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The Exhibition Hall at the Peterborough festival housed 332 stallholders.

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In business, the adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ can amount to a winning strategy.

When fair organiser IACF (International Antiques and Collectors Fairs) took ownership of the Peterborough Festival of Antiques earlier this year, the idea was not to convert this primarily consumer event into another IACF Newark or Ardingly.

Previous owner Bob Evans Events had, over 20 years, created a strong identity for the two-day, twice-yearly fair at the East of England Showground – where the focus is on the public, rather than the trade, as buyers of antique and vintage items.

“This fair is one of the last bastions of many good dealers stalling out in one place,” said Rachel Everett, IACF’s operations director. “We’ll keep aiming the event at the public, which is the pillar of its success.”

Maintaining that continuity was the mission for the first IACF Peterborough, which ran on September 27-28. This emphasis included replicating the previous layout of indoor and outdoor stalls and charging the same stand prices.

“A key goal for our first Peterborough festival was that dealers could trade easily and not notice the difference in ownership,” Everett told ATG, as the event closed on Saturday. “It’s their income and we wanted to ensure that flow wasn’t interrupted.”

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Stallholders in the ‘hard standing’ area of the fair, outside the Exhibition Hall.

Traffic control

IACF’s Peterborough debut achieved similar numbers to previous fairs at the showground, with some 2000 dealers stalling out on the Friday and Saturday.

Many thousands of visitors turned up across the two days, with the heaviest footfall on the second day. Despite this, dealers told ATG their best business was done with fellow stallholders after set-up on Thursday and on Friday, when the trade pays a higher entry fee of £15 for access from 7-10am.

Stallholders praised IACF’s organisation of the Peterborough fair, which withstood the challenge of a torrential rainstorm on the Friday afternoon.

“It was really well run,” said Jo Underwood of Relic Revolution, which sold vintage, salvage and kitchenalia items on a grass pitch costing £130, including VAT. “There was plenty of IACF staff walking around, even in the rain, to see that everything was running smoothly.”

Regular Peterborough stallholders were relieved the new owner had not increased stand prices, with one jewellery seller more circumspect, adding that “IACF has a reputation for changing things, so let’s see what happens”.

Wider reach

Responding to this concern, IACF managing director Will Thomas rules out “change for change’s sake” unless efficiencies and a better visitor experience are guaranteed.

It is clear the company will look to extend the event’s reach. With more than 40 antiques and collectables fairs across the UK each year, IACF targeted Peterborough for its size and the fact that many dealers stalling out there do not – as yet – stand at IACF’s other events.

“We’ll be a bit more trade-friendly, without changing the day-to-day running of the fair,” Thomas said, promising future moves such as allowing trade vans to pick up from behind stands.

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IACF managing director Will Thomas.

Marketing mix

Stallholders ATG encountered were reassured by IACF’s track record in marketing its events, at home and overseas.

The firm altered the marketing mix ahead of the Peterborough festival, with a bigger emphasis on radio ads, door-drop leafleting and online promotion, in particular Google display ads “which are so powerful if you’re interested in antiques,” Thomas said.

To fuel the increasing number of visitors from Asia, IACF is boosting its advertising in the region.

One noticeable change this time was the absence of the once-ubiquitous Peterborough antiques festival signposts on public roads around the city, as local authorities are clamping down on such activity.

Instead, IACF is looking at prestige banners on private land with high visibility on the major routes around the city. “It will be quality over quantity going forward,” said Everett.

As the event is specifically branded a festival, will IACF look to inject a stronger entertainment and fun element in the future?

“It’s called a festival because it celebrates antiques,” Thomas said. “There’s already a real buzz about Peterborough but we are looking at adding additional features, such as music and entertainment.”

IACF would not have bought the Peterborough fair “if we didn’t think we could improve it,” Thomas added. “There’s an element of a blank canvas about it, but at the same time there are lots of things that work and if it is isn’t broken, why would we fix it?”