May 26, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio
Australia’s doyen of “home shows” and health and wellbeing consumer festivals is feeling more confident and slowly getting her business back on its feet.
An estimated 30,000 plus visitors passed through the doors in recent days when two of Jane Ford’s most important events, the Sydney Mind Body Spirit Festival and the Sydney Home Show, were held at ICC Sydney.
Ford is the owner of independent organiser, Exhibitions & Events Australia and Exhibitions & Events New Zealand – not to be mistaken with the industry peak body, the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia.
Her event portfolio is big and includes the MindBodySpirit festivals – one is Brisbane, two in Melbourne and two in Sydney, EveryWoman in Perth and possibly one coming to the east coast, and the iconic Home Shows – two in Perth, two in Brisbane, two in Melbourne, two in Sydney plus three Home Shows in New Zealand.
Melbourne-based, Ford has worked in the sector for 26 years, running events across Australia and New Zealand. She has a firm grip on the state of consumer events and the barriers impacting her bottom line and those of the rest of the industry.
She says that despite the outstanding attendance at the recent shows, her company is not returning a profit.
“From a visitor perspective, the numbers have gone through the roof,” she says.
But exhibitors still lack confidence and this has kept revenues between 35 and 40 percent down on pre-COVID figures, Ford says.
“The more events the industry runs, the more confident the exhibitors will become.”
But Ford is determined to keep her events going wherever possible, even if it means taking further financial hits.
“I will burn a big hole in my pocket, in the order of several million dollars, in order to keep my staff employed, my suppliers and contractors in business and keep my “brands” alive, so we don’t become redundant,” she says.
Ford is taking a long-term business view and is prepared to take the short-term hit so that she can come back strong when the market conditions improve and confidence is restored. As her shows offer free admission, exhibitor and sponsor confidence is crucial.
Ford says it’s a position she could take because the business had very strong foundations prior to the pandemic.
“EEA is a highly profitable business – I’ll be able to turn it around by the end of next year,” she says.
That is assuming that the events industry can keep operating and confidence continues to build.
Ford’s enemies are sudden border closures, lockdowns and community transmission loopholes emanating from hotel quarantine.
She’s very frank about the personal challenges she has faced over the past 15 months.
“Psychologically it’s been a challenge because I’m starting from scratch again – I’ve spent 15 years building a sound and secure financial base. Now you couldn’t give it away.
“Am I making money? No. Revenues are down 35-44 percent on pre-COVIID figures but attendance is up for each and every one of my events. We are running them CovidSafe and building a strong platform for 2022.
“I have a risk tolerant approach to business. Yes, there’s a lot of uncertainty still in the marketplace, but we must learn to operate in this new world or become redundant.
“And the best part to this story? The thousands of happy smiling faces of our staff, visitors and exhibitors. And that my colleagues, is worth its weight in gold,” she says.
Asked what she has learnt in the past 15 months, Ford says it’s been the realisation that nothing is certain in life.
“You can never be prepared for some things. We are making things up as we go along – this is unchartered territory and when we make mistakes, we change course and adapt.
Ford is effusive about her team, especially the senior management team that has been loyal to the business and to her personally.
She has been able to retain most of her team. Pre-COVID there were 50 staff – that number is now 42. All things considered that’s a very good outcome.
Ford is a formidable operator. She has never sought the limelight. She’s always been head-down running her business and looking after her family. Few would have seen her on stage. She is a discreet operator, highly professional and commercially super savvy.
Her final remarks were resolute – “forwards and upwards”.
“We’re looking forward to a good second half of this year and the first half of 2022 is looking very good.”
With couple of new shows in the pipeline, we hope to see Ford’s events portfolio of Home Shows, Mind Body & Spirit Festivals and the Every Woman Expo flourish so that her avid consumers can continue their pilgrimages to the events she and her team run so well.
In the expo world, organisers carry a huge business risk. Venues, suppliers and contractors can only do well, if entrepreneurs like Ford can keep operating. This is a the fundamental reality – a long list of people need Ford to succeed.