Interview: Clinton Sturdey, Making Cosmetics

Amy Hawthorne

by Amy Hawthorne

23rd March 2015

On 24th-25th March 2015, ReAgent will attend Making Cosmetics as an exhibitor. Although not our first exhibition, we’re approaching the event with strategic planning and preparation – we want to get the most out of the exhibition and we know it’s not a good idea to turn up cold.

Tips for a Great Exhibition Stand

We have visited numerous exhibitions and have now seen hundreds of stands, some good and some bad. We want to use our experience at past exhibitions to make sure we are in a position to set up an attractive, inviting stand. However, we’ve also decided to call in some help from an events expert who could really let us know the characteristics of a great stand.

To get some tips for getting the most out of an exhibition, ReAgent’s MD, Rich Hudson carried out a Skype interview with Clinton Sturdey, manager of Step Exhibitions. Step Exhibitions is the company that runs events like Making Cosmetics and Making Pharmaceuticals.

Clinton has been to innumerable industry events, so we’re very thankful that he took the time to share his tips for a successful exhibition with us. We’ve decided to share Clinton’s tips with our readers, so you can find out exactly why you should turn up with a plan, what you should avoid on the stand, and why you should wear old shoes!

Interview with Clinton Sturdey, Making Cosmetics

RH          I just thought I’d have a quick chat about Step Exhibitions, Making Cosmetics, Making Pharmaceuticals and how people can get the most out of these exhibitions. To start, can I ask a bit about yourself – how did you end up working for Stepex?

CS           Long story short, I used to own a business down on the south of the coast down in Bexhill (just outside of Hastings, for anyone that doesn’t know Bexhill at all – it’s not unusual that you wouldn’t!)

                I stopped that business in 2013 and I took a few months out and I started thinking I better start doing something with this time that I’ve got on my hands, so I put my CV in with an agency in Tunbridge Wells and I got a call literally about two days later. My CV had been seen by Bob and Sue, the two owners of Step, and they asked me to come in for an interview. To cut a long story short – basically, we got on and I found Bob to be an interesting man to speak to and be around and we thought well, let’s see how it goes. Two years later here I am, it’s pretty much two years to the day almost that I’ve worked here now!

RH          How long has Step been going?

CS           I couldn’t tell you the exact time, but I think it’s well over 20 years now that Step has been going – 1991 I believe, I’m sure I’ll get berated later by Bob if that is incorrect! Bob obviously used to run events for another organisation. He actually launched the very first in-cosmetics, I believe he launched that in Birmingham. You can see the sort of event that that’s become these days.

                So it’s been well over 20 years and I believe Colin the Cactus who sits upstairs with him on the windowsill has been with him ever since!

RH          Good stuff! So there’s quite a lot of different exhibitions in the group then?

CS           There are, yeah. We cover a wide number of industries. We can’t claim to be experts within them, but you learn a fair amount of them as you go in, as I’ve learnt with brimstone and fire in Making Pharmaceuticals.

It’s great because you get to meet a lot of interesting people, obviously, and of course there’s some crossover with these industries. So sometimes you might be speaking to one person and they’ll be saying “what about this” and that’s actually how Making Pharmaceuticals came about, out of a conversation that was had at Making Cosmetics with a guy that is very active in the pharmaceutical industry. He and Bob had a conversation, and suddenly Making Pharmaceuticals was effectively born out of that last year.

We’ve only had the one event but it’s been very successful, so we’re looking forward to the next one in a couple of months’ time.

RH          That’s natural progression really. We’re a chemical manufacturing company, but we’re sort of going into pharmaceuticals and cosmetics around a similar time because if you want to get into the markets, you need certain facilities and to work within certain frameworks. For example, you need a cleanroom if you’re going to handle products appropriately. You can sort of kill two birds with one stone sometimes.

                I know we went to Making Pharmaceuticals last year. I think we’re going to go again but only as visitors, we’re not exhibiting yet. We’re starting with Making Cosmetics. What we did as a company was we promoted ourselves online and we did a lot of word-of-mouth and things but we sort of never really got into exhibitions and conferences and things and that’s something that, on the last business plan (that thing behind me), we said that we’d really have a push over the last 12 months to try and get out there and get face-to-face.

It’s good for networking and you get a lot of referrals. It’s not just customers either, it’s potential suppliers. You can see the latest machinery and trends and everything. I think exhibitions are great and I’m looking forward to getting involved.

