I hadn’t been out there for the last two years, so I decided to make a day of it and travel out to Mielie country. Anybody who has never visited – even if you are not a farmer – should do so. Having been in the event and exhibition industry for almost two decades I have seen many exhibitions, but NAMPO still stands out in the crowd.
I wrote a piece recently about sticking closely to the business objectives and audience requirements when it comes to events and exhibitions, so I was keen to check this one out. I was also infused with the usual city boy assumptions – farmers in their two-tone shirts, kortbroek and vellies with the entire hillbilly clichés in accompaniment ... how wrong I was.
Agriculture and its primary agents – farmers – are a group of very successful and financially astute business men who manage science, nature and risk in an expert way. As a new visitor to NAMPO, one is a bit taken aback with the whole scenario. It really feels like the middle of nowhere in the middle of a dusty mielie field, but as you make your way into the car park area and pass the impromptu airport, you realise that these farmers arrive by private planes and helicopters! How many other exhibitions need to put landing strip information onto their websites?
Passing through the turnstiles, any myths or wrong assumptions about the ‘simple’ farmer are quickly dispelled as the awareness of the scope and sophistication of this business sets in … even the suits from the JSE have an exhibition stand there, not to mention all the banks and insurance companies.
Walking through the very impressive display for the John Deere farming equipment hall (about the size of a rugby field) I was instantly struck by the sheer size and superiority of the huge pieces of equipment on display – two-story high combine harvesters with GPS plotting, all selling for millions of rands! But what really took me by surprise was that on the second day of the three-day show, all the major pieces of equipment on display were already sold.
Unlike the clear picture of an exhibition stand at any of the city-based shows where a company buys some footprint as well as the skills of a stand builder and turns a handful of square meters into an exhibition, NAMPO exhibitors have a much bigger task to ‘set up’ for the show – some of the farming equipment pieces alone are bigger than the entire inner city exhibitions stands and they have many on display, all requiring transport and logistics to get them in and out of this distant show ground. A costly exercise, I might add, but every major brand is present – a definite indication that this show means and does business.
I distinctly remember my first interaction with the show’s organisers at the Grain SA offices in Bothaville over a cup of warm instant coffee a few years ago. I left, very frustrated that these guys just didn’t get it! I was attempting to bring something novel and unique to the show, to ‘grab’ a share of voice. Our pitch included things like roaming promoters on Segways in addition to unique lighting. After sitting through my pitch presentation, the hosts simply smiled, thanked us for all the work, but reminded us that NAMPO is not a festival, but a large gathering of business men attending their most important annual meeting and that they did not want to be distracted by novelties. I dismissed them at the time for being behind the times, but four years later, the show is bigger and better than ever, with more and more farmers and businessmen doing business. (The 2011 event had in excess of 73 000 visitors) – I was so wrong back then! It is without doubt the right place for Standard Bank to be talking business.
The show ground takes in everything from live-stock to sophisticated farming equipment, but doesn’t neglect the smaller details like the Jenna Clifford jewellery store for the farmer’s wife, or the store where you can buy wire tractors.
Beyond the simple vastness of the show you get a sense that this event really understands the visitor and his needs. The gates open to long lines of waiting farmers at 6am! And any visitor to the show should not miss out on the mince vetkoek for breakfast or the curry and rice for lunch – both have become signature dishes at this exceptional event.
As an outsider, I came back from my day at NAMPO with the reminder of what exhibitions can achieve if they stay true to their objectives and remain keenly focused on the attending audience. I will be back next year: join me if you want to immerse yourself in an entirely new world that has been around for decades.
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