Debutante trade show Wine Plus isn't like other business exhibitions.
A doorman in black-tie greets the sommeliers and on-trade buyers, who've been vetted and approved by organiser Fresh RM, as they enter Olympia to meet wholesalers and distributors. The show floor is made up of diagonal aisles and smart triangular shell-scheme stands. There's also a lot of spitting into silver spittoons.
The only difference at first glance between the exhibitors is the on-stand graphics and the wine being showcased. Fresh RM managing director Andrew Evans explains: "Our research told us that the audience is often put off by grandiose stands and find them cold and unwelcoming. We wanted the wine to do the talking so we created an open and level playing field that mirrors the format of a well-designed inviting restaurant."
Event director Sue Woodward agrees: "No one company can dominate. The result is that exhibitors don't feel like minnows next to the market-leading brands. They are all judged on their wine. We sold each exhibitor a complete package by investing in Early Action Group traditional build and commissioning Penny Banks to furnish the entire show."
Wine Plus expected only 2,000 purchasers in two days. Despite the investment in creating a high-end environment, this is not an event that is dependent on numbers. In fact, Evans and Woodward openly admit to preventing some pre-registered visitors from attending if they didn't match the criteria - a scary prospect for any launch show organiser.
"The wrong type of people at a show such as this is a potential powderkeg," says Evans. "But at 7pm on the first night, people were still using the spittoons and evaluating wine professionally. That's a clear indication of the right audience. I've been happy to provide exhibitors with the list of those people they can expect through the doors so that they can judge the success of the show on that basis."
"If we'd compromised, this wouldn't have worked," adds Woodward. "There are a few exhibitors who are used to attracting larger numbers on to their stands but when you dig a little deeper you discover that they've met the sommelier for Gordon Ramsay and discussed wine lists with the Ritz.
These exhibitors know that there are 300 top sommeliers they'd relish the opportunity to meet with, and there are so many other opportunities for business from the next tier down, comprising hoteliers, gastropub head office buyers and family-run restaurants. If we can achieve a good mix of all these visitor types then we've succeeded."
Theatres at either end of the diagonal show floor provide the educational element. One offers a business clinic and commercial advice. The other is a live tasting theatre, which hosts six 30-minute sessions a day. Topics include matching wine with different foods, tasting the differences in wine and spotting future consumer trends. Here, as with most of the activity, spittoons are well used and serviced by a team from TNT Showfreight. Evans praises the logistics firm: "It's not its core business and yet it's been great at delivering ice and water to the stands and emptying the spittoons.
It can't be a pleasant job - you have to hope the bag containing the spittle doesn't split," he says.
Reed and Montgomery, the parent companies of Fresh RM, must handle matters just as carefully when banking on the success of a debut show. They will also hope Wine Plus can be rolled out as a peripatetic show to other wine distribution hotspots in the UK.
WINE PLUS LONDON 2007
Organiser: Fresh RM
Venue: Olympia National Hall
Dates: 17-18 January
Size: 3,600 sqm
Shell scheme and build: Early Action Group
Furniture: Penny Banks
Fridges: Loee Electrical
Stand services: TNT Showfreight
Design and creative: Whippet/ Luchford APM