Blog post

The fun of the fair

So that’s that, then. The stands are gone, the visitors are back at their day (or night) jobs and probably even the worst hangovers have worn off by now. The first Imbibe show is over.

I’m not going to sit here telling you all how marvellous it was. Partly since, as editor of the magazine I could hardly be said to be impartial, but also since getting on for 5,000 of you made it along, you can draw your own conclusions.

Having been there for the whole two days, though, a couple of things struck me, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Firstly, it was great to see so many of you genuinely interested in learning. Admittedly, we put quite a bit of time and effort into giving you seminars, tastings etc that we thought would be of interest to you, rather than just regurgitating the same old crap that every other trade show does.

You might, for instance, have noticed that there was no ‘closure debate’ – an exercise in turgid nonsense that has been thrilling absolutely nobody at the London Wine Fair since the Mesolithic period.

Even so, it was gratifying to see so many of these events full to bursting, with people standing round the edges. On this evidence, Imbibe’s readers aren’t content with what they know – they are always looking to improve, and that’s great, since that’s been our ethos since we founded the magazine three and a half years ago. Good on ya!

It was particularly interesting (with my editor’s hat on) to see the hordes massing for the two ‘technology’ seminars about how to use the internet, websites, twitter etc to generate customer interest. I’m broadly clueless when it comes to this stuff, but rest assured we’ll be doing more of this in the magazine in the future since there’s clearly a demand for it.

Secondly, isn’t it time the wine guys got their fingers out and made more of an effort with their stands? I just don’t think turning up and plonking ten bottles on a counter top, then standing behind it with a face like a slapped arse cuts it any more. Their lack of energy, inclusiveness and originality was in stark contrast to that of the beer and spirit guys twenty metres away, who turned the back half of the hall into one big party.

And before wine guys write in complaining that they don’t have the budget of the distillers, I don’t think it’s a question of money – it’s about having a bit of imagination, and then putting in some effort to make those ideas come to fruition. In most things in life, you get out what you put in, and I think that’s true of trade fairs, too. Roll up with an ‘I wish I was somewhere else’ attitude, and visitors will tend to agree with you and give your stand a wide berth.

Plus, despite much talk of wine being more ‘inclusive’ these days, there was very much a ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude. I spoke to a number of pretty serious bar people all of whom said they felt intimidated by the wine side of the hall, and I don’t blame them, since I also spoke to a number of exhibitors who seemed proud of the fact that they had refused to pour samples for (bar) people who they didn’t feel were worthy of their product.

Forgive me, but I always thought that pouring samples was the whole point of attending drinks exhibitions. Nice attitude, fellahs. Stay like that and watch your sales tumble. Oh, and keep whingeing about how hard it is to find new listings, while you’re at it...

Talking of effort and attitude, I was surprised I didn’t see more sommeliers who I knew. This is your show guys. We put it together after listening to all your bellyaching about every other trade show or tasting that you go to. We had people there whose wines you wanted to taste, we set it in a place that’s easy for you to get to, and we stuffed it full of great features that you ought to want to go to.

There were visitors there from Wales, Scotland and the West Country. So if you didn’t make the effort to come from less than ten miles away, either you’re complacently arrogant and think you don’t need to taste and learn, or so hopelessly disorganised you can’t arrange a day or two off with six months notice.

I know, I know, there are always excuses, but you know what? Sometimes you just need to forget what’s short-term important and look at what’s long-term beneficial.

That’s what Imbibe 2010 was about: learning and improving both your offer and your business. If you missed it, you just passed up a gilt-edged chance to give your career and your balance sheet a big boost. And if you don’t believe me, take a look at the avalanche of positive tweets.

Still, the show will be back next year, just make sure that you’re there as well. Remember, we know where you live...


The Brick 21-07-2010

Well done to all of you guys, you really delivered a fantastic and awesome show!!

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My contgratulations to the Imbibe team, excellent show.

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Mark D. 22-07-2010

I think this blog should be filed under the ‘How to make friends and influence people’ heading. I do agree with your assessment on the wine stands attitudes. I guess there is a difficult balance to strike between educating those who want to learn more about wine and not fuelling those who just want to get shitfaced though. The Bar Staffs natural ebulliance could be confused with jollying. How about a pairing up scheme next year? I'd like to understand more about mixoligy and I'd happily guide a barman around the world of wine. I did see a lot of felllow sommeliers there though Chris. (admittedly London based)

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Andy H. 04-08-2010

Point taken about the Wine Stands, however I thought the ‘generic’ stands for South American countries, and French Regions were superb as were their staff. As a Bar/Restaurant operation in the East Midlands we are equally enthusiastic about cocktails, spirits and wine. We go to Portfolio tastings every year for wine, the London Wine Fair (though sadly increasingly dominated by the ‘corporates’), and had given up going to the Bar Show for the last two to three years. Unfortunately the Bar Show had become one huge ‘piss-up’ for London Bar Tenders, and it became difficult for us ‘regional’ folks to talk to, for example, the chief distiller of a cognac house, given that the staff were more concerned with ‘damage limitation’ ie whole bottles stolen from stands etc. I just hope you can maintain the focus for Imbibe and continue to expand with ‘serious’ exhibitors and ‘serious’ punters. Dont get me wrong – I love a piss-up as much as anyone but there is a time and a place! Please dont fall into the trap of ‘maximum’ numbers and ‘maximum’ stands, resulting in the lowest common denominator. We stopped going to the Restaurant Show in London when ‘hot dog’ and other fast food stands started to appear. Of course financial pressures are a reality for all of us – times are bloody tough in our trade in the midlands – but dont kill the goose that lays the golden egg! Final note – Jonathan Downey's presentation was superb even though I only caught the last half. Andy H. Leicester

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Olivier G. 08-07-2012

Dear Chris
first of all, i am gutted to have missed so much good tastings and events since leaving London, Imbibe Live in particular.
concerning the event itself, it was a similar affair last year and I completely agree with the comments above.
i would not generalise on who is coming to get thrashed, but many people who come to that type of event are not really bothered about the package or what is taking place, getting wasted is their main motivation.
it is a pity because of all the great work you and the team are putting in, but that's the way it is sometimes.
here in Dubai, things work in a similar fashion, but on very rare occasions, as there are only 2 wine suppliers. i went to the launch of the new portfolio of one of them, and the same thing happened, if you wanted to go mad on alcohol you could, and I saw many good sommeliers, Barmen and people from the trade in general, go wasted.
SWA and other events you organised look attractive and are always helping people who are real professional.
all the best from sunny Dubai!(40 oC, but feeling more like 50)

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