As new joint owner of the event – and sole organiser with his wife Lee Ann – Florida-based Lester has come up with an entirely new design for the show, which will run at the West London exhibition complex from June 4 to 13 next year.
For the visitor the most noticeable change in the look will be the removal of what has become an Olympia trademark in its drive upmarket in recent years under Clarion Events (who still own half the fair).
Mr Lester said: “We have eliminated the ‘free build concept’ which we recognise was undoubtedly helpful in moving the fair forward in prior years.
“Our feeling was that this created a ‘two-tier’ concept of exhibitors on the main floor and we wish to create a more even playing field in the future. It seems important to us that all dealers have equal prominence and visitor exposure.”
With regard to visitors, Lester says increasing “qualified” attendance will be his first priority. This introduces money into the equation since the new organiser intends to charge every exhibitor £1500 as a “refundable co-operative marketing levy”.
Advertising and promotion are to be substantially increased and Lester says dealers will have to play an increasingly active role. The levy (double that charged by Clarion Events) will be used to expand the scope of fair promotion.
But the organiser has also come up with an innovation to pay back some or all of that levy. Exhibitors will be given an unlimited number of personalised complimentary tickets. At the close of the fair, for each ticket used by an invitee, the relevant exhibitor will receive a £5 refund.
“If each of the 200 plus dealers brings 300 people to the fair, then the fair would have a real attendance of over 60,000 from dealers alone and each dealer would receive a complete refund,” says David Lester.
The levy is, of course, in addition to stand costs, which have also been hiked. The new design features three distinct areas with stands at varying costs.
The downstairs main body of the fair, designated ‘Olympia Square’, will have stands with a 20 sq metre minimum size, priced at £625 per sq metre. Final stand allocation in this section will be made in January.
At the rear downstairs will be ‘Collectors’ Crescent’, tailor made for smaller, specialist dealers at £525 per sq metre and aimed at creating a degree of uniformity of presentation by those exhibitors whose stock requires smaller stands.
This Collectors’ area will be next to a VIP lounge, restaurant and sculpture garden.
Most welcome to exhibitors and visitors will be the new proposals for the balcony, an increasingly bleak part of the summer fair, particularly this year.
The balcony level will be “The Orangery” and designed to reflect English elegance and tradition with stands on just one side to allow unhampered views from upper and lower levels. The Orangery will be decorated with copious topiaries, flowers, trelisses etc.
The cost upstairs is to be £475 per sq metre.
David Lester admits pricing is higher than previously, but maintains it is still less than comparable fixtures in New York, Palm Beach and Paris. His philosophy is that it is better that each participant pays a higher rate in return for a much bigger attendance and markedly better fair.
At his Florida base last week David Lester told ATG that he is aiming for around 240 dealers and fully expects his fair to fill quickly. However, his talk of developing “a long waiting list” is fanciful to say the least. Only a handful of fairs in the world have a genuine waiting list and at summer Olympia, far from it being a privilege to get a space, Clarion were desperately trying to sell stands just weeks before the fair opened.
However, Mr Lester told us that in the first week after stand application forms were sent out 50 exhibitors firmly signed up and 80 per cent of those requested three-year contracts.
More surprisingly, the organiser said: “There was no adverse reaction to pricing, not one person, and not one objection to the marketing levy.”
He summed up: “There is a willingness by dealers to pull together in tough times, but there must be strong leadership.” Lester is clearly determined to provide that leadership and already he is running the fair very much his way.
Last week a number of Olympia regulars said they were initially taken aback at the price increase, but most are coming round to the new leadership and are heartened by at last sensing a positive direction for one of the UK’s premier antiques events.
John Howard, the Oxfordshire specialist in English pottery, is an Olympia veteran of more than 20 years and, like a number of fellow long-term exhibitors, was becoming more than jaded with the Clarion mode of organising.
He said: “When I first got details of the new Olympia I was immediately unhappy with the price increases. But when I saw the new layout I thought it was so good I telephoned David Lester and told him so.
“This fair was becoming an antiques theme park and David Lester wants it to be a proper swish antiques fair, which it should be. I feel it finally has a direction and I am encouraging other exhibitors to feel equally positive.”