The APF Exhibition is the UK’s largest forestry, woodland, arboriculture, fencing and biomass show. As such, it requires a lot of planning. In this series, exhibition secretary Ian Millward offers reader a glimpse behind the scenes to learn how the show is organised and how preparations are coming along for APF 2020.

AS I’m writing this in early January, may I wish you all a Happy New Year. There is a lot to look forward to as we enter a demo year, with a new government promising to plant vast swathes of forest.

With nine months to go until APF 2020, the pace begins to ramp up. We have now opened up our online ticket system so if you want to buy someone a late Christmas present you can. The online price of £20 is a big saving on the gate price of £24. There is an even bigger saving if you are coming for two days at only £35, and if you book 10 or more tickets the price falls even further to just £18. You can also book onsite camping at the same time. The campsite is only 200 metres from the entrance so is a great way to travel the night before and avoid traffic.

Forestry Journal:

We introduced the online print-at-home ticket system for 2018 and it worked well. Previously you could pay for tickets online but then we had to physically send out the tickets. The new system avoids all that extra work at our end and we are able to pass on the savings to you.

The end of the year also brings the end of our financial year so there is a flurry of activity sorting out the last VAT return of the year and getting the accounts ready for our auditors.

Susie our assistant exhibition secretary is our Sage accounts guru. I have always had a healthy dislike of the Sage system. We have been using it now for over 20 years. My main gripes are that it is designed by accountants for accountants, rather than what I want it to do, but most of all the cost of it. I remember paying over £600 for the original software. Then, about three years later, you get a call from Sage advising you that they are introducing an upgraded system and they will no longer support the old version and unless you buy the upgrade immediately you will not be able to transfer all your old information, so you are forced to cough up another £600.

Forestry Journal:

I have done this at least four times since. Then HMRC, in its infinite wisdom, decided to ‘Make Tax Digital’. Companies like Sage must have rubbed their hands with delight and booked expensive holidays at the prospect. Where once you had the option to use accounting software, now you have to. Call me an old cynic if you will but the change to digital tax was followed by a new charging system by Sage. No longer would you need to buy new software every few years, it would now be updated constantly. Wonderful, I thought, for nearly five seconds, until I saw the new charging mechanism. We now have to pay a monthly fee of nearly £70 – that’s £840 a year!

To rub salt further into a small business’s wounds, if I want both Susie and I to have access to the accounts on both our laptops I have to pay extra, even though we are in the same office. Clearly we are in the wrong business.

Having got that pet hate out of the way, let’s look forward to other things. As we move into February I have to start planning our advertising. The publishing world works at least one month ahead of everyone else, and in the case of quarterly publications three months. You suddenly become very popular with magazines when they know you have an advertising budget! What we have in the budget has to go a long way, not least because the Demo covers so many different industry sectors; forestry, arboriculture, grounds maintenance, biomass, fencing and agriculture, as well as the general public. It is quite a job deciding where to place adverts for the maximum possible exposure to all sectors at the least cost. When to place adverts is another conundrum. Early on we are looking to attract new exhibitors but then that changes to attracting visitors. Place an advert too early and you risk being forgotten about; leave it too late and exhibiting budgets have been spent and time committed elsewhere. In recent years we have put more focus on the agricultural sector as there is much overlap – many farms have small woodlands and are looking to maximise returns and add value to timber on the farm as well as the increasing number of fencing companies exhibiting, culminating this year with us staging the UK Fencing Championships.

Forestry Journal:

Joe, my graphic designer, hates this particular time as it seems that every single publication we advertise with requires our advert in a different size and format. In 2018 I had around fifteen versions of the same advert. Look out for adverts appearing in a magazine near you shortly and get the dates booked into your new 2020 calendar now: 24, 25 and 26 September.

Confor, our parent company, sent out a smart new 2020 diary to all its members a couple of months ago. The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed that they omitted to include the dates of APF 2020 in it, despite these being announced 18 months ago. The guilty party has been identified and will be sent to Kielder at the height of the midge season to brash a couple of hectares of Sitka spruce by hand. That was one bit of advertising I thought I didn’t need to worry about. I should have learned by now never to assume anything!