London Wine Fair must charge freeloading trade, says Patrick McGrath MW

The organisers of the London Wine Fair must do something to deal with industry figures who are using the exhibition for meetings even though they haven’t taken stands, says Hatch Mansfield MD, Patrick McGrath MW.

Patrick McGrath MW

Speaking to the drinks business on Friday, less than 48 hours after the fair had finished, McGrath expressed his deep frustration that certain companies were using the fair to do business, even though they weren’t financially supporting the exhibition.

“The thing that really gets my goat is that anyone can come in to the wine fair and use it to have loads of meetings that you and I are paying for,” he said, referring to the fact that Hatch Mansfield, like db, invests in taking stand space at the exhibition.

Continuing, he recorded, “One of my customers said that he had told people that he would only have meetings with them if they had stands at the fair; it is totally wrong that members of the trade are trying to get a free lunch.

“Obviously, if you are a retailer coming into the fair to see your customers then it’s quite right that there should be no entry fee, but if you are a member of the trade who is a distributor then you should pay a premium fee; if you choose not to exhibit, then if you do come in, you need to pay the right price,” he added.

Recording the high number of visitors to the fair, he said that “there should be a lot more stands, another 15 at least”, but also noted the number of people having “meetings in the coffee bars”, rather than investing in the exhibition.

“I know wholesalers who are getting a free ride, but who had a stand two years ago, and the London Wine Fair has got to police this,” he stated. Commenting that such behaviour was unsporting, he then said, “It’s just not cricket”.

Although head of the fair, Hannah Tovey, was unavailable for comment on Friday last week, she has previously made it clear to db that she is planning a crackdown on freeloaders, suggesting that next year, any non-exhibitors who attend the event in a commercial function will be expected to pay for entrance.

Hatch Mansfield Agencies has retained a major presence at the London Wine Fair throughout its many guises, and McGrath, who spent three days meeting buyers from his stand at the exhibition last week, described this year’s event as “fantastic”.

He also said, “I would like to say a big thank you to Hannah and her team, it was a cracking fair, even busier than last year, with plenty of good quality people.”

He added, “From our perspective it is terrific, and we know already that we have got new business from the fair, we saw a lot of our current customers and we have got new indie retailer accounts purely as result of the fair, and some travel retail customers as well, and the fair is a great opportunity for us to come together from a team-building point of view.”

As a result, he said, “I’m a bit disappointed that some people pulled out from last year, and I’m left scratching my head as to why they would be doing that.”

Visitors to this year’s fair were up by 17% to 14,250 compared with the 2017 edition, as reported by db last week.

This was the first edition under the leadership of Tovey, the founder of Imbibe Live, who joined the London Wine Fair as its head in July 2017, setting out on a mission to refresh the fair and put it back in the hearts and minds of the UK drinks trade.

12 Responses to “London Wine Fair must charge freeloading trade, says Patrick McGrath MW”

  1. JM says:

    That’s rich from a MW whose many MW and “wine writer” peers turn up to shows like this all the time to blog about wines to a few 100 people on social media and blogs no one reads, who are of next to no use in terms of advocating or generating business for exhibiters. Wholesalers who aren’t exhibiting, go to big events like this to find new agencies for their portfolios, which is why so many producers who are seeking UK representation spend so much money exhibiting there. Not every distributor and wholesaler in the country has a Hatch Mansfield sized budget to spend on these shows which in in reality, don’t generate many leads for on-trade sales, a sector of the trade the smaller guys target and a sector whose decision makers don’t have the time to spend at (if at all) at wine shows, which are on at the same time they’re trying to run their businesses. Many of these smaller regional wholesalers are also customers of big agency houses like Hatch Mansfield, so it baffles me even more why Hatch’s MD would come out with that view publicly in the first place.

    • WB says:

      Absolutely agree. Limiting entrance to potential new importers not able/willing to take a stand would seriously limit the already limited use of these large fairs and hurt wineries seeking representation. I find, more often than not, these fairs only truly benefit the organisers and the public who attend.

  2. Nick Oakley says:

    I think he has a point. For the first time in years we did not take a stand. But when we did, it would be typical of vineyards’ representatives to be travelling the stands looking for agents. I would tell them that I was there to sell, not to buy and that the show was not the right place to make an approach. I can understand why they do it, as there is a concentration of high quality leads, as far as they are concerned. I was tempted to be more impolite to them.
    The UK wine tasting scene has lost its way a little. There are too many and the guest lists are full of the same old same old faces who have no purchasing power, but work the hall, making it look busy. We didn’t go because we weren’t generating enough quality leads to justify the costs, as simple as that. Perhaps for others it’s a better event. We’re an agency looking for the big hitters, and increasingly they are simply not coming.
    At Prowein, surely the most successful of shows, they charge €55 for a three day ticket, which stops time wasters.
    We’ve decided to spend our budget in different ways, arranging for buyers to get out to the vineyards. Taking the mountain to Mohammed, so to speak. We think it’s a better use of money

    • Charles Crawfurd says:

      I would suggest this is frankly impractical. Although I am retired some 10 years as a buyer I used to meet loads of my overseas suppliers during the LWF or its predecessor the LTWF and the LIWF. Brokers would jet in from all round the world and we would meet usually in the Club Elite (one of its principal purposes surely?) at Excel. These suppliers, often one man bands or small operations did not have stands but would come to London because it was a way of meeting a lot of their customers. If you charge for this 2 things will happen:- they will meet off site nearby or they won’t come at all! As it si many are telling me London is no longer worth coming to and they prefer Prowein. If you want to drive them away even more this is certainly one way to achieve that.

