The aim for the newly-launched Commercial Kitchen show from the event organisers was clear from the outset: ‘to bring together catering equipment buyers, specifiers, distributors, and consultants’.
According to Carsten Holm, executive director of Diversified Communications, who also run the multi award-winning Lunch! and Casual Dining events in the UK, the idea for Commercial Kitchen came from a conversation he had with equipment manufacturer Rational two to three years ago.
“Rational did nearly 60 trade events that year, from very large shows to one-day conferences, in order to get to all the vertical markets they wanted to reach, from top end fine-dining to schools, hospitals, pubs, etc. Even though their equipment remained the same. So we thought, ‘why not create a horizontal show that addresses all of those different vertical [markets]’?”
Aligning those vertical sector needs into one catch-all show was not without its challenges, says Holm. “From a marketing perspective, it’s a nightmare and that’s been the scary bit, but buying equipment is a capital investment and we wanted to capitalise on that decision-making process. We know we’re not going to compare to the larger shows, yet, but we also know the value per visitor will be higher.”
The need for one show that answered the pain points of operators and helps them make more informed purchasing decisions across various sectors in the UK was long overdue, according to two of the keynote speakers addressing the crowds on the first day.
Peter Woods, executive chef, Corinthia Hotel, London, whose team can cater for 130 covers in each sitting, says, “All kitchens are different and require different equipment, so it’s about having the right equipment for the job in hand. Our equipment gets an absolute hammering, so it has to be durable. I must have the best at hand to deliver the results my diners demand,” he says.
“It needs to last me a long time, so price is not an issue. You must value your equipment as much as your team members. It’s worth investing properly in equipment from the start. Looked-after equipment will look after you. Money invested is money saved. Buy the best for your kitchen and value every piece you use,” he says.
Chef and restaurateur Theo Randall agrees. “Always buy above your budget as it will pay off long-term,” he says. “There is nothing worse than when equipment isn’t working. Kitchen supply is incredibly important. Chefs expect everything to work and we always take back-of-house for granted.”
Gap in the market
Holm does not see Commercial Kitchen as a competitor to Hotelympia, despite coming relatively hot on that event’s heels in the calendar, and feels the new show will quickly establish its own unique identity. “It needs to stand on its own two feet, that’s our ambition. We feel this is going to be successful. It needs to be an annual event and a 12-month cycle seems reasonable. It doesn’t matter how much marketing you do, there is nothing like word of mouth. It could take five years to reach the full potential of the event, but next year will be even better and the year after, better again,” says Holm.
According to Holm, the profile of the attendees at the show is “consultants and operators – from supermarkets, to hospitals and pub-owners. We won’t know exactly [about the profile] until the show is over but pre-registration has been really broad and very impressive.”
In terms of the scale of this year’s event, Holm says that exhibitors have taken up more than 80 stands across the 2,000 sq m floorspace of the NEC, although many brands have shared stands at the event. “We’ve got really good brands here. Yes, they’re taking a risk coming here but next year we can double our audience. But also, we don’t want to grow too fast. We don’t tend to grow anything too aggressively and always maintain a ratio between the number of attendees and exhibitors. The cake is only so big,” he says.
The show has been located in Birmingham, rather than in London, as with Hotelympia in order to appeal to as many national operators as possible, says Holm. “We wanted it to be in the middle of the country so it can be truly national.” So is the ambition for the show to begin to attract overseas visitors next year and become an international event? “If we could, we would!” he laughs.
“We are taking baby steps. It might take three to four years to be international, but we’re building on that. [At future events] we may host an international buyer programme. We spend a lot of time thinking about the customer experience because we believe this show should be here in 20 years time. There’s such a gap [in the market] and the prize is substantial if there is a really focused, concentrated annual event that is the go-to event for commercial equipment,” says Holm.