moved. It has proved a good decision for us.
“We looked around and even thought of using disused industrial parks. The problem is the event is so large that we needed a big space, and due to the clientele it needs to be local to our exhibitors because, generally speaking, brides buy local. We needed something with a bit of flash and to say you have an Olympic-sized ice rink carries a bit of kudos.”
When asked what the strongest thing about Sheffield as an exhibition destination is, Wilson opted for a pragmatic response: Parking.
“You will halve your numbers instantly if you don’t have your parking.,” he claimed. “Ice Sheffield has a car park of 300 cars and overspill of 350.”
Other pros include good public transport and lower rates for venues, making it possible to attract small businesses with lower exhibiting fees.
Sheffield’s venues are modestly sized, but the infrastructure is there. If Wilson’s and Stokes’ comments are to be believed, the will is too. Should SIV and Sheffield as a whole step up its game, the city could rise to become another regional exhibition destination, of which we have seen so many crop up in the last 18 months.
- English Institute of Sport Sheffield (total ~4,000sqm)
- Ice Sheffield (2x1800sqm)
- Motorpoint Arena Sheffield (3,600sqm)
- Don Valley Stadium (1,500sqm)
- Ponds Forge International Sports Centre (1,500sqm)
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