6 Reasons why SED 2009 might suck…

Prospects for the SED 2009 exhibition are not looking good.

Let me start by saying that I haven’t missed a single SED since 1986. While I was spared the bog that was the Hatfield site, I am a veteran of Whipsnade, Milton Keynes and Rockingham and have seen the show grow and grow. Furthermore, I will be there again this year, camera and notebook in hand.

However, I have some serious concerns about this year’s show, and not all of them are recession-related:

People – For almost as long as I can remember, the show has been in the safe hands of key organisers Mark Bresnahan and Jackie Hanford, a winning pair who traveled the world promoting what remains a parochial show. However, Jackie has taken an early (and well-earned) retirement while Mark has been moved up in the organisation, leaving the day to day running of the show in the hands of a team of relative newcomers just as the industry goes into recession. I have no doubts about the qualifications of the new team but they will have to work incredibly hard to recreate the rapport that Mark and Jackie enjoyed with the industry.

Timing – This is a bad year for exhibitions in many ways. For one thing, the major manufacturers will be putting the majority of their backing and resources into the Intermat show in Paris. Not only will this mean less money to spend at Rockingham, it is also going to give everyone a sneak preview of what new products are (possibly) going to be on show at SED. Furthermore, this is also supposed to be a Hillhead year when, traditionally, some of the larger equipment manufacturers and compressor suppliers bypass SED and keep their powder dry for the quarry industry show a few months later. It’s true that Hillhead HAS been postponed but the presence of Intermat and the shadow cast by Hillhead is likely to impact upon the presence of the larger manufacturers, reducing the pulling power required to attract visitors. And if you’re in any doubt, take a look at the current exhibitor list and see if you can find Caterpillar, JCB, Komatsu, Hitachi and Liebherr among others.

Too big – I do not blame the organisers for seeking to grow the show year on year. Let’s face it, they’re a commercial enterprise and they’re here to make money. However, in doing so I believe they have started to lose sight of what SED is truly all about. Without wishing to sound like a miserable old curmudgeon, I am not alone in missing the old days when SED was about mobile plant, pure and simple. However, with the expansion has come dilution and visitors that do make the trek to Rockingham have to make their way past mobile phone and PPE suppliers to see what kit is on display.

Cutbacks – Backed into a corner by the credit crunch and ensuing recession, the organisers have responded with a somewhat short-sighted, cost-cutting and knee-jerk response. Gone are the SED awards, gone is the well-intentioned but ultimately flawed SED FM radio channel and, if my perceptions are correct, gone is at least some of the show’s external promotion in the trade press.

Venue – Let’s be honest, Rockingham is not a great venue, plain and simple. It lacks the atmosphere of Whipsnade and even Milton Keynes, and while I am not naive enough to believe that anyone goes to SED for the landscape, this is one further detraction from the show.

Economy – Of course, the elephant in the room is the recession, and it is this that will impact upon this year’s show most harshly. Not only will recession-weary manufacturers and dealers be loathe to spend the (considerable amount of) money required to have a presence at the show, the lack of available credit finance is likely to make many visitors think twice about attending – Let’s face it, window shopping with empty pockets quickly loses its appeal.

I am not sounding the death-knell of the show; as I said previously, I will be there when the doors open on the first day. However, I do fear that the usual buzz of conversation may be replaced by the gentle rustle of tumbleweed blowing in the aisles.