How the FIT Show came of age
Back in 2011 the FIT Show wasn’t even a twinkle in its parents eyes. But then came its conception, as is so often the case, after a drink or two. Nathan Bushell talks to Matthew Glover and Paul Godwin, the proud parents of their growing offspring.
As the FIT Show takes a quantum leap to its new home at the NEC this year, Glass Times decided to review how the exhibition began and developed. Matthew Glover and Paul Godwin are naturally sociable and were well known within the window and door industry even before they launched the FIT Show – an event that has helped to re-energise the industry’s self image.
Matthew owned window and door fabricator Conservatory Outlet and Paul was (and remains) a PR and marketing consultant within the industry, having previously worked on Glassex. The pair came together through Matthew’s Renegade Conservatory Guy blog, which enjoyed considerable renown by saying the sort of things that journalists could not.
“Renegade Conservatory Guy, despite its daft title, was a cracking read,” Paul said. “It became more enjoyable the later in the evening it was written. I wrote in with a view, Matthew wrote back and told me he didn’t accept material from PR people, and that has been our relationship since.”
Matthew then said: “After corresponding for a while I got into a bit of a corner with one of the bigger names in the market, who fired a legal shot across my bows for saying something that actually turned out to be true. But it was sticky and I asked Paul for advice, and we met at one of the old Planet Conservatories showrooms.”
The then forum for the industry, Glassex, was moved by the organisers to the autumn to try and shore up the wheezing Interbuild, which left a gap in the spring diary.
“What will we do now Glassex has moved to the autumn?” asked Renegade Conservatory Guy at the time. Jon Twigge from RPS Roofline fame suggested ‘business speed dating’ and Glass Talk was born.
Running for four successful outings with Matthew, Jon and Paul, helped by Andrew Glover, Glass Talk successfully created a talking shop and forum that was well received by its patrons. And then Glassex died.
“It was in 2011, and Paul, Jon and I met in a pub on the outskirts of Wakefield where I lived at the time, to decide what to do with Glass Talk,” Matthew said. “We ran it in our spare time – Andrew needed to focus on West Yorkshire Windows so decisions had to be made. I said ‘let’s organise another Glassex, how hard can it be?’.
“Jon decided that he needed to focus on his main business but Paul thought it a splendid idea, and so the process of deciding upon a name began.”
After much debate Fabricator Installer Trade was chosen, though not without much debate.
“FIT is a nice easy acronym to remember, and if you promote something enough it will stick,” Paul said. “Though even now we are wrongly but understandably associated with fitness; recently I was ‘viewed’ on Linked In by a California-based fitness guru.”
Having worked with Emap (organisers of Glassex among others) for several years and across a number of events, Paul called upon one-time Emap operations director Joanne Smith who in turn invited her business partner Nickie West to come and discuss the venture.
They were won over by Matthew’s enthusiasm if a little sceptical of his optimism.
“I don’t think they had met anyone quite like Matthew before,” Paul said, “and even now they reflect that they thought he was charming but so unrealistically optimistic. But he was right.”
Matthew said: “Nickie and Jo recommended that we try the International Centre Telford. We knew nothing about the place other than there had been a regional window industry event there some time earlier, so we were a little nervous.”
They need not have worried. Armed only with a typed-up rate card and a great deal of enthusiasm, Matthew initially visited his Conservatory Outlet suppliers and others that were keen to supply him, winning orders worth more than £half-a-million within a few weeks.
“Matthew knew a large number of people, and many of those he didn’t know, I did,” Paul said. “There was a great enthusiasm for the idea of a show for the industry; at the time the window and door business had endured years of difficult trading and people loved the idea of a fresh new event. It was as if the FIT Show gave them hope – something to plan for, to be enthusiastic about.”
Following a formal launch in February 2012, the sell-out first show took place in April 2013 to rapturous approval and praise, having presented the modern window, door and conservatory industry in a positive light with visitors keen to see what the fuss was all about. Awards were won and accolades followed both from the industry and their new peers in the exhibitions industry.
