BETA International 2018 certainly lived up to its reputation as the unmissable trade buying event for equestrian, country clothing, outdoor and pet products as it welcomed 3,423 single entry visitors, plus 621 repeats, and almost 300 exhibitors from across the UK and overseas to the NEC, Birmingham from 21 to 23 January.
This world-class industry event flagged up some of the finest products and services on the market, with many unveiled for the very first time. Everyone from buyers at small independent stores to purchasing teams at multinational retail chains visited the show over the three days, taking their place among friends and colleagues for this annual trade gathering with its golden networking opportunities.
ITV newscaster Alastair Stewart was back by popular demand to host Talking Business, BETA International's red-hot industry debate in The Charles Owen Hub on Sunday 21 January. Members of this year's discussion panel were NEC Conventions and Exhibitions MD Kathryn James, political commentator John Arnold, Charles Owen/Airowear chairman Roy Burek, Pony Club chief executive Rhian Gibson and Bransby Horses chief executive Jo Snell.
The debate looked at Brexit as a friend or foe, whether flash sales were a knee-jerk reaction with short-term gain but disastrous long-term consequences and the role of trade shows as part of the retail supply chain in the 21st century.
The Charles Owen Hub remained a hive activity throughout the show, with a full programme of seminars taking place on each of the days, including Training Tuesday, which was dedicated to retailer education and learning.
Each session was retailer-specific, covering subjects such as visual merchandising, the Consumer Rights Act 2015, customer sales and saddle fitting. James Wishart's SQP seminar Redworms with Green Genes carried 10 CPD points and Claire Williams's seminar Update on Safety Standards and Rules provided 5 CPD points for BETA-trained City & Guilds safety garment fitters.
Visitors were delighted to meet the show's celebrity guests, Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen, eventing hero William Fox-Pitt and Paralympic dressage rider Sophie Christiansen. In an illustrated interview, Amanda spoke of her life at Ravenseat – a remote hill farm in North Yorkshire. The mother of nine works there alongside her husband, Clive, as a shepherd, caring for her beloved flock of Swaledale sheep. In addition to her television appearances and writing – she has already had two books published and has her own column in a national newspaper and magazine – Amanda is a keen photographer and brought along some fantastic examples of her work.
William discussed the highs and lows of his career as a top event rider, the horses that have meant the world to him and his road to recovery following a cross-country fall at Le Lion d'Angers in 2015 and subsequent selection for the Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, Sophie Christiansen spoke of her hopes for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo in an interview peppered with amusing anecdotes.
Fashion remained a powerful theme throughout BETA International, with the Equithème Fashion Show highlighting some of the sassiest forthcoming autumn/winter collections to date. Buyers took their seats at the edge of the catwalk as rider wear and country clothing was put under the spotlight and models danced to some seriously foot-tapping tunes as they showed off garments from sponsor Equithème, Montar, Toggi, Tredstep Ireland, Covalliero, Derriere Equestrian, Horseware Products, Champion and Baleno.
The spirit of competition is keenly felt at BETA International and this year's prestigious Innovation Awards were highly prized, as usual. Sponsored by Equestrian Trade News, the show's official media partner, they attracted a large number of entries across each of the eight categories.
A carefully selected panel of judges had the difficult task of deciding on the winning products. This year, they were independent equine nutritionist Clare MacLeod, retail manager Wendy Beal, of R&R Country's Melton Mowbray store, Wendy Hofstee, owner of riding holiday company Unicorn Trails, show rider and producer Oliver Hood, master saddler and harness maker – and owner of M Miller Saddlery – Michelle Miller and Blacks Vets Tracey Morley Jewkes.
Winners were presented with their awards by ETN editor Liz Benwell and advertising sales executive Beth Crow. They were: Extremities with the Antares beanie (Country Clothing & Footwear), MS & TJ Haylage with Pure hay (Feed & Supplements), Horseware Products with the Horsepal 1.01 horse monitor (General) and long Micklem girth (Saddlery & Tack), Treehouse with the AeroChill cooling rug (Horsecare Equipment & [Horse] Clothing), OSS Distribution with the Sticky Trap (Pet Products), Baleno with the Waterfield riding jacket (Rider Clothing & Footwear) and Inivo Studs with Rescuestuds (Safety & Security).
BETA International is renowned for its top-class exhibition stands and all the hard work it takes to create polished and professional retail environments is recognised and rewarded with the show's Best Stand Awards. Each exhibitor is automatically entered into the competition, which was independently judged by visual merchandising expert Kirsty Kean, of Visual Thinking, and Claire Hogarth, of Bransby Horses, the show's chosen charity for 2018. After touring the halls, they selected Musto as winner of the Best Large Stand Award (32 sq m and over) and WildWash for the Best Small Stand Award (under 32 sq m).
Pet n Pony, of Durham, won the Neue Schule Social Media Award, which is designed to reward the company's stockists for excellence in social media practice.
The Society of Master Saddlers showcased the high standard of British saddlery with daily competitions for apprentices and students from Capel Manor College. Sunday's challenge to make a cob-size pair of cheeks with hook studs was won by Lucy Ellis, of Andy Wheals the Saddleman, with second-year Capel Manor College student Megan Webb securing a win on Monday for her raised brow band and Tuesday's competition to make an Irish martingale – a project revealed only on the day – was claimed by first-year Capel Manor College student Tara Griffin.
Winners of the show's awards were announced and presented with their prizes during a special ceremony on the Fashion Show stage where visitors and exhibitor gathered to congratulate them. This was followed by after-show drinks, with everyone enjoying canapés and glasses of bubbly and soft drinks as they networked and enjoyed chatting to industry colleagues and friends.
BETA International organiser Claire Thomas was extremely pleased with the trade's response to to the show. “We have received some great feedback from exhibitors and visitors who have enjoyed a highly successful three days,” she said. “Everyone pulled out all the stops to make 2018 a fantastic and really memorable show with some amazing stands, fabulous products and plenty of quality buyers.
“We would like to extend our thanks to everyone who supported the show and to our sponsors – Neue Schule, Charles Owen, Equithème, Equestrian Trade News, Henson Franklyn, Hy, NAF, Schockemöhle Sports, Shires Equestrian Products, Stubbs England and Toggi – who really make this all possible.”
BETA International 2019 will take place at the NEC, Birmingham, from 20 to 22 January. For information about exhibiting at the trade fair, contact James Palmer, telephone +44 (0)1937 582111 or email email@example.com.
* Visitor figures awaiting ABC audit