How many exhibitions do you go to a year?

CS           I go to quite a few now, as you can imagine. There was a fair number just for Making Cosmetics, but with me doing the two events now it’s important that I get out and I see people because my personal opinion is that the best interaction in business and networking is done face-to-face. Phone calls and emails are great, but until you speak to somebody and you can actually have a proper conversation and basically interact as human beings – we’ve almost lost the art of interacting with each other!

“The best interaction in business and networking is done face-to-face.”

                I reckon on average I go to between 10 and 12 a year. Most of those are UK-based, but obviously there’s a number that take place on mainland Europe – particularly for the pharmaceutical industry. Also, things like in-cosmetics and Cosmoprof, which are generally European events anyway so you need to hop on a plane or in my case, go to Paris on a Eurostar and hope it doesn’t stop in a tunnel, and get to the other side.

So, on average about 10 events a year, but I would imagine as the two events grow – Making Cosmetics and Making Pharmaceuticals – as they expand and grow, that number will probably go up in future. And obviously, as you look for new events in place then again I think I’ll spend a lot of my time in the air or on a train.

RH          You’ll have to start collecting air miles and loyalty points!

                We went to CPhI last year – I think I bumped into you there. What struck me was the sheer size of that place. That was a truly global conference – it was enormous!

CS           It’s frightening when you get there, especially if you turn up with a plan. I always make a plan to go and you think, right I’m going to see X, Y and Z, and unfortunately, you forget that A, B, C, D, E, F, G are there! It’s a monster of an event and it’s a great event, and I think looking at something like Making Pharmaceuticals, you’ve got a slightly more intimate opportunity to speak to people.

CPhI is a real eye-opener when it comes to huge, worldwide events, so hats off to the guys that organise that. It is a logistical nightmare, let’s put it that way!

RH          Have you got any tips for people that attend conferences of how you can get the most out of them? You just mentioned that it’s good to have a plan when you go, rather than turn up cold.

CS           I think you need to have a plan. You need to sort of have a shared objective as a company and I think everyone needs to buy into that objective and everyone needs to be made aware of that objective. There’s nothing worse than having a stand where you’ve got two guys in senior management that know exactly what you want to get out of the exhibition, but then your sales team or some of the other people you might have on your stand that’s sort of looking around thinking, what do they want to achieve, I’m not in the loop on this.

                I think the more information you impart to your team, you should let them know – this is why we’re here, this is what we’re aiming to do, now let’s all work as a cohesive team and let’s achieve those objectives. You’ll always get more out of it.

“Let your team know…This is why we’re here, this is what we’re aiming to do, now let’s all work as a cohesive team and let’s achieve those objectives. You’ll always get more out of it.”

There’s some small things as well. I walk around a lot of events and there’s little things that you look and you think – especially since there’s so many people milling around that are visitors and attendees – sometimes it’s hard to know who’s on the stand and who’s actually just attending. Maybe something simple, like perhaps dressing the same. I’m not saying, all turn up in identical t-shirts, but have a sort of uniform as an organisation. Even if it’s just a name badge or something so that an attendee can identify who you are and straight away they know they can approach you.

Sometimes, you can walk up to a stand and there’ll be two people having a conversation. It might be two people that actually are manning that stand, but you might think he’s talking to a customer, I’m not going to stop, I’m going to walk by, I’m going to go onto the next stand – your competitor’s stand. That’s the last thing you want. What you need to do is make it clear; we’re here, we are on this stand.

The one bit of information I would like to impart is, don’t try to sell too hard. I think people are too smart these days; they understand when you’re trying to sell them something. Be more consultative, speak to them about what their needs are, speak to them about what they’ve come for, what their objectives are, because it’s all about first impressions. The more you talk about what somebody wants and why they’re there, the more chance you have of actually being able to present the sort of solutions that you’ve got on offer to them. That’s what I would suggest you do.

RH          It’s about reeling people in rather than trying to catch them immediately.

CS           Don’t hit them over the head with a big bat and then try and drag them onto the stand! Make it inviting, make them want to come onto your stand, be there to supply information. At the end of the day, they’ve turned up at an event – it’s not like you’ve pitched up outside their houses. They’ve travelled sometimes many miles to come to this event. Some will have specific objectives in mind, some will have specific products they’re looking for, or specific services, and you can probably supply that otherwise they wouldn’t be on your stand.