  3. David Murphy says:

    It’s a difficult one to call, I can see Patrick’s point of view, the fair is a huge cost to any business attending and it must be annoying to see former exhibitors pitching up for customer meetings. The challenge in charging people though is substantial, easy enough to use the pubs, restaurants and coffee shops in the area to hold meetings off site and for a lot of exhibitors chance meetings and passing interest in products are as important as the pre scheduled meetings. Given the nature of the fair this year (I thought it not as interesting as previous years and I’ve been attending the fair for some time) I doubt many would pay to attend.

    • Charles Crawfurd says:

      That is exactly why I say the idea is impractical. It is too easy to get round and anything that discourages attendees is bad news for the stand owners and the fair organisers. Lots of people from wholesalers, large and small attend the Fair and among their reasons will be meeting people who do not have stands there. The fair is an opportunity to meet. Deny them that and they will bypass the fair or not go so how does that help the exhibitors because they won’t go to their stands either!

  4. Andrew Steel says:

    Patricks point is totally right that there must be a way to manage the increase in freeloaders at the London Wine Fair.
    Connoisseur Estates have exhibited at the fair for almost 10 years and we had the best fair ever this year.. follow up work is on going but already we have several new opportunities started by visitors to the stand. Hannah has done a great job in increasing the number of visitors and particularly those actively looking to develop business…The UK needs a trade show dedicated to the UK Market. Several people above have mentioned the importance of Prowein…Which I’ve visited for many years.. .. Prowein can never provide the UK solution though Its a great place to see all our suppliers from around the world.. but at a serious cost.. Entry tickets and astronomic hotel prices.. The problem at Olympia wasn’t the Individual visitors but companies, who used to exhibit, who now feel its fair to send salesman to the show without any cost…

    • Charles Crawfurd says:

      Andrew, nice to be in contact again! I trust you are well! I guess in my day you could have called me (and my buying colleagues) ‘freeloaders’ because my employer (Matthew Clark) did not have a stand but I used to go to the fair and I used to meet suppliers from all round the world, many of whom did not have stands. Are you suggesting I should only have met with suppliers who had their own stands? If so, with respect, that is unrealistic! Yes, I would also visit suppliers who had stands but as many of those were UK based so I could see them anytime. Ask any of the supermarket buyers of my era who they prioritised, the UK based suppliers or those from overseas, you got a universally similar answer; the overseas suppliers. Would I have paid a fee to attend the fair? Yes then I guess I would. Today? Not so sure. Think I would spend the money on a trip to Dusseldorf and skip London.
      Would you call ‘freeloaders’ all the staff from shops, sommeliers, sales and support staff from wholesalers who visit the fair but have zero buying responsibility or influence? I feel you would say it was beneficial for them to visit your stand and taste products that are on their lists and I would agree.
      Very difficult to really identify the true ‘freeloaders’ who are just there for some free wine. Now getting rid of them is fine by me!

  5. Edwin Mosdell says:

    Very interesting to read all comments, I do recall back in the days of the first fairs in S Ken, that sellers of wine caught having meetings without a stand were ejected from the fair! but times have moved on at Excel off stand meeting were encouraged as some buyers did not wish to be observed on a particular stand! equally the days of chasing a buyer around the fair in order to gently strong arm them to a particular stand has also ceased! as a exhibitor over several years I can see both sides of the points raised, the danger of having your stand packed with the so called wrong people when a major buyer comes by, and the desire to show your wines to all who express an interest to taste, I suppose at the end of the day one has to be philosophical and work on the basis that the wines are open for all to taste, and who knows that the person who tastes today could become the very buyer you are wishing to meet.

    • Charles Crawfurd says:

      Hi Eddie, Again nice to hear from an old colleague! Trust you are well. I agree with what you say. Indeed at Excel the Club Elite was very much intended for buyers like me to have meetings either with those without stands or where we wanted to be less conspicuous or not disturbed as might have been the case on their stands. Some companies resorted to booking suites in nearby hotels to have their meetings/tastings in. I remember we (Matthew Clark) gave up having a stand at LWF/LTWF/LIWF because we came to the conclusion the decision makers amongst our customer base either did not come or anyway were better contacted at another place and time.
      If there is a generic, national stand such as Wines of Argentina/Chile/South Africa etc, are suppliers who do not have booths on that stand excluded? They will be contributing to that organisation’s overall budget even if not in London. As I say this is a very complex topic but I really don’t believe charging entry is going to help. People who take stands at these fairs make a commercial judgement as to whether the benefits outweigh the costs. I would suggest the shrunken size of the LWF compared to its heydays at Excel suggests a lot of companies have found it is no longer cost effective.
      I too remember one or two people being ejected from S Ken from the fair but the ones I remember were totally blatant and the fair was a fraction of its later/current size so much easier to ‘police’!

  6. Marcin says:

    Good job the numbers are up!
    Suppliers/Agents spend a big chunk of their budgets on all sorts of tastings throughout the year, sometimes you have to make a call on what to skip.
    Many wineries exhibit trying to find a UK agent, so some agents probably visit looking for those wineries and not exhibiting.
    Yes you do get a lot of: bloggers, WSET students, support staff, sales assistants, waiters, barmans etc.
    Yes it is a great opportunity for all those people to learn (where did we all start? are we all directors/MW/Managers etc. from day one?)
    It is a very hard task to separate good from bad… Implementing charges will probably affect number of visitors.
    We will see how busy Imbibe show is this year with £10 tickets.

  7. Although not exactly a “freeloader” I’d be delighted to pay if that is pertinent for me – as someone who has been connected in the wine-trade for over 45 years with a simple desire to work with his wine-trade friends in connection with annual visits to wine producers overseas!

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