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Let’s do the time warp again

It’s just a jump to the left
And then a step to the right

So let me get this straight. I’ve returned from holiday to find that we’ve slipped through a hole in the space/time continuum and gone back in time.

After three years of the deepest, darkest economic turmoil, during which tens of thousands of construction industry personnel lost their jobs, the merchant industry is now in a position to support two conferences at Mediterranean venues next Summer, within a week of each other.

Blimey. The recovery really must have taken hold.

Except, of course, it hasn’t. There may be plans for a BMF and an NMBS event, but can we really afford both?

Do we need such events at all? Well, yes, we do. This is an industry that runs on relationships, on networking, on getting together with like-minded peers and suppliers.

And after the turmoil of the last few years, it’s more important than ever that the industry gets together to talk about the business, the recovery and the future.

2004 was the last time we had two industry organisations with major conferences to bring merchants and suppliers together overseas.

At that time, the BMF Conference was well-established as the main event for the industry, although it was losing ground and support. In 2001 NMBS stepped in to offer a much more focussed approach, initially UK-based, tailored to the needs of smaller independents and the manufacturers wishing to deal with them. So far, so sensible. But then it all got a lot more complicated when NMBS took their event to sunnier climes (and, to be fair, better value hotels) and the gloves came off.

Both organisations are clear, this time round, that this is not a confrontational situation. Each of the events currently being proposed has many things in its favour and each is offering something slightly different as befits the different outlooks and purposes of the BMF and NMBS. In an ideal world, both would be able to attract the funding and the attendance to make them both viable, indeed, essential.

However, the fact is that events of this sort depend largely on the sponsorship of suppliers to provide the trimmings as well as the ability of merchant companies to fund attendance. The ravages of the last few years have taken their toll on suppliers’ budgets (believe me, as someone who’s livelihood depends on those budgets, I know).

And don’t forget the individual buying groups – NBG, CBA, Cemco, h&b – all of whom now have their own focussed conferences, all of which require funding from similar sources.

I’m a great advocate of conferences and the benefit they bring to suppliers and merchants (naturally, having been one of the four partners in the all-industry event , THE Conference, from 2005 to 2008) so I think it’s great that there is now enough confidence in the market to take us to this stage. I just think that two events, one after the other, is too much at this point in the recovery.

The market will, as usual, decide what happens.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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