                Don’t scare them away; just sort of give them the information. Ask them about themselves. Ultimately, we’re all human beings; we all know how to speak to each other. Just treat them the way that you’d want to be treated. No one wants to be bombarded with information, but ask good, sensible questions, find out what their needs are and you’ll then know whether you can fulfil those needs. I think that’s the best approach.

RH          Definitely. Is there anything that you should avoid? One thing that I always suggest (I know people say this when they run a marathon), you shouldn’t wear new trainers if you’re going to run a marathon and albeit on a shorter distance, but when you go to a conference or an exhibition, you do a lot of walking around; you’re on your feet most of the day. I’d always say to people, don’t wear new shoes. It might sound obvious, but you do see people rocking up in their brand new shoes and they’re hobbling around by the end of it.

                Is there anything else that you’d suggest people avoid?

CS           I think you’re right there because everyone wants to look smart when they turn up – I think that is important that you do – but as I say you also need to be comfortable, because it is two days on your feet. I’ll stress that it’s two days on your feet, and one of the things that is really quite disconcerting when you walk up to a stand (even for me as an events organiser), you turn up to a stand and they don’t know who I am, it might be that they don’t necessarily want to speak to me, but if you’re sitting down and you remain sitting down, you look very unapproachable.

                I would suggest that as much as you can, you are going to need to take breaks and I think that’s something for the management team to put in place – to know when people are going to go on specific timed breaks so they can have 10 minutes away. These are air-conditioned sort of aircraft hangar-sized places most of the time, and you do need that bit of fresh air just to get your head together and get back in and get your focus back onto the job at hand.

My biggest bugbear is people eating on the stand. It looks awful and I’ve encountered that very recently, actually, at an event that I’ve been to up in Birmingham. I actually spoke to somebody and all they did was stand with a sandwich in their hand and spoke to me between bites. I was thinking, goodness me – if I wanted to place an order, it’s gone now because I’m here and there’s a number of your competitors here, and the guy over there is alert, he’s ready to speak to me, he’s not eating, he’s not showing me what he’s having for lunch, so I’m going to go and speak to him.

Keep your stand tidy as well. First impressions count and very often, I mean first impressions are what they say on the tin, it’s a first impression. So if somebody turns up to your stand and there’s a half-drunk bottle of Lucozade in the corner, or an empty crisp packet on the floor, it just doesn’t look right. Maybe give somebody the task of moving around your stand, picking up all those bits, putting them behind, and if you’ve not finished your drink, put it behind something. Don’t have it on show.

Have your stand looking the same at the end of the second day as it did at the start on the first. That’s a good bit of advice that I would impart. Just portray the company in its best light and I think you won’t go far wrong. It looks more inviting; nobody wants to walk onto a half-full rubbish stand.

RH          If someone’s actually eating in front of you, it’s almost – I’d consider it not disrespectful, but almost unprofessional. I think that’s especially true in the cosmetic/pharmaceutical realm where it’s all about being as clean as possible and having really robust cleaning procedures and things. I think that’s particularly relevant.

                What would you say the characteristics of a good exhibition stand are? Everyone gets say, 3m x 3m or 6m x 3m, so if you’ve got that much space, how do you really get the most out of it? What should you put there?

CS           I would suggest you try to keep it an uncluttered as possible. You want to put across information; it needs to be clear and concise information. Obviously you’re there to get a message across and to get your brand across very often, but a lot of that should be done verbally. You don’t need to have sort of like, war and peace, written on a board stuck up, because no one is going to take the time to read all of that writing. If anything, it just looks a bit odd because you walk past and think, blimey they’ve literally just put out the entire company profile and printed it up in A4 sheets and just stuck it to the back of a stand.

                I would say keep that information clear, keep your message clear and brief, so that straight away you can look at a stand and go ah, that’s what they do, that’s what’s on offer, they’re the people I want to talk about because I can see straight away they’ve got what I need.

Get your brand front and centre and represent your brand in a way that you want it to be represented. Don’t turn up with one mug and a printed off bit of A4 and stick that to the back. Plan it. If you plan ahead – you can draw it out on a piece of paper; this is how I want it to look. As long as you turn up with the correct material, your stand is going to be there anyway. Everything you need to exhibit is going to be there. All you need to bring is your corporate stand and that really is down to you as a company to know what that message is, to know how you want that to look and to put it out there in public.

