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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934
THE British Industries Fair, or "B.I.F." as it is becoming known in every language, is an annual display of the manufactures of Great Britain and of the produce of the British Dominions and Colonies. The Fair opens at Olympia and the White City on the third Monday in February each year and continues until the Friday of the following week. The Engineering and Hardware Section of the Fair, which is held in Birmingham and has run concurrently with the London Section since its inception in 1920, will, at any rate for 1935, be held from the 20th to the 31st May.
Although started as recently as 1915, the Fair is already the world's largest national trade fair and is attended by buyers from all parts of the world. It differs from the big continental fairs in being national — or imperial and not international, so far at least as exhibits, in contrast with buyers, are concerned.
Only the actual manufacturers of an article, or the sole selling agents for it, are allowed to exhibit it, so that there is no duplication of exhibits and the buyer is assured that in placing orders he is doing so at first-hand and on the most advantageous terms obtainable.
The exhibitors at the B.I.F. are numbered in thousands, and the exhibits now cover almost the entire range of British manufactures. Great care is taken to group the various displays appropriately so that every buyer may see with the least possible inconvenience those goods in which he is particularly interested. The arrangement, broadly, is that the "light" industries exhibit in London, at Olympia and the White City, and the "heavy" industries in Birmingham, two hours journey by rail from London, in the heart of the huge and growing industrial area of the Midlands.
Since its inception in 1915 the British Industries Fair has grown remarkably. In 1915 it comprised only five sections:— Fancy goods, including leather goods; jewellery, cutlery, electro-plate, etc.; pottery and glassware; stationery, printing, publishing, etc.; and toys and games. The total exhibition area occupied then — there was no Birmingham Section — amounted to 88,714 sq. ft. During the other war years - 1916, 1917 and 1918 - it was much smaller as all trades which were engaged in the manufacture of munitions were excluded, and even in 1919 it amounted to only 80,207 sq. ft.
In 1920 the section at Birmingham was inaugurated and London and Birmingham together accounted for a total stand area of 310,088 sq. ft. Meanwhile the number of industries represented at the Fair had increased and to the original five sections in London were added five others—brushware; drugs and druggists' sundries; furniture and basketware; musical instruments; and scientific and optical goods and photographs.
In the following year, 1921, two more important industries were added —the leather manufacturing industry, with which was combined leather goods — and the sports goods industry. The total exhibition area was accordingly still further increased.
After 1921 and in fact until 1927, the period of the great trade depression following the boom of 1920, there was a decline in the size of the Fair, and the combined area occupied by exhibitors at both London and Birmingham in 1927 amounted to only 299,980 sq. ft., less than the corresponding figure seven years earlier.
A marked revival of interest manifested itself in 1928 when the total area required increased, sharply, to 434,707 sq. ft. — a new record. The number of sections also grew and now included separate areas for the Empire Marketing Board, the Dominions, clothing and textiles, chemicals, fancy goods, foodstuffs, tobacco, wireless instruments and accessories, and other industries. The number of exhibitors, which in 1919 was 568, had grown to 1,223.
Since that date the applications for space have continued to show consistent increase. At the last Fair there were, in all sections, 2,594 exhibitors, and the total area occupied amounted to 755,045 sq. ft. — more than nine times that occupied in 1919. Some indication of the way in which the scope of the Fair has widened since its inception in 1915, when it comprised only five trade sections, is given by the list of trades included in the 1934 Fair, which numbered no fewer than twenty-four in the London Section alone.
During the last twelve years the Fair accommodation at London and Birmingham has been repeatedly enlarged. Further extensions are being made this year.
With its growth in size and scope, the Fair has attracted increasing numbers of buyers from virtually every part of the world with which the British Commonwealth enjoys trade relationships. At the last Fair, representatives, including important trade delegations, from seventy-eight different countries and territories attended. Without exception they expressed high admiration for the exhibits and the arrangements generally. More significant still, perhaps, a number of the overseas visitors stated that they had discovered at the Fair many products which previously they did not know were made in Great Britain at all. Several of them added that they were quoted better terms at the Fair than they were obtaining from sources of supply with which they had always believed British manufacturers unable to compete.
