What do you think of the show so far?

Confessions of an NEC virgin

(by Cary Cray-Webb)

A couple of weeks ago, my husband frog-marched me to the car and then drove me at speed towards Birmingham. While I’m growing very familiar with the western stretches of the A14, I’ve always managed to stop short of the M6 (except for one family trip to Dudley – a different story, and I slept most of the trip so it doesn’t count). On this occasion, our destination was the National Exhibition Centre.

After a couple of minor dramas (like getting caught in a traffic jam while the trip computer threatened instant doom in the shape of an empty petrol tank), we arrived at the NEC. The ‘helpful’ multi-coloured traffic management system sent us round most of the site before we found a car park that seemed to be full of vans, each occupying four spaces. Eventually, we found a couple of free spaces that were the perfect size for my Ford Fiesta. Unfortunately, Chris, my husband, drives a Mercedes; so getting the car in the space was a struggle followed by a performance that can only be described as a sot of Limbo Dance.

Off we go …

After a brisk walk across the car park and a short stop to pay £12 for the privilege of forced contortions and the expectation of dinged paintwork, we joined the queue for the shuttle bus. Things started getting better. We managed to time our arrival for late morning, and there was only one person waiting. When we got on board there were only two other people already there, so we chose a comfortable seat near the exit door.

The bus then performed a slightly weird dance of its own while the air suspension levelled things out, and then we were off toward the exhibition halls, largely retracing the route we had followed in the car as we drove in.

I don’t often use buses. Not because I’m posh, but because we live in the country and the bus service near home can only be described as crap. But I have to say that the NEC’s shuttle buses are very comfortable and sensibly driven.

Upon arrival …

Arriving at the exhibition halls I was met by a security guard who wanted to search my bag. I wasn’t really prepared for this. However, the guard didn’t seem to find the contents of my bag either too threatening or too amusing, so it wasn’t too much of an embarrassment.

A quick comfort break before entering The Dentistry Show (we were there on business) revealed a major shortfall of the NEC. There are equal numbers of gents and ladies loos. However, the internal layout of ladies loos vs gents means that they have less ‘capacity’, meaning they always seem to form a queue. Additionally, the gents and ladies are not sited next to each other. So while my husband found a loo right next to the exhibition entrance, mine was miles away, near the Baby Show, so the queue was enormous.

It turns out that the problem was exacerbated because the loos inside the exhibition halls themselves did not have facilities for disposal of sanitary ware. This mean ‘ladies’ were dumping their used items on the floor, which was pretty disgusting even by 11:30, and that in turn meant one visit was enough to send you walking around the central concourse and joining the 50 or so expectant mums outside a loo there.

Note to the NECYUK!

The Dentistry Show

The Dentistry Show 2018 offered plenty of verifiable CPD

The Dentistry Show 2018 offered plenty of verifiable CPD

Once I’d eventually rejoined my husband, we produced our tickets (sent prior to the show) picked-up our show guides and lanyards, and had our badges scanned at the entrance. All very straight forward. We walked through the door and bang! 400 stands and exhibits covering every aspect of dentistry.

The immediate impression wasn’t good – it looked a bit like a marketplace in some areas, with stands basically ‘flogging’ probes and mirrors, mostly staffed by what appeared to be bored looking Chinese people who seemed confused that no-one was buying handfuls of the shiny treasures.

Pushing through the bazaar, things started to take shape and became more recognisable. Brands and suppliers, prospective customers and trade organisations became discernable, and we started to make sense of the floor plan. As we were there for two days we decided to use day one for looking and day two for talking. So we wandered around, looked at what was on offer, picked up some freebies and brochures and learned new things.

I had no idea of what to expect. As I wrote above, I’ve never been to the NEC, and I’ve never been to trade show of this scale. My husband (who has been to lots) told me that it was not the biggest in terms of floor space, but it was probably the busiest he’s been to.

What did Cary do next?

Very simply, I discovered why Chris is always grumpy and knackered whenever he comes back from working at a trade show (he doesn’t usually visit – he works the stands or the press office). It is so tiring.

We stayed in central Birmingham. Finding our hotel was a performance enhanced by an out of date satnav and Birmingham City Council’s decision to pour every drop of EU development funds they could get hold of into digging up the city centre. However, we eventually arrived at the Hyatt Regency, and this turned out to be a very comfortable hotel.

Chris’ plan had been to show me around Brindley Place, and the pubs and restaurants by the canals. They were teaming with happy people, but frankly, I was too tired to enjoy them. Instead, we found a very nice Indian restaurant next to our hotel called ‘Gateway to India’ and had a fantastic meal, followed by a drink in the hotel bar and bed.

Saturday is a work day

After a very nice breakfast and some more of Chris’s dreadful navigation, we arrived back at the NEC to queue (this time) for a carpark. The queue was long and slow-moving, though oddly, there were loads of full-sized, easy to access spaces once we eventually got into the car park.

