The SME business sector is both entrepreneurial and resilient. SMEs by and large have enjoyed a strong start to the year. But like the corporate sector overall, they are wary of political and economic influences despite them being outside of their influence. We take a look at how the events and conference market has shaped up in the first half of this year through the eyes of three experts from different organisations
- A supplier – An AV & IT Hire Company
- A venue – Hoburne
- A charity – CMPP
Perspective 1: The AV & IT Hire Company
Business conferences have had a real resurgence since the Spring. As covid-confidence has risen, so has the appetite to bring co-workers back together in-person. Providers of AV and IT equipment have needed to be agile to react to the spike in demand for their equipment and their staff. They appear to be rising to the challenge.
Hirers of IT and AV equipment were particularly badly hit – just like any other supplier to the business and leisure sectors.
Paul Spittle who is CEO at TEK Hire, an AV and IT equipment hire specialist in Slough says: “Everybody in our industry was badly affected. For us, a strong financial position at the beginning of 2020, an experienced management team and flexible & loyal staff have seen us through. At the moment, it is literally ‘all hands to the pumps.’ We’ve never been busier and that includes our business in Scotland. The professional services clients in particular has been active. I run the business but I’m also an additional driver at the moment! The problem is that we can’t predict accurately demand from one month to the next. What characterises the current conference and events market is decisions to hold events being made very late, but then to run the event as soon as practicable.
Perspective 2 – The venue operator
Mr Spittle’s comments are echoed by Alice Smee, Group Networking Co-ordinator at venue company Hoburne Ltd. Hoburne offers businesses indoor and outdoor corporate event spaces for away days and conferences. Ms Smee says: “The corporate market is coming back cautiously but in a very different way than before Covid. The pandemic ravaged our sector but we may look back and reflect some good came out of it. Operators are far leaner than before, they understand their costs better and are more assertive at closing sales. We are seeing a good pipeline of enquiries and there is a lot of interest in our new outdoor conference centre ‘working in nature.’ Many enquiries are from businesses wanting to achieve two objectives at once:
- A formal session to re-set the business priorities with a bit of tub-thumping thrown in
- An activity session to engage co-workers at a personal and social level which has been missing for so long
“Recruitment and retention is probably the biggest challenge at the moment, in the catering side of the business in particular. There are simply not enough good people available. That feeds through into wages which if we’re being honest were too low before Covid, so we should now be able to attract more people into the roles, but the problem is it takes time to filter through, but I’m confident we’ll get there.
Perspective 3 – The charity
Community Matters Partnership Project (CMPP) is a charity but with a difference. It helps companies in Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey to get active in their communities. CMPP provides a fully-managed and diverse range of corporate volunteering events which enable companies to demonstrate and deliver their CSR agenda and contribute to social good.
Tracey Shrimpton is one of the charity’s Trustees. “CMPP receives most of its funding from partnership subscriptions. These partner companies have been asking us to provide events so their staff can use their allocation of corporate volunteer days. There’s a subtle but marked difference in away-day activities now, compared to five or 10 years ago. Back then, events had a ‘wired-in’ competitive element where a winner would emerge. Paint-balling and go-karting were two such events that spring to mind. Now companies, led by feedback from staff, are seeking activities that make a positive social contribution. Painting a classroom in a special needs school, clearing an outdoor space at a care home or an end-of-summer beach clean. These are shared experiences with a purpose that offer participants the opportunity of fulfilment as well as time with colleagues in a different environment.”