DMG Antiques Fairs, organisers of four of the biggest antiques and collectors’ fairs in the UK, have been sold by their parent company.
Following a deal finalised on May 31, the Newark, Ardingly,
Shepton Mallet and Detling fairs are now owned by former Daily Mail
Group executive Keith Harris and veteran exhibition organiser
Robert (Digger) Thomas.
They plan to revive the brand IACF (International Antiques and
Collectors' Fairs) - the name of the business before it was given
its corporate branding.
This is a case of déjà vu for Keith Harris who, as managing
director, oversaw the acquisition of a clutch of antiques fairs for
DMG in the early 1990s. "They are so good I bought them twice," he
Both the Newark and Ardingly International Antiques and
Collectors' Fairs, held six times a year at the Newark and
Nottinghamshire Showground and the South of England Centre
respectively, were acquired by DMG from father-and-son
entrepreneurs Geoff and Ben Whitaker in 1994. The Shepton Mallet
fair, held five times a year at The Royal Bath & West
Showground, was acquired later from Merlin Fairs, followed by DMG's
acquisition of Detling, held six times a year at the Kent County
Showground, from Aztec Fairs.
While the timing of the announcement, coinciding with this
week's Newark (June 4-5), was a surprise, it was an open secret
that the fairs were for sale. A 2007 strategic review by parent
company dmgworldmedia took the decision to downsize their worldwide
interests in the antiques business, which led to the sale of the
Palm Beach International Art and Antiques Fair back to its founder
David Lester in June 2008 and the management buyout of ATG and all
its ancillary businesses in October.
This year has also seen the sale of both the SOFA (Sculptural
Objects & Functional Art) fairs and the 'showground' fair held
five times a year in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both were acquired
in April by former DMG senior executives Michael Franks and Mark
Lyman, who have formed The Art Fair Company to run the events.
Mr Harris told ATG of his enduring affection for the showground
fairs he encountered 15 years ago: "This has always been a
tremendous business, fulfilling a vital role in the supply chain
for the antiques trade. So I was delighted when the opportunity to
buy it again came our way with the decision by DMG to concentrate
on purely business-to-business events."
The focus will now be on Newark which - in terms of exhibitor
and visitor numbers - has waned markedly with the changing trends
that have hit the 'grass roots' antiques trade.
Attempts at arresting the decline included, in 2005, moving the
fair from its traditional Monday-to-Tuesday slot to a
Thursday-to-Saturday format. This was an attempt to put clear air
between the Newark and the rival event at RAF Swinderby, which had
grown up on the back of its neighbour's success. Ultimately this
initiative failed. There was little stallholder support for the
third day and now the two Nottinghamshire giants again run
Mr Harris believes that the showground fairs which so appealed
to a corporate company in their heyday are, in a different trading
environment, now better suited to private ownership. Certainly
DMG's spending on promoting the fair dropped markedly in recent
years as their parent company changed focus. This is one aspect
that IACF are keen to address.
Mr Thomas emphasised that the new owners anticipate few major
changes to an experienced team: "There is a really dedicated
professional team based in Newark and we are looking forward to
working closely with them to ensure the fairs maintain their
pre-eminent position as the UK's biggest and best," he said.
Alan Yourston, the fairs manager, said that several innovative
marketing ideas were already in the pipeline following meetings
with the new owners.
By Roland Arkell