Faced with the impossibility of hosting a physical version of its annual trade show, Simon Henley reveals how dealer, Ernest Doe and Sons turned to technology to put on an event.
The annual trade show hosted by Ernest Doe and Sons at Ulting in Essex is the largest independent dealer event in Europe, annually attended by more than 10,000 people. Last year, the company, which has 18 depots throughout the south-east of England, celebrated 60 years of hosting the Doe Show, which is traditionally held during the first week of February.
But while the 2020 annual Doe Show signified a landmark event in the company’s history, it was also one of the last major agricultural events of the year to be hosted in the UK. The following month of March saw Britain plunged into Covid-19 lockdown, and aside from a few months of respite last summer, the entire nation has been shackled by the effects of the pandemic ever since.
With most of Europe put under heavy limitations and the 2021 agricultural events calendar throughout the world emblazoned with the word cancelled, one might have been forgiven for expecting the 61st annual Doe Show to have joined this extensive list. However, faced with the dilemma of not being able to physically host this event, the management team at Ernest Doe and Sons decided to take a different approach.
Hayley Hill, marketing manager for the Ernest Doe group explains: “We realised it was impossible to have physical interaction with our customers. The task we faced was to explore the alternatives at our disposal, which would enable us to continue interacting with our customers.
“There have been two key elements to presenting this year’s show. These included the creation of new micro-sites featuring video presentations, which incorporated special offers which would normally be available at the show and the machinery auction. What we did not want to do was to labour on the presentation of the show as a virtual event. For this reason we decided the show should be called ‘The Doe Show with a Difference’.”
Over the years, the Doe Show has become an institution in south east England. Yes, it represents the opportunity for Doe customers in the agricultural, groundcare and construction industries to mingle with the staff at Ernest Doe and see the latest products on offer. But it is also an opportunity for the local community to see what goes on at Ernest Doe and Sons, with exhibits of the latest kit, tractor demonstrations and eclectic mix of food and retail vendors all contributing to the atmosphere.
An important aspect of the Doe Show with a Difference is the machinery auction. Normally, visitors can buy a wide selection of ex-demo, ex-hire, used and clearance machinery. This year the auction was adapted into an online auction where buyers could bid on vast compound full of a variety of used equipment, a large proportion of which had no reserve price.
Ernest Does and Sons managing director, Angus Doe says: “We put off the virtual idea for as long as we could, but the alternative of doing nothing simply was not acceptable. We originally considered putting the show off until May, but the land we use for the event belongs to our farm and by March it is planted with spring crops.
“Since we really wanted to maintain our tradition of hosting the show in February, after much deliberation it was decided hosting the show virtually was the only way forward.”
The decision to use virtual technology was agreed during the last week of October 2020. The task facing the marketing team was to explore new options and the technologies available, so they could plug the gap to replace the physical Doe Show with the least impact.
Hayley Hill continues: “In ordinary times we might have simply hired a production company for a project of this magnitude, but this had to be done in-house. Producing video content required the purchase of lighting and sound equipment. The filming was done using smart phones and a video camera.
“The process of filming is very time consuming. Every market sector represented by Ernest Doe had to be included, which required getting the members of the management and sales teams to make a presentation to camera.
“To help the production process, we converted one of the barns at the dealership into a makeshift studio, which we equipped with a lighting tower. This enabled us to showcase large items of equipment and film the machinery presentations in a controlled environment.
“Some people were reluctant to talk on-camera, while others were quite natural presenters. In some cases we would ask people to say just a few sentences at a time and then stop. The idea was to get a completely natural feel from everyone and I think we achieved that very successfully.”
To help with the filming process, the production team at Ernest Doe and Sons also turned to their suppliers for help. Ernest Doe sales director, Graham Parker reveals the scope of their efforts: “The equipment manufacturers we deal with have been tremendously supportive. We asked for their assistance and told them what we wanted and in return they sent us video footage which we were able to edit together with our own presentations.
"The enthusiasm and the contributions made by manufacturers and suppliers stands as a testimony to the strong working relationship Ernest Doe and Sons has with these companies.”
Hosting the online auction presented yet another challenge. With guidance and support from Cheffins Auctioneers and by using 360-degree camera technology to film the entire machinery compound, the goal here was to make the auction process as user friendly as possible, to produce a shopping list with an interactive show guide which encompassed a virtual tour with displays of the machinery.
This proved to be a very labour-intensive process, which took several days and a very concentrated effort to achieve. Hayley Hill says: “Strictly from the perspective of a technical production, our challenge was to make it work. What we aimed to achieve was something which would be both interesting and simple for all our customers to use.”
The opening of the Doe Show is traditionally fuelled with a buzz of excitement, which fills the air as crowds of people file through the auction compound. This year’s catalogue included more than 1,300 lots, all of which were neatly lined up and tagged with their respective lot numbers, yet the auction compound stood eerily silent.
However, the online traffic bombarding the Ernest Doe website was nothing short of astonishing. Mr Parker says: “Within three days there were more than 15,000 views of machinery lots in the auction. We have been seeing bids not only from all over the UK and Ireland, but also from Europe.
“Another thing our data has revealed is the length of engagement times for visits to the website, which are averaging 15 minutes. This has really surprised us, as we expected an average engagement of two or three minutes. What this data proves, is people were able to successfully navigate the website and made full use of the video presentations.”
Mr Doe concurs: “On the first day of the show, I must confess I felt quite flat. There was none of the buzz you get from hundreds of our customers walking around and I missed that. However, what saw, is that using virtual presentations has added a whole new dimension to the show.
“Thanks to the support we have had from Cheffins Auctioneers and the huge team effort from everyone at Ernest Doe, I think this has been a successful venture during a difficult time in the industry. It is also a huge learning curve, from which I think we will be able to apply some significant elements of change to the show in future years.
Mr Parker adds: “We are yet to see the full outcome from the auction results. What we have learned, is that by using virtual presentations we have increased the exposure of the company to a level we had not previously anticipated. I look forward to seeing people visiting our premises again, but by utilising a combination of virtual technology I think future Doe Shows will be even better events.”