MBS Shows, the Past, the Present and the Future
The MBS community is rich and diverse. I have had the pleasure of listening to some who have been exhibiting, and organising, for a quarter of a century, in all parts of the country, and in various nooks and crannies of the country. It is invariably fascinating hearing anecdotes from the past, learning of great successes, and of the occasional failure too. As the sidekick of Past Life Regressionist Jane Osborne, I have attended hundreds of events around the country with her, as an exhibitor and visitor. I would like to draw together some of those strands from the past, look at where we are now and have some fun considering what the future may hold.
This piece is not about Lizian Events, it is about MBS / Well Being Shows in general, from Hatton Community Centre to London Olympia. Although if you want an informed, stimulating, take on the scene, taking time out to chat with Ian Timothy will always pay dividends.
Many speak fondly of shows twenty- five years ago, and before then, when visitor numbers were of swarm proportions. Was interest in the MBS scene any greater then? I don’t think so. Instead, we are talking about a time before gym memberships, satellite TV and internet subscriptions, and expensive pop concerts were dipping into our pockets, and two-income families were still not the norm robbing parents of spare time. Internet shopping was unheard of. But fundamentally the proposition was Mediums, crystals, healing and MBS related merchandise. That core endures. The names were more commonly Psychic Fayres, but as time moved on, Psychics, Mediums, Readers, and Clairvoyants (distinguish between them as you will) became only part of the show, rather than the sole reason for attending.
Health and well being have become far more prominent in recent years. Bespoke shows have evolved to support that interest. Food and Vegan festivals have burgeoned. Music Festivals have also repositioned themselves as events offering spiritual stalls, healing health, and merchandise for all the family, as well as music. Although the core MBS proposition remains, the world around it has changed.
How have organisers responded? The best, by putting on slick, well-organised shows with a diversity of credible exhibitors, offering products and services the public want, aimed at keeping people at the shows for as long as possible. The breadth of offering can be quite stunning.
There is a conundrum. Other offerings have undoubtedly nibbled away at MBS show attendances. Any MBS show which does not evolve will retract into a rump of exhibitors and visitors in a terminal decline. Yet if you change what an MBS show is, or do it too fast, then you lose your core audience and the “it” which it “is”, no longer attracts.
Then there is the issue of size. What is the right size of an event? A well-organised village hall event of around thirty stalls and a couple of hundred visitors will always prosper. The British tradition of the Jamboree, Fete, local fayre ensures that. Beyond that. things become more problematic. Are sixteen crystal stalls better than six, six better than three? How many crystal stalls does the public want? How many do exhibitors want? The same is true of Readers and other exhibitors. Yet there is invariably room for a good new exhibitor. The traditional small MBS event does not scale up forever.
Variety of exhibitor is a way of increasing stall numbers – but if they are not a fit with the core, you can damage your brand. Charity stalls, in limited numbers, can help – but they can also hinder. For instance, Oxfam, RSPCA and RSPB all have a political dimension unheard of a decade or so, they are no longer benign fellow travellers.
We are fortunate in having a number of good organisers nationwide who are probably exploiting the existing format as well as it can be worked. So why change? Because today’s format will become yesterday’s format. The question is not whether to change, but how to change. A good organiser will rightly feel satisfied with strong visitor numbers, those who have come. The wise organiser will wonder what they can do to reach the people who haven’t come.
The question of reaching those who haven’t come raises some interesting questions. Is there a limit to how many people will attend an event in Newark, Chesterfield, Harrogate, Stafford,( for instance) whatever you do? Are the London, Birmingham and Manchester shows a law unto themselves because of their international, transient, populations and their status as transport hubs? Yet Whitby, a small seaside town, thrives as an Alternative Festival centre with poor transport links, and a hinterland which is half sea, and the rest mostly moorland. Llangollen also prospers against the population and transport odds.
However, it is not as simple as the Wayne’s World Mantra of “build it and they will come”. We will all have been to disastrously poorly attended shows. Building and hoping is not enough. How do you reach people who don’t know that they are missing out?
Encouragingly, the evidence is that there is an established, let alone new, audience out there. It is just a question of reaching them with a proposition which makes it worth their while attending. There are around 350 SNU Spiritualist Churches in the UK and 650 odd independent centres and churches, a total of roughly 1000. On a good day, they will attract 30 people, that is 30,000 people. The Wiccan/ Alternative/ Druid / New Age movements can be measured in their tens of thousands. That is a lot of people to go at.
So what will the future look like?
