This week, a new trade show will open its doors in ExCel, London attracting UK and international visitors. Well it sounds like a new show, but Futurebuild as you no doubt know is the re-badged ‘Ecobuild.’ This was the name which the industry became accustomed to as representing the must-attend annual trade show, despite the increasing disconnect between its ‘eco’ promise and the ‘all things to all people’ nature of what was on offer.
Possibly the most notable thing about Futurebuild’s renaming has been just how little fanfare there seems to have been. Almost as if impression is intended to be given that it has been Futurebuild all along! Or is it a signal that the name of the event really isn’t that big a deal at this point, particularly as the definition of ‘Ecobuild’ itself had become very diluted over the years?
Some may see the former name as being a once powerful as well as important brand. However it’s uncontroversial to say that any explicitly ‘eco’ USPs the show could have claimed have long since disappeared like the contents of a self-composting toilet, despite the occasional hemp block or zero carbon house. But whether or not the origins of the Ecobuild name had become so obscured as the event has broadened and grown as to make it somewhat meaningless (a bit like the actual meaning of sustainability – it depends who you ask), the more appropriate new name has arrived very quietly.
Let’s spare a moment to remember the original Ecobuild. I only witnessed its later, more foot-sore incarnations at the Earls Court and then ExCel, but it began back in the heady days of 2005, as a very niche event for the eco purists at the QEII Conference Centre in London. No doubt it was hard to come across a collection of manufacturers in one place who were able to answer specifiers’ questions on triple-glazing one minute and thermal bridging the next. Because of this it quickly grabbed architects’ and specifiers’ attention as a practical way to spend a few hours, and grew quickly as sustainability suddenly took off into the mainstream in the mid noughties. Before long it was the ‘must attend’ event for anyone looking to network with manufacturers, effectively replacing the hole left by Interbuild in the calendar.
However it’s an illustration the problem with enterprises that grow very fast, they can become a victim of their own success. Not only can they tend to struggle to maintain their original identity, but in the case of a construction trade show, can start to become a bit harder to clearly weigh up as an option for busy professionals needing to establish a strong case for spending time out of the office.
This speaks to a major issue for trade shows (both more niche and generalist) going forward, against a tighter economic backdrop. Some major Ecobuild exhibitors dropped out over the years, or vastly downsized their presence, from having massive double-decker stands to something much humbler. The problem is, they don’t always get the expected return on the (often significant) investment in terms of actual sales, and if this is a chronic issue they’ll soon look to reduce spend.
If manufacturers working in an increasingly expensive industry find that they are not meeting the right people, or are simply meeting the same people but having less than productive conversations, it’s hard to blame them for a reticence about re-booking. The other factor is timing, if a particular manufacturer’s targeted a show for a particular set of messages, but most visitors to their stand aren’t really interested at that point, it can be wasted effort.
Having said that, at Housebuilder & Developer we have met more than a handful of happy exhibitors at events over the past couple of years, remaining optimistic about the benefits of attending. Futurebuild, with its clearly delineated set of ‘features’ and ‘exhibition hubs’ (in an attempt to provide that ‘niche’ content which played so well for Ecobuild in its early days) is trying hard to give the industry what it wants.
Does the fact there’s a new name mean anything apart from a spring clean? The organisers seemingly aren’t too keen to say ‘Ecobuild is dead, long live Futurebuild’ (‘ecobuild’ is even retained as the name of the main conference stream). Will Futurebuild come to be viewed as a really good umbrella for a series of niche events, and thus the place to go for specifiers hungry for information in those fields? Will it feel like a new show this year, and is that even the intention? It’s time to put on a reasonably comfortable pair of shoes and head to ExCel to find out!