NEXT summer’s Olympia fair is reverting to British management and organisation, with owners Clarion Events taking the reins back from US entrepreneur David Lester.
The complete rethink is reflected in the fair, which will run
from June 9 to 19, reverting to a more traditional name, the
Olympia International Fine Art & Antiques Fair, after
Lester this year rebranded it the London International Fine Art
David Lester and his wife Lee Ann made their name by founding
and successfully nurturing the Palm Beach fair, which they sold to
DMG World Media but bought back two years ago.
For some years June Olympia had struggled for an identity so a
frustrated Clarion turned to the flamboyant Florida organiser to
rejuvenate and galvanise the London fair with his own particular
brand of showmanship.
Early on there were signs that the Lester style was at odds with
the English trade and Olympia traditions, and there was widespread
scepticism of his attempt to make this broadly-based showcase of
the British trade an international, upmarket extravaganza. Lester
found it difficult to sell stands and ended up with 165, far short
of his initial target.
Everyone agreed the fair looked very good, but the combination
of massively hiked stand rents, a marketing levy which did not
result in productive marketing, and the last-minute distribution of
cut-price stands to Palm Beach regulars, incensed the dealers who
had paid in full, some of them forced into three-year
After the success of other June fairs, exhibitors who had lost
up to £60,000 at Olympia - and there were a considerable number -
swore never to look at Olympia again under Lester.
Clarion are still looking after details but quickly decided to
take control of the fair and put it again firmly under British
In a letter to exhibitors on July 8, David Lester did not allude
to the shortcomings of June Olympia, but buried away in his
characteristic assessment of marketing and strategies for the
future he did say the management was restructured, that he would be
active in the United States and not the UK, and that he and Lee Ann
would serve in an advisory capacity.
He had lost control of the fair.
Last week ATG spoke to Chris Gallon, portfolio director at
Clarion and the man who is in charge of the winter Olympia in
He barely referred to Lester but emphasised the future role of
Clarion. He also said he was not assuming the title or trappings of
show director for summer Olympia, although he does run Clarion's
The first move is to create a dealer advisory committee "to
define the parameters of the summer fair in the future". He
promised to listen to dealers over the next months and put together
a plan based on their requests and create a Clarion-organised show
Commenting on the position of Olympia following the developments
in the June fairs scene, Mr Gallon said: "We are focused on
defining the position of the fair in the marketplace." This
indicates that with the success of Masterpiece at the top
end, Olympia will revert to its once-strong position as a
marketplace for largely the middle ranges.
He also said: ''I will establish a committee, seek counsel and
then formulate what the fair will do." On the vexed subject of
stand prices, Chris Gallon said he would look at prices and then be
informed by the committee. Which surely means stand rates will go
Speaking of his personal role, the Clarion man said: "There is
no director as such. I take advice, but I do not relinquish
control." It was clear in the conversation though, that if there
was a leader then it was him.
Mr Gallon did not criticise David Lester and said there was
still a relationship with the Lesters. He was aware of and
respected the American organiser's long experience.
A year ago David Lester stated he was in sole control of summer
Olympia, but now admits he has no role in day-to-day management.
But at the time Mr Lester also said he was co-owner of the
When we asked Chris Gallon if this was still the case, he
replied: "He never has been co-owner. Clarion own the fair, and now
organise the fair."
By David Moss