Having taken over the lead role at the January Furniture Show and Manchester Furniture Show from the triumvirate of Laraine Janes, Theresa Raymond and Stephen Richards, Cleere Scamell plans to bring his experience in exhibition management to bear on two of the UK’s most important trade fairs. Furniture News puts the Last Word questionnaire to the event director …
How did you enter the trade?
Having run the much-loved Home & Gift show in Harrogate for five years, Clarion bought what is a famous show in the events world. What Laraine, Theresa and Steve achieved is well known and much admired in our industry. Then the phone rang …
I need to declare a particular interest, as until I was 20 I wanted to be a furniture and interiors designer – partly, I’m sure, down to the fact that my mother is Danish and design was part and parcel of my upbringing. That plan all went wrong when I met an elder statesman of the events sector and ended up working for him two weeks later. I’ve been addicted to events for over 30 years now!
Who was your inspiration?
There’s so many to choose from, but I’m going to go back to the beginning. I was 17, studying a rather bizarre combination of A Levels (Economics, Art, Art History and English). My art tutor Brian Manning taught me a lesson that has stayed with me ever since – namely that if you have a C-grade idea and work hard, all you can ever achieve is a C. If you have an A-grade idea and do the minimum, you will get a C. However, if you have the great idea and graft at it, then it’s As all the way!
My ultimate inspiration for the last decade has been my son, who was born with cerebral palsy and also has ASD. Every time I get down, self-indulgent or self-centred, a single thought of what he has to overcome every single day to become the most incredible young man he is, makes me realise that any challenge can be conquered. He will always be my inspiration.
What was you career high point?
The world of events is unusual – a continuous series of peaks and troughs. Every opening morning is a fresh high point – that ‘we did it!’ moment that is unlike any other.
… and low point?
Again, it’s every show - watching it all being knocked down after the last day. I actually get quite emotional during breakdown, so these days I tend to leave our amazing operations team to it and head home to start thinking about what we can do even better for the next one.
… and the turning point?
Walking through London’s Chinatown at 6.30 on a freezing wet January evening in 1989.
I was selling space for the then Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition (in what they used to call the Oriental Craft area) and a client had promised and promised to pay. I’d ignored it, and guess what? They went bust on me with three days to go before build-up.
I decided to go knocking on some of the very unusual doors beneath the colourful restaturants (there were a few craft and accessories shops on Gerrard Street in those days). In my double-breasted Prince of Wales check suit and leatherette briefcase I achieved absolutely nothing that night, save being chased away/sworn at repeatedly and picking up a lousy flu in the process. I slept not a wink in my Leytonstone bedsit.
The next morning I went to work to see Mr H, our sales director – a scary man with more than a touch of the Basil Fawlty about him. Reaching for the resignation letter in my pocket I confessed that I’d let it slip – we were down by £10k.
He looked at me in a confused way and bellowed (not at me) “Tony (our sales manager), come in here – some useless company has ripped off our poor Cleere – what do you think we can do to fill up the space!?”
I let the resignation letter fall back in my pocket and learned that day that there is no problem that cannot be solved. That’s what event organisers do – pull together to fix things, whatever the problem!
Describe a typical working day
Each day is entirely unpredictable, but that’s why I love January Furniture Show and I love events – no two days are ever the same.
If you had to start over, you’d probably pursue which career?
Furniture design, probably. Having said that, I’ve always wished I’d had enough determination, academic ability and patience to train to become a doctor or even a surgeon.
What date on the business calendar do you most look forward to?
This year, it was 09.31 on January 20th – was that specific enough?! Again, it’s that shared sense of achievement as a team at the moment the show opens – it’s highly addictive.
What is the most important issue affecting your business right now?
I can’t even bring myself to say the word, but it begins with a B. I hope simply that by the time this is being read we have a clear way forward. Whichever way anyone voted, the uncertainty is toxic in the meantime.
What company do you most look up to?
It might sound trite, but Clarion Events. It is a big business now, but I love the fact that the entrepreneurial spirit is still as strong as the day it was founded.
What would you most like to change about yourself?
I would like to master brevity! As I said, I was brought up by a Dane, and, as you can tell, the Danish storytelling tradition is ingrained in me. Anyone who knows me will have heard many, many stories – the worrying part is that I’m not ashamed to say that they are all true! It’s been an interesting life so far …
What do you enjoy most about working in the trade?
The people I meet and the fact that furniture is very ‘real’. Everyone needs it, and always will. It’s definitely not a passing fad.
Leave us with an industry anecdote please!
I’ve taken up far too much of your time already, and frankly most of my anecdotes probably aren’t suitable for publishing!
However, if anyone wants to join me for a drink at January Furniture Show, I’ll share one that involves two celebrity chefs, a pop star, a rock star and a polymath TV presenter – it was quite a night!