IN a forthright announcement, organisers Clarion Events have stated that they are setting an absolute deadline of April 20 for applications to exhibit at this year's Olympia International Fine Art & Antiques Fair.
News of this new cut-off date comes just weeks after Clarion promised a reduction in stand costs by an average of 20 per cent in an attempt to re-establish the event as a broader-based market place.
The proposal was set out in a letter sent to BADA and LAPADA members on March 7, which also announced that a sliding scale of rental rates will be introduced and that the contentious 'marketing levy' imposed in 2010 would be halved.
Speaking on the decision to impose a booking deadline, organiser Chris Gallon said: "We have worked very hard in the last six months to make it as easy and affordable as possible to exhibit with us, and have received excellent trade support for this.
"However, it is now the time for dealers to show their support of our strategy and book a stand or miss out on this year's fair [from June 9 to 19]. Clarion has taken the decision to design the fair around the contracted dealers, focusing all our energies on making it the best possible event for them."
Clarion are no doubt hoping that the announcement of this imminent closing date will both encourage exhibitors to commit to the event and avoid the bad feeling and speculation that surrounded some eleventh-hour entries to last year's Olympia fair.
At the time of going to press, with just under three weeks to go until this new deadline, the number of confirmed dealers for this year's Olympia stood at 120. Last year, the fair opened with over 160 dealers.
Commenting on the April 20 deadline last week, Denzil Grant, the Suffolk-based BADA member and chairman of the Fairs Forum of dealers who pushed for the reduction in stand costs, said: "I understand why they [Clarion] have done this as a means of getting dealers to commit. However, dealers' reluctance is not them being unsupportive of the fair but is the result of difficult trading circumstances and competition from other new fairs, and also a perception that Clarion did last-minute deals at the previous fair.
"That said, I believe that Chris Gallon has made considerable concessions and I think, as the Forum pointed out, six square metres at a cost of approximately £2700 for ten days at a leading fair in London in June represents good value."
In 2010, less than two weeks before the start of the fair, TEFAF Maastricht regulars Peter Finer, John Mitchell, Waterhouse & Dodd and Cohen & Cohen decided to exhibit and were given prominent stands at the fair. At the time, all were already committed to the first Masterpiece fair, later in June. According to the exhibitor list on the LIFAF website last week, none of these four dealers, as yet, have signed up for the 2011 Olympia.
Paul Nash, who has recently been appointed chairman of vetting for the fair, said: "I fully support the direction that Clarion are taking the fair in. They have listened to the dealers and responded to their concerns."
By Anna Brady