The CLA Game Fair may have closed its gates for good recently… but long live the new UK Game Fair, set to début – under new management and with the full backing of the shooting industry – in 2016 at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire on July 22, 23 and 24!
Already, gun trade grandees including Beretta, Sako, Tikka, Steiner, Eley Hawk, Viking Arms, EJ Churchill and RUAG Ammotec have lent their support to the show, which seeks to replace the now-defunct CLA Game Fair as the showpiece event for the country sports community – and the big airgun names are set to follow suit.
Billed as the UK Game Fair, the new event is designed to attract the core Game Fair following – both in terms of exhibitors and visitors – and put fieldsports back at the heart of rural events, with a clear focus on shooting, fishing, working dogs and rural estate management.
The venue for the new show is no stranger to the rural economy and the agricultural industry: Stoneleigh Park. The park, based between Coventry and Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, for many years hosted the farming community’s blue riband event, The Royal Show. After the Royal Show shut its gates for the final time, replaced as it was by alternative regional and more tightly focused segmented events, the 800-acre site became something of a white elephant, though has begun to re-establish itself as an exhibition venue in recent years, as well as providing the HQ for a multitude of rurally focused organisations. This was after LaSalle Investment Management took on a 150-year lease from the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) in 2010 and began to invest substantially in the site. Today, the site is home to 72 different tenants, all of which are businesses with the countryside at their core.
Plans unveiled by LaSalle three years ago sought to revitalise Stoneleigh Park with robust investment, sustainable development and proper management. In line with the RASE’s charitable aims, it seeks to promote and improve the science around the practice of agriculture, forestry, horticulture and kindred activities – making it the perfect partner for the new UK Game Fair.
The man behind the new game fair is Wes Stanton, owner of Blaze Publishing. Besides a magazine portfolio of consumer titles – including shooting magazines Airgun Shooter, Sporting Rifle, Clay Shooting, and iShoot – he also owns and runs three market-leading consumer shows in the music industry at London Olympia, alongside a suite of shooting-specific events, notably the Clay Shooting Classic, Europe’s largest independent clay pigeon shooting championship.
Mr Stanton said he is no stranger to the new venue for the Game Fair: “I have been coming to countryside events at Stoneleigh for as long as I can remember – it’s three miles from where I grew up. I fired my first shots with an air rifle there in the late 1970s and progressed to clay pigeon shooting at the same venue in 1983. As Stoneleigh is placing itself at the heart of the rural business community, I can’t think of a more fitting venue for the UK Game Fair.
“It’s felt that the CLA Game Fair began to take its core exhibitors for granted. Gunmakers’ Row should have been a key part of the show – at its very hub – but in recent years, we and other exhibitors felt we were being treated more like an inconvenience as opposed to a key component of the show. This year, Gunmakers’ Row was put in a corner, away from the heart of the show – a serious mistake that upset exhibitors.
“That said, it is a pity to see the CLA Game Fair close its gates for the final time. But it is clear to see why the event failed. London-weighted overheads; massive infrastructure costs associated with a greenfield site; a poorly-considered VAT position on the CLA member tickets; and an entry fee that was simply too expensive for everyone. If you take all the visitors’ money off them at the gate, what have they got to spend with the stand holders?
“I can see what the organisers tried to do to get the event to work: take on an increasingly broad range of exhibitors into the show simply to try and cover costs. But once the show lost focus, and they let in exhibitors too far removed from the show’s core, it was simply a matter of time before the show shut its gates.
“We see the vacuum left by the CLA Game Fair as one we can fill with a focused, relevant event at Stoneleigh on 22-24 July 2016, delivering a range of features and events that will attract and delight visitors across our broad church that is the fieldsports community. It’s not that the demand for the Game Fair really subsided – it was just that the CLA was no longer seen as value for money by anyone, whether the core visitor market of countryside enthusiasts and smallholders, or the core exhibitor markets of shooting, fishing, working dogs and rural estate management.
Though the Game Fair has traditionally taken place at a country estate, Mr Stanton’s view is that the show needs to move with the times – and while many will be familiar with the Stoneleigh Park exhibition site, few will be aware that there is a 12th Century stately home literally a few hundred yards from the showground. Talks are in progress with Stoneleigh Abbey to allow the UK Game Fair to house some of the key attractions across the Abbey’s 690-acre site, owned by a charitable trust since 1996, thereby adding a strong element of heritage.
While specific attractions are in the process of being planned and organised, the show will put shooting at its heart, with an extensive clay line staffed by shooting instructors as well as a busy Gunmakers’ Row. Fishing and working dog demonstrations will also play a key part – and negotiations are underway with a number of motor vehicle manufacturers.
“Already we have had overwhelming support from the trade,” said Mr Stanton. “While I’m sure some former CLA exhibitors will be breathing a sigh of relief and evaluating the true value of a showcase countryside community event in terms of short-term bottom line, it’s clear from conversations with major brand names and shooting organisations that there is palpable demand for us to get the show on the road.”
One major name already announced on the provisional list of exhibitors is RUAG Ammotec, which counts Perazzi, Kahles and Bettinsoli among its extensive UK distribution catalogue. RUAG’s Phil Unwin said: “We’re very interested in the UK Game Fair. It seems to be ticking the boxes of what we think game fairs should be about, and eradicating many of the problems the trade has highlighted in the past.
“I’m pleased it’s in the hands of someone with experience, a depth of knowledge, and an insight as to what the requirements of the trade may be. It’s clear Wes and his team are listening to what traders have had to say, and are coming up with a strong formula for a show to replace the CLA Game Fair. We’ll certainly support it.”