“Get your brand front and centre and represent your brand in a way that you want it to be represented.”

You’re on public show now; you’re in front of effectively the industry you’re looking to connect with, so a little bit of planning – and when I say planning, it’s literally like a 20 minute sit-down with a few people going, this is what we want to say, this is how we want it to look, let’s make it look like that. Just keep it simple, don’t go too over-the-top. You went to CPhI – there were some spaceships on offer there! Some absolute monsters and you think, wow, how did that even get in here?!

I always like the sort of simple, clean, smart looking stands because you just know that generally, the people that are running that have got a very clear idea of what they want to achieve and what their own business is.

RH          Definitely – it’s at the very sharp end of business, it’s what everybody else sees. It’s like your website; it’s what the customers are looking at, so it’s imperative to get it absolutely spot on.

                Can you just give us a rundown on Making Cosmetics and Making Pharmaceuticals; when are they both on?

CS           Making Cosmetics is taking place at the Ricoh Arena up in Coventry. Once again, Coventry City’s football ground, I think they were kicked off there for a little while but they’re back there now. That’s on the 24th and 25th March this year and doors open at 8.45. Get there early – there will be some free parking if you get there before 10 o’clock.  I believe there’s also a free coffee and a bacon roll for the very early risers, so it’s well worth getting there early for that.

                Making Pharmaceuticals is up at the National Motorcycle Museum, which is in Birmingham (I believe Solihull) and that’s on the 28th-29th April. That’s a great venue – if you’re into motorcycles you’ve got to come, even if it’s just for the motorcycles because it’s fantastic. It’s a lovely, intimate sort of venue so everyone gets a chance to speak to each other and there is free parking on both days for that event because they don’t charge at the National Motorcycle Museum. And it’s easy to find; it’s straight off the roundabout.

RH          It’s not just an exhibition, is it?  There are other aspects to it – I know there’s speaking engagements and there’s seminars as well. Can you just touch on them as well please?

CS           I think Making Cosmetics is probably one of the most comprehensive technical seminar programmes that you’ll find at any event. I think there’s 75+ topics being covered over the two days at Making Cosmetics. It’s a lot of information, but I suppose we’re covering quite a wide area because it’s the whole manufacturing process of a cosmetic product, and you need to cover it all the way through.

                We try to give as much information as possible and make it as attractive as possible for the industry. Likewise with Making Pharmaceuticals; that again has got a huge amount of technical content, a lot of that this year is being offered and contributed by various industry organisations such as EXCiPACT, the IMechE, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers – so we’ve got some fantastic seminar content to be had at both events.

As well as the seminars, we’ve got things like the Making Links, which is an informal drinks reception that takes place on the first afternoon of both events, so come and grab yourself a beer, meet the other exhibitors, meet the attendees that are still there and have an informal chat.

And we’ve got the dinner of course, and I think we got your form in yesterday, so hopefully I’ll be back on your table for the Making Cosmetics dinner! We also do a dinner for the speakers at Making Pharmaceuticals. This year at Making Cosmetics actually – we always have a mixing demonstration to show how sheer mixes work in the whole process of producing a cosmetic product. This year we’ve actually got a guy that’s doing technical presentations on a web app that he’s developed, which really cuts a lot of time to market what people are developing (cosmetic products) and helps you out with EU regulations and nobody likes EU regulations!

It’s really great – so we’ve got tech demonstrations, we’ve got mixing demonstrations, we’ve got all kinds of networking opportunities, seminar content, fantastic exhibitions, so there’s lots to do in the two days at both events.

RH          This is exactly why you should plan ahead! We’ve started having meetings here. There are six of us going to Making Cosmetics and we’ve agreed two people on the stand at all times so we’re going to constantly rotate, so everyone can have a break, like you say. We’ve also gone through all the different seminars and presentations and we’re trying to juggle everyone’s time so that we can make the most out of them as well.

                We haven’t done name badges, or at least branded badges, so that’s definitely something I’ve got out of this.

CS           It’s well worth it, as I say, just let people identify exactly who you are. Then when they’re walking round to go to get their coffee or wherever they go, it’s right there.

RH          That’s a really valuable tip – thanks very much.

                I have to put a little shameless plug at the end for ReAgent; we’re on Stand 103 at Making Cosmetics.

We hope these tips are helpful to anyone attending an event as a visitor or exhibitor. Let us know if you have any more tips to help people get the most out of exhibitions.


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