On this morning, because we were there a bit earlier, there was a proper queue for the shuttle buses. However, Chris has a shuttle bus trick. When he gets near the front of the queue, he lets other more eager people on ahead of him and catches the next bus (told you he goes to lots of these things). As that next bus was sat behind this first bus, we didn’t exactly have long to wait, but we had the first choice of the seats. We sat in comfort while others jammed themselves into every possible piece of floor space. Meanwhile, a third bus sat empty behind.

Even fully loaded on Saturday, the bus was just as super smooth as it was when empty on Friday.

Arriving at the exhibition halls, I avoided the bag search as I was instead sniffed by a Cocker Spaniel wearing HiViz. One woman asked the dog handler if she could ‘stroke the puppy’. His response was that she wouldn’t like it if he asked to stroke her puppies when she was working – which I think made a good point in a slightly questionable way.

More goodies on the way in, badges scanned, this was a day for focus and hard work.

We had a list. The editor of The Probe, four of our client’s competitors (for various reasons), a pre-arranged prospect meeting, trying to get meetings with other prospective prospects, hand-shakes with people who had contributed to articles. We also had to have discussions with the exhibition organisers and publishers about exhibitions and adverts. Our list had twenty stands to visit, and we got to most of them in the next few hours, as well as some interesting discussions with a couple of others.

That’s enough …

Eventually, I couldn’t do anymore. I was shattered and went looking for food while Chris finished the last few ‘must do’ meetings. When he found me, he too was pretty much done, so we ate our crisps and sandwiches, picked our moment to join the bus queue, and went back to the car.

By some miracle (previous evidence suggests it wasn’t Chris’s navigations skills) we were on the motorway and heading for home about 10 minutes after retrieving the car. The A14 was kind to us or a change, and we were back home again in a couple of hours.

So, what did I learn?

That the NEC is BIG is probably the first thing I would say. Truly big. This is something you really need to understand and to think about, whether you are exhibiting or just attending.

The National Exhibition Centre is truly BIG.

The National Exhibition Centre is truly BIG.

It’s also expensive. £12 per day for parking (and shuttle bus) and £16 for lunch (two sandwiches, two packets of crisps and two bootles of waters) also needs factoring into your visit. And the loos can be a bit ‘3rd-world’.

Of The Dentistry Show itself, I was mightily impressed. Because of our involvement with one of the main Practice Management Software vendors, that was our focus. Only one of the top six that wasn’t there. We were also keen to see CEREC and Imaging systems, and again, just about all of the manufacturers you’d want to see (including Carestream, Sirona, Fona and Vatech) all had stands. I was also impressed by a number of more niché application providers such as Dengro’s CRM and VPM’s data compliance system.

Then there were the proper ‘suppliers’ – the people selling cement and composites and implant componenets and gloves and autoclaves and an endless list of things you can buy from a catalogue. And the catalogue companies such as Henry Schein and Dental Directory.

There were also quite a few services companies, such as specialist accountants and lawyers, training companies and of course, labs. But there were two types of service company that really caught my eye.

The first was the Compliance companies, several of which were riding the ubiquitous and confusing GDPR wave.

The second group was the various ‘agency’ companies that make their living through buying and selling practices. It had never before registered with me just how frequently practices change hand, or why these transactions happen. Dentistry is, after all, a business just like any other, and businesses change hands all the time.

And what do I think of the show so far?

It wasn’t what I expected. Some aspects of it and the venue were better than I anticipated, some were worse.

Will I go again? YES – but I’ll go the day before, make sure I rest, and try to take advantage of Brindley Place or the Birmingham Rep Theatre during my visit.

Morcombe and Wise (with Glenda Jackson) - What do you think of the show so far?

Morcombe and Wise (with Glenda Jackson) – What do you think of the show so far?

Would I recommend that clients exhibit at the Dentistry Show? They certainly need to think about it. The organiser’s efforts to secure a very comprehensive schedule of verifiable CPD definitely drew in the crowds. Those stands where exhibitors had made efforts before the show to reach out to potential buyers were very busy. Those stands where exhibitors turned-up and hoped were less so.

Should dentists and nurses attend? Yes. You have the chance to hear some excellent presentations (with free, verifiable CPD points), to learn new things, and to refresh your enthusiasm for dentistry. In our case, to also meet people face-to-face who we have worked with over the ‘phone and email.

So while ‘Morcombe and Wise’ might have thought the show to be ‘Rubbish!’ I for one am very pleased that my husband twisted my arm to go and see the Dentistry Show. I look forward to my next trip to Birmingham with a far better appreciation of what that city has to offer.


Chris has spent nearly 30 years managing in-house and agency PR teams creating highly successful communications campaigns. With a little help from friends, Chris created Precision PR in the spring of 2017. Chris has held senior communications roles at CODA, Hyperion, CSI, Qualys and Epson, and has worked in several mid-level and senior agency roles gaining a range of strategic and hands-on skills with clients and business partners that include; Alcatel-Lucent, Adaptsys, BHA Software, IBM, Microsoft, PeopleSoft, QAD, Qlik, Salesforce.com, SAP, SDRC and Yokogawa. Our associates have worked with many others.

Comments are closed.