Once upon a time when there were only a few set companies in the UK catering for the UK corporate market it was easy to know who was who, and where you went for specific types of projects.
In the eighties into the mid nineties there were probably less than a dozen set companies solely catering for the whole growing corporate event market. The big players, Stage One, Blackfriars, Scena, to mention a few, alongside companies like Inset and later on Cutting Edge, had the market to themselves.
As markets grew and the demands of the corporate business became more demanding some of those companies became more specialised. Some got CNC machines in and I remember very vividly being on a car launch in Luton when Stage One had their first CNC and had cut out hundreds of sheets of MDF with thousands of holes in all the same, it was a technical marvel. Some stayed with what they knew which was theatre based flats and staging and some took on major corporate exhibition car launches at the major car shows and went onto to build buildings and retail and corporate environments.
As some of these companies became too big for the smaller conference market a small but significant vacuum was created below which was quickly filled by carpenters leaving established companies or freelancers setting up on their own.
I was one of them setting up Rural Productions with Mick Nott in 1999 and we had a healthy chunk of the midlands event market providing top end exhibition and corporate sets to the UK midlands market, that was poorly supplied otherwise.
That splintering of resources has kept on happening with carpenters breaking away from their employers and setting up themselves. It has created a vast supply chain all over the country with a set company in pretty much every town rubbing alongside theatre and exhibition scenic companies. A wealth of suppliers that have found a new way of getting themselves exposed to markets.
Now obviously the internet is not new and the need for a website is not new either as a front page to what you do, but the internet has given us an almost “in time” capability to find specific suppliers quickly anywhere in the country and also around the world.
On Facebook during the tedious lockdowns, I expanded my search for new areas to market ourselves. I discovered rather late in the day the plethora of Groups servicing the scenic side only. Pages like #setbuilderslondon#set builders-North and #set swap cycle-Bristol Along with more generic event groups I was invited to like #TheLive event Freelance society and #UKlive event freelancers forum and #Event Productions
The scenic sites are great for looking for work and also posting any advice, when asked for, and also placing your job when you need things built or people. Its pretty instant to get costs back and replies to enquiries in my experience and it opens up that little black book for more potential suppliers to be added, even if you didn’t get to use them this time.
It has truly revolutionised our outlook on work searching and with the only downside being I am attached to the phone more than I would like. It has made me able to supply items to clients that the more established and larger companies either can’t slot in or cannot compete with on budget terms.
We have attracted attention of production managers looking for services in Italy through a simple search of Italian suppliers in some of these groups and also, we have found suppliers for ourselves for projects in London and the wider UK.
Instagram is where the individual companies share photos which instantly enables me to see if they are suitable for the specific project gap I am trying to fill. It has also shaped how we look for suppliers and specific products quicker.
With all of these at our fingertips we are able to get answers back to clients about specific project elements with picture evidence much quicker which is good for client confidence in our supply chain.
We price at least one project a month for a large set build in Europe through these new lines of exposure and we also take monthly enquiries for people and technical equipment not just for Italy but the UK too. It is giving you exposure as an individual but also you see what opportunities are available to you for work and involvement in the relative communities.
If you don’t do Facebook or Instagram in a personal capacity, I would definitely recommend having a profile for the business so you can see what these sites have to offer. There are many other sites all over the world for event and production people, I think it's worth checking them out too as sometimes they have enquiries looking for UK/European suppliers for their projects.
As a middle aged man, I realise I am probably preaching to a majority aware and converted audience, but for others of us out there looking for new direction and sales its worth checking out.