As a first step on the road to getting the industry back together in a face-to-face environment after this enforced separation, the first exhibition for the turf care sector since the pandemic began, took place last week on Wednesday and Thursday. BIGGA laid on their first ever Festival Of Turf in the indoor and outdoor setting of the Warwickshire Event Centre.
Straight off the bat, it must be said this didn't appear to be the best attended event ever. I'd say well done to BIGGA for simply getting something on and for getting a mix of exhibitors together, but it certainly felt to me on the first day that it was sparse on visitors through the gates.
There's probably a myriad of reasons for this. It's a busy time of year for professional greenkeepers and groundsmen for one. There was some quite extreme weather mid-week (unusually for the UK this meant incredibly hot temperatures rather than downpours!). There's a pingdemic on. People are going on holiday as the schools are breaking up. People wouldn't want to risk getting pinged because they're about to go on holiday. And indeed some people are likely to still be nervous of mixing in groups.
Whatever the reason, speaking to exhibitors on Wednesday afternoon, I certainly picked up a disquiet regarding the number of turf professionals or dealers they were seeing come on to their stands.
Now of course, the value of any trade exhibition is not judged purely on numbers. From an exhibitor's point of view, it's always quality of visitor over quantity. And speaking to the representatives on the stands on that first afternoon, most were telling me they'd had one, two, a handful even of decent contacts thus far. The problem was though as they saw it, with so few people arriving at the showground, their odds of meeting a new potential customer or a dealer for their range, were shortened.
Certainly by 2pm on Wednesday I got the distinct impression most stand holders were talking amongst themselves and each other - doing their best to find whatever shade was available.
To be fair to BIGGA, I don't know what expectations they had set for themselves before the show or indeed what the final numbers were following close of play? In a press release issued on Thursday afternoon, BIGGA CEO Jim Croxton said, "While visitor numbers were not as high as hoped for, those who did attend engaged meaningfully with the exhibitors and reconnected with friends and peers."
I do suspect that the greater intention was simply to stage something with a more social feeling, following so long with nothing whatsoever able to take place. And of course, to attempt to make up for missed income from January's cancelled BTME.
From a personal perspective, it was great to catch up with industry peers in real life, who I've only be able to speak to via little squares on the internet for so long. There's a real value to this which we've always been aware of - however I do believe that people will become more acutely attuned to its importance as we begin to venture out more.
It was encouraging to hear from the exhibitors who I spoke to, just how positively business had been going for them during the past 18 months. New ways of working had proven successful for everyone I chatted with. The turfcare machinery sector certainly sounds like it has experienced a buoyant period.
Of course many were now talking about the delays that manufacturing around the world is facing currently. Lack of supply of components to factories was a common theme, leading to delays in supply of stock. Some felt the situation was starting to improve, but combined with the attendant huge increase in shipping costs, it was clearly still causing significant headaches.
Around the showground
Looking round the stands there were some interesting developments on show, either available now or coming soon - and it was valuable to gauge the opinion of stand holders about the value of shows in general.
There were also a couple of major announcements. Four major players in the amenity sector displayed their coming together which you can read about here and BIGGA and Campey presented a prestigious prize which you can read about here.
Husqvarna were displaying the new Ceora, large area robotic mower. Hoping to build in-roads into the golf market for the machine, the team on the stand talked about how there will be a specific fairway attachment for the unit down the line.
The company was confident that the supply of the new robots are on track for Spring 2022 and they were pleased how interest in the concept has been growing via the online marketing they have been undertaking.
Overton had the new Altoz machines on their stand, including a tracked stand-on version. These are newly certified for use in the UK and I was told they are generating interest amongst end users who are interested in the machines' ability to work on slopes.
Grillo had plenty of machines on their stand and told me they had experienced a great year of business. The TS unit and the 4x4 Climber are performing particularly well, finding favour with contractors.
Iseki had a selection of machinery on show and said they'd made a couple of new contacts during the first morning of the show - as well as catching up with colleagues they hadn't seen in a while.
Kioti told me they'd also enjoyed an excellent 12 months of business. Being back at a show, alongside competitors was important to them and they hoped industry events would kick on from here.
Redexim were displaying their new name and new specialist turfcare kit, following their change from Charterhouse Turf Machinery. They told me they had been pleased with the mix of representatives from different sporting disciplines come by their stand.
GreenTek said they'd had a steady flow of people on to their stand during the first morning - mostly people known to themselves.
Durabunker were pleased to be out meeting the industry once again. They were hoping for one or two excellent contacts over the show.
Overall, I would congratulate BIGGA for managing to get the first turfcare industry event for 18 months staged. I would argue that perhaps the timing wasn't ideal - and I don't know, but I'd be surprised if this particular event was held for a second time in the same format.
What I do think perhaps, despite the stonking heat, is that the Festival Of Turf might revive a desire for the holding of an outdoors show for the sector?
It may sound obvious, but viewing these large pieces turf care machinery outside on, you know, turf, kind of makes sense.