Readers: The proposition offered has evolved considerably since Gypsy Rose Lee sat in a tent on the end of a pier. Ribbon reading, Clairvoyance, Mediumship, Counselling, Psychometry, Tarot and past lives, and more are widely available. The basic setting, however, remains unchanged, a table, and two chairs, but normally without the privacy of Gypsy Rose Lee’s tent.
I foresee customised, or customisable, pods. Comfortable, luxurious, private, with controllable lighting, sound, and visuals on surround screens offering an immersive, memorable, client experience.
Crystals: These are big business. They are also heavy to transport, and time-consuming to display, and pack up.
Backdrop display screens can promote video of the location, creation, and finishing of the crystals. Interactive table top display screens can display an exhibitors entire range at once, allowing the exhibitor to only physically present what the public are interested in buying.
General Merchandise: Pretty much anything can be bought cheaply on the internet. However, you are unable to touch, feel, taste and smell it. That is where exhibitors can triumph. Offering a visitor experience is vital.
Expect stalls with more seating, interactive displays, mini-hubs for their products. I also expect more stalls offering personality profiling software to interface with some Readers whose work can move into coaching and counselling.
Talks: These are evolving fast currently in widely differing directions. Visitors like talks. Talks bring visitors, and therefore gate money for organisers, customers for the speaker, and customers for all exhibitors.
Underneath that, the dynamic is interesting. The speaker vacates their stand for an hour, losing selling time. A helper manning the stall in their absence can mitigate that but is a cost. But the talk itself can generate sales. I personally witnessed a trader selling £250 of stock immediately after a talk at a recent event. Those speakers who give “information” talks do not secure an immediate payback, but can enhance the visitor experience, but may boost their credibility securing longer-term benefits and sales.
Good exhibitor speakers draw crowds, but at no extra cost to organisers. This is where practices diverge. Some organisers even charge speakers to speak, on the basis that the organiser is providing the audience and customers – the talk room being a virtual exhibition stand. Others pay speakers on the basis that they bring an audience. But they are few. David Icke, Paul McKenna and Sally Morgan will produce an audience of 500 paying £40, £20,000 gross, just to hear them. Their fee. But that significantly boosts a show’s attendance numbers. Currently, the pendulum is largely in the middle of no fee, no cost.
I foresee a trend towards motivational and inspirational speakers, and of the very best speakers at MBS events becoming attractions in their own right.
Events: Village hall-style events will endure. But larger events need attractions to keep people there. The success of an event may be measured by visitor numbers, monetary spend, and length of time spent. Name speakers can achieve that, but so also can music, songs, poetry and live demonstrations. One of the most memorable things I have ever seen was a sound bath at Olympia three years ago. It featured a raised dais, a metal frame four poster double bed, rock show lighting rig, dry rice, pulsing music, and stripped to the waist young men, banging large gongs at either end of the bed. It had long queues throughout the day and was an attention getter irrespective of whether you were participating or observing.
I foresee more eye-catching events designed to entertain and engage beyond the conventional stands.
Diversity: The tradition of Spiritual interests transcends nations, age, gender and race. Currently, MBS shows are heavily skewed in favour of a white, female, older audience. There is now a significant Asian and Afro Caribbean population in this country. The profile of exhibitors poorly reflect that. A significant opportunity exists to tap into the Asian market in particular, and in attracting more men.
Food: The MBS crowd is predominantly older. They like to sit down and have a drink and a refreshment. The younger crowd enjoy healthy eating options. Many enjoy an alcoholic drink. Currently, this aspect is still rudimentarily served, not by organisers, so much as the demands of the hall owners regarding often franchised catering.
Something needs to give. Local town markets are struggling, one which isn’t is Swansea’s. It boasts a huge range of eating and drinking options from competing stalls – the public love it. In street markets at Tutbury and Uttoxeter, the first things to sell out are the food stalls with fresh, diverse, wholesome offerings.
Recently, due to circumstances beyond the organiser’s control, I have attended a show with several hundred people, and a closed bar and another with almost two thousand served by a burger van.
With bespoke Vegan Fayres emerging beyond the existing Food and Drink festivals, the organiser who can harness that demand and incorporate it within their own shows will do well.
That concludes my state of the national assessment. Maybe you agree. Maybe you disagree; Let me know. As a community, we are fortunate in having several excellent event organisations who put on popular, well attended, well-organised events. How will they shape up in ten years time? I am confident they will successfully evolve – some of my predictions may even come to pass!