“All of a sudden we were exhibition organisers,” Matthew said.
A further event followed in 2014 – “we had a waiting list for exhibitors – there was a pent up demand,” Paul said – and a fallow year followed in 2015 when the team launched Buildshow, which was sold on before the event took place.
2016 showed a further surge in popularity, particularly among visitors, with a 45% increase in those coming through the door.
Decisions had to be made. The Telford exhibition centre had been filled to capacity on each of the outings there, so they decided to take the leap into the National Exhibition Centre. It was felt that further development would be impossible if the FIT Show stayed at Telford.
In December 2015, key exhibitors were invited to attend a series of presentations staged by the FIT team. “The response was overwhelming,” Matthew said, “with the majority of guests signing up. The vast majority of those attending back then will be there in May.”
What of the long-term future of FIT? The pair remained cautious in their response, as if they still couldn’t believe the success that the FIT Show has been so far.
“We have booked corresponding dates at the NEC for 2019,” Matthew said, “as we have to book that far ahead in order to secure the tenancy. But our focus is this May.
“With the enormous increase in exhibitors and committing to the NEC comes an enormous extra responsibility, not least because expectations have also increased.”
Paul added: “None of the team ever relaxes. There is always something to worry about even when the visitors turn up and the aisles are full. We never take anything for granted. Everyone on the team knows that of course; they really are the best bunch of people we could have working with us.”
To which Matthew nodded vigorously. Proud parents indeed.
Connect, inform and entertain
The FIT Show at the NEC is 60% bigger than last year’s with more than 94% of stand space filled. At the time of writing, pre-registered visitor numbers were showing a 20% increase (last year’s visitors grew by 45%), and with just two months to go stand bookings are still being taken.
Already more than 200 exhibitors will be at the FIT Show, including most PVCU systems suppliers, dozens of trade fabricators, hardware suppliers and the biggest names in frame making machinery. Matthew and Paul are (only slightly) reluctant to make the boast but they believe this is the biggest window industry show for possibly 20 years, filling as it does three halls of the NEC – matching those occupied by Glassex when it was riding high.
One of the most significant differences, not only with previous FIT Shows but any window and door industry events over the past 40 years, is the clamour by aluminium companies, including extruders, to take space.
“We have a pavilion for the Council for Aluminium in Buildings, and more than 30 of its members are exhibiting,” Paul said. “With other, non-CAB exhibitors, I believe that more than a quarter of stands at the FIT Show will feature aluminium.
“That reflects the surge in interest by homeowners in aluminium of course, but the FIT Show gives them the connection to the market at trade and professional level that is otherwise very difficult to establish. We never had aluminium in such numbers ever at Glassex, and this is a remarkable turnaround. It’s great for the industry overall.”
Matthew said: “We have most of the big brands there and some great new names covering every aspect of the window, door, glazing and conservatory industry. And we have a large number of international companies, again the most for many years, that are exhibiting at a UK window and door trade show for the first time. Many of these are offering upmarket window and door systems, offering a potential extension of most retail installers’ portfolios; there are some terrific products coming to FIT that have never been seen there previously.”
One of the key aims of the FIT Show team is to host an event that creates links between buyers and sellers, and to connect others in the widest sense, to inform and to entertain.
A great deal of attention has been paid to creating what Paul describes as the ‘best ever’ seminar programme with its free sessions and free lunch each day, while Matthew insists that the Gala Dinner should not be missed.
When Glass Times met Paul and Matthew, more than 1,000 tickets had been sold, itself a record for any previous industry social. And the Master Fitter Challenge has again attracted serious entries from installers who will try very hard indeed to win the £5,000 first prize for this event.
Paul: “I always love this pic, of Matthew and me taken in Chicago on the GM Hope66 bike ride when we were both providing support for the riders. We have been on two GM cross US tours now – Matthew rode the last one.”