To exhibit or not to exhibit, that is the question

One former ploughing exhibitor says it is not worth the hassle but others happy to be there

Large crowds on the last day of the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Photograph: Alan Betson

Large crowds on the last day of the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The exhibition spaces at the National Ploughing Championships (NPC) resemble a solar system – with the NPC headquarters as the sun in the centre of the arena.

The closer to the middle, the more impressive the display.*

Only large retailers such as Aldi and SuperValu, political parties or utilities such as Electric Ireland  exhibit at the centre.*

The cost of a central stand can run to €100,000.

The charge is the same for stands regardless of where they are located, but the bigger stands incur larger fees.*

There are some 1,700 exhibitors, big and small, in total.

It can feel like everybody who is anybody in rural Ireland is exhibiting at the ploughing, but not everybody sees the need.

Martin Lane from Watersave says he has been “there, done that, brought home the cowshit” as far as the ploughing is concerned.

His company, based in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, specialises in water conservation products.

After years of taking a stand, he has concluded that it is not worth the €6,000. There are too many people and not enough serious buyers, he says.

Many potential customers are more interested in the free pens than in opening their wallets.

Even those interested in buying treat the ploughing like the “January sales”, he says, and expect substantial discounts.

“Don’t get me wrong, the ploughing is absolutely amazing but it is not for our company any more.”

Many of the exhibitors acknowledge that the ploughing is an expensive place to do business and the sales generated do not cover the costs, but still believe it is a worthwhile exercise.

Ancillary costs

The German tractor manufacturer Claas is hard to miss at the ploughing. Its lime-green giant tractors and combine harvesters are a favourite with serious buyers and children alike who like to climb on them.

Regional sales manager Karol Duigenan estimates it costs the company €35,000 to exhibit.

The corner stall was €15,000 alone and it is right across from rival Massey Ferguson.

Then there are all the ancillary costs of staff, accommodation and transport – including €1,200 just to bring a combine harvester on the back of a lorry.

In return they sold two small machines and dealt with lots of inquiries, but it is not about the sales.

“It’s big money,” he acknowledges, “but we get to see a lot of customers we wouldn’t see during the year. Long term it is worth it. It is a boost for customers to see us here and to know we’re still a strong company.”

‘Customer confidence’

First-time exhibitor Auctus, an animal nutrition company based in Co Cavan, sees its presence at the ploughing as a statement of intent, according to sales and operations manager John Linnane.

“A lot of our sales are seasonal. We will not see anything from this until next January or February,” he says.

“The fact that we are here gives customers confidence that we are big enough to be here. We’re at that level.”

Another first-time exhibitor is Kes Energi, a solar panel manufacturer from Omagh, Co Tyrone.

Its presence will cost the company €10,000, says director Chris Melly.

“It’s definitely not cheap, but the feedback we have got has been brilliant. We have taken in a lot of leads. If you are not here, you are not going to sell. We will not be missing it next year.”

Polish-born Peter Nowicki has brought his company Midlands Fibreglass, based in Birr, to the ploughing for the last three years.

“We could get 1,000 people visiting us in three days. If I get 20 jobs from that it makes sense for us to be here.”

It is expensive to exhibit at the championships; but it is expensive not to, says Phelim Wakely of family-owned farm machinery company Wakely Engineering.

“If you are not here, your customers want to know where you are,” he says. “Your competitors will be talking about you. You definitely have to be here.”

* This article was edited on October 6th, 2016