Comment – Unrealistic Expectations

Demolition is a vertical market; the number of attendees at DemoExpo 2019 merely reflects that.

I will get to our look back at last week’s DemoExpo exhibition shortly. But first, I would like to lay before you a very quick maths lesson. It will be very short, use round numbers and the simplest of terms because I am writing this shortly after sun-up on Sunday (yesterday) and I am, therefore, barely functioning as a journalist, let alone a mathematician.

It is estimated that the UK construction industry employs somewhere in the region of one million people. The recent PlantworX exhibition attracted approximately 20,000 people which by my reckoning is about two percent of the industry workforce. That show was hailed a success, a triumph over truly horrendous weather conditions.

It is estimated that the UK demolition employs somewhere in the region of 25,000 people. Although the final figures have not yet been made public, it seems likely that the DemoExpo show will have welcomed around 2,500 people through the turnstiles. Once again by my reckoning, that is about 10 percent of the industry workforce. And yet there were some exhibitors (not all by any means) that were very open in their criticism of what they perceived to be a small number of visitors.

DemoExpo was not perfect. At the end of the day, the Hertfordshire County Show Ground is a field. And unless you are the organiser of the Glastonbury music festival, it is always going to be a big ask to create any kind of atmosphere in a field. The timing of the show – shortly after PlantworX and in the same year as Bauma – is always going to draw comparisons by which a niche show is going to look small. And with industry giants Caterpillar, Doosan, Liebherr and Volvo choosing to stay away this time around, DemoExpo was always likely to lack the pulling power of some of the larger exhibitions in the industry calendar.

Yet Bauma is not perfect. ConExpo and Intermat are not perfect. And even Hillhead – my personal favourite among plant exhibitions – has room for improvement.

But to criticise DemoExpo is to overlook the work done by the event’s main man – Worsley Plant’s Brian Carroll – and by the joint teams of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors and the Institute of Demolition Engineers. It glosses over the fact that the show attracted (in rough terms) 10 percent of its intended audience, way more than any “commercial” exhibition. And it ignores the fact that it was the manufacturers and dealers that pushed for the creation of the DemoExpo in the first place.

And therein lies another issue. Following hot on the heels of a massive Bauma show in which the industry’s biggest names would have spent millions, their absence from what remains a relatively small, vertical market is understandable. What is harder to fathom is the approach taken by some of the exhibitors that actually chose to support the show.

As you might expect, the equipment on display on the stands of Hitachi, JCB, LiuGong and Molson Group was impressive – Highly polished, exhibition-ready machines and attachments glistening in the sunshine with blackened tyres and freshly-cleaned tracks to show them in their best light.

Elsewhere, however, it was a different matter. In all my 30 years of reporting on exhibitions, I have never seen so many dirty machines assembled in one place. And I honestly cannot remember a show in which so many of the exhibits were showing signs of wear and tear and – in many instances – actual rust.

I understand that demolition equipment is highly specialised, that many machines are tailor-made to customer specification, and that it is impossible to hold such equipment in stock (in fact, had it not been for the generosity and support of contractors such as Cawarden, Comley, Erith, J. Mould and Rye Demolition, some stands would have been very bare indeed). And I realise that all the spit and polish in the world will not get more people through the turnstiles. But exhibitors have known the time and location of the DemoExpo for about two years. The fact that some chose not to clean or respray their equipment just felt like they were treating DemoExpo as an end-of-season afterthought. The demolition industry deserves better than that.

There will be a post-show de-brief, no doubt. There will be discussions about what went right and what went wrong, about where improvements might be made. I am sure those conversations might even include suggestions of calling an end to the DemoExpo altogether, or partnering with another show to help increase footfall.

Any joint venture agreement with a show such as Let’s Recycle Live would almost certainly see an escalation in the cost of exhibiting and a dilution of the existing show’s focus. If a decision is made to call the whole thing off, the industry will have lost its only dedicated exhibition run by the industry and for the industry.

Before any such decision is made, I sincerely hope that the organisers keep in mind my earlier maths lesson. A 10 percent industry engagement is an amazing achievement. Trust me, if I could get that level of industry buy-in, I would not be sat here typing this as the sun comes up on a Sunday morning.