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 joked.
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 back-to-back.
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