Skip to main content

The return of rural shows and changing expectations

The return of rural shows and changing expectations

15 October 2021

Exploring innovation

After the cancellation of so many shows over the past 18 months, their re-emergence in the calendar is welcomed by exhibitors and visitors alike, writes Gary Bosworth, professor of entrepreneurship, Northumbria University.

As part of a project funded by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) exploring innovation in rural and agricultural shows, researchers have been examining how the expectations and priorities of exhibitors are changing.

For the first phase of the project, researchers attended ‘LincsFest’, a one-day family event organised by the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society, and interviewed a range of exhibitors including food and drink vendors, artisan and craft retailers, local charities and community organisations. Early insights suggest two emerging developments; firstly, traders are likely to become more selective about the shows that they will attend and, secondly, shows will increasingly be expected to support the online activities of their exhibitors.

Throughout the pandemic, many traders in the retail and hospitality sectors have had time to re-appraise their business activities.  Some we interviewed commented that they would focus more on larger events, while others, were looking more closely at the mix of exhibitors, their stand location, the advance ticket sales and the promotional activity of show organisers before committing to attend. This greater selectivity has arisen from traders finding new routes to market, both within their local communities and through online retailing and social media engagement.

Adding value

Therefore, shows must respond by engaging with exhibitors to understand how they can best add value. For example, a social media marketing strategy that co-promotes shows and their exhibitors would raise the event profile and build goodwill among the community of exhibitors. As a new wave of online start-up enterprises begin to explore the potential of trading at shows, there is an opportunity for organisers to offer training and support for entering the physical retail space, fostering mutual learning opportunities too. This all points to the importance of shows integrating their online activities with the design of physical events to serve the interests of both exhibitors and customers.

As the project develops, we will explore how shows can remain important nodes in rural innovation networks by enhancing the marketing exposure of exhibitors and supporting collaboration and knowledge exchange among local firms.

This research is one of seven NICRE-funded projects taking place to better understand rural enterprise led by universities across England. Ours is being carried out in collaboration with the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society, organiser of the Lincolnshire Show, which usually takes place over two days in June however was unable to be held in 2021 due to continued coronavirus restrictions, and this year’s ‘LincsFest’.

Jayne Southall, society CEO, said: “Show organisers across the country are delighted to see the return of agricultural shows, but this research is clearly highlighting that we will have to continually review and adapt our offering to meet the changing needs and expectations of our supporters.”

Any show organiser wishing to support this research can do so by completing this short survey about what they have done in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read the full version of Prof Bosworth’s blog – New roles for agricultural shows in supporting the rural economy.

Find out more about NICRE