Testimony to the increased overseas interest in the Fair is afforded by the development of travel concessions granted to overseas buyers attending the Fair by European railway and other transportation services. These travel concessions were inaugurated in connection with the 1932 Fair when the railway administrations of five Continental countries granted them. For the 1933 Fair reduced fares were arranged by sixteen countries, and by twenty-two for the 1934 Fair.
The countries granting concessions for the 1934 Fair were: Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and Yugoslavia. Almost every European country will be included in the list for 1935.
The reductions granted by the railway administrations range from 10 per cent. to 33-.1 per cent. on return tickets to London and Birmingham for visitors to the Fair. Leading shipping and air services also grant substantial reductions. Reduced fares between London and Birmingham and Continental ports are provided by British railways, shipping and air lines.
Although the distance between Olympia and the White City is in reality no greater than the distance between certain sections within the Fair buildings, a continuous service of motor coaches carries visitors without charge between the two entrances.
The journey takes only about four minutes. Frequent non-stop two-hour trains run by two routes between London and Birmingham. From Birmingham motor coaches and a local train service run practically continuously to the Fair grounds at Castle Bromwich.
Catalogues and other literature to assist visitors are printed in nine languages.
Interpreters, whose services are free, are available at London and Birmingham.
Information bureaux, postal, telegraphic and telephonic services, restaurants, buffets, tea rooms and buyers' clubs are provided to assist visitors. Special hotel and entertainment facilities are arranged. Assistance in respect of commercial problems is given by officers of the Department of Overseas Trade.
Experience has shown that approximately 87 per cent. of all visitors to the Fair are trade buyers. Overseas visitors at the last Fair included important organized delegations from the Argentine, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Yugoslavia. Increased numbers of buyers came from Belgium, France, Canada, Australia, the Straits Settlements, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Iceland.
Although the Empire Marketing Board has ceased to exist, displays of foodstuffs of the Home Country, Dominions and Colonies are arranged by the respective Governments in conjunction with the Department of Overseas Trade in the Empire Section of the Fair. Empire countries represented at the last Fair were:— England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Union of South Africa, Irish Free State, Newfoundland, India, Southern Rhodesia, H.M. Eastern African Dependencies, Trinidad and Tobago, Cyprus and Mauritius.
Their Majesties the King and Queen, as well as other members of the Royal Family, have always taken the keenest interest in the Fair and by regular visits to it have given it their invaluable support. Her Majesty the Queen has not missed a single Fair. Indeed, during the last four years she has paid repeated visits to each Fair.
"The Fair," as the Prince of Wales said in his speech at the annual banquet at the Mansion House this year to celebrate the opening of the Fair, "has grown to be a factor of the first importance in the commercial life of this country, and in advertising British goods to the world." The Fair's aim is the promotion of trade, and the arrangements throughout are directed to serve that aim. In this connection it may be noted that Great Britain is to-day, as she has been for so many years, the world's "best customer," inasmuch as she buys more imports than any other country.
Trade, as the manifesto issued in October, 1926, by industrial leaders and bankers representing various countries declared, is, and necessarily must be, a "process of exchange." Only by selling her own goods abroad is Great Britain able to maintain her purchases of the products of other countries. By making purchases at the Fair, overseas buyers not only obtain excellent value for their money; they also enable British buyers to purchase goods from abroad.
Consequently, the British Industries Fair is not merely a national or imperial institution; it is a valuable medium for promoting the flow of international trade upon which the prosperity of the whole world depends.
|British Industries Fair Statistics|
|Year||London Venue||Area Occupied in London||Area Occupied in Birmingham||Exhibitors in London||Exhibitors in Birmingham|
|1916||Victoria and Albert Museum||48,555||-||352||-|
|1917||Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial Museum||60,334||-||444||-|
|1925||No London Section||-||66,000||-||426|
|1931||Olympia and White City||296,044||210,000||1,152||903|
|1932||Olympia and White City||384,918||243,000||1,170||1,025|
|1933||Olympia and White City||468,000||244,374||1,644||1,042|
|1934||Olympia and White City||480,015||275,000||1,584||1,010|