69-79 Fulham High Street
London, SW6 3JW
Telephone: (+44 20) 7384-7700
Fax: (+44 20) 7384-7701
Web site: http://www.clarionevents.com
Founded: 1947 as P&O Events Limited
Sales: $70 million (2017 est.)
NAICS: 561920 Convention and Trade Show Organizers
Clarion Events Limited is a London-based producer of trade shows, fairs, conferences, exhibits, and associated websites, operating in more than 50 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia. The company serves 15 different markets, including retail and home, technology, defense and security, energy and resources, life sciences, and gaming. Besides its home country, Clarion maintains offices in Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, West Africa, and the United States.
The company that became known as Clarion Events (in 1999) was founded in 1947 as P&O Events Limited, the in-house events organizing arm of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, a west London venue. It was built in 1937 on a site that in 1887 had hosted Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The grounds closed in 1914. The first event held at the new structure was the September 1937 Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition. A motor show soon followed and became a perennial event at Earls Court. The hall's chief London rival was the Olympia, which opened in 1886 as the National Agricultural Hall. Two years later, it hosted its first International Horse Show, The first Ideal Home Show followed in 1908, as well as the Cycle and Motor Cycle Show in 1919. Property business magnate Jeffrey Sterling acquired Earls Court and in 1973 added Olympia, creating Earls Court and Olympia Limited (EC&O). P&O Events served as the events organizer for both properties.
Clarion Events' existence as an independent entity began to take shape in 1999 when EC&O was acquired by brothers Jack and Andrew Morris, who also owned London's Business Design Centre. They were primarily backed in the EC&O venture by private equity firm Candover Investments plc, which held a 60 percent interest to the Morris family's 25 percent. Subsequently, a rebranding effort was launched for the three operations: Earls Court and Olympia London, Earls Court and Olympia Group, and Clarion Events. Andrew Morris served as the chief executive officer of the parent company, and in the fall of 2000 he took over as the interim managing director of Clarion. He quickly made his mark by dividing Clarion's operations into three divisions, Art and Antiques, Trade, and Consumer.
When Kimble joined Clarion, it was still a small event-organizing company, but under his direction it began a period of rapid expansion. One of his early achievements was reviving the London Motor Show, a biennial event last held at Earls Court in October 1999 but canceled in 2001 after it failed to receive the necessary support from the auto industry. Clarion revamped the show's format and dropped its traditional October time slot. Instead, the show was moved up on the calendar and reopened in June 2003. At the same time, Kimble's team developed regional versions of four of its London shows.
In February 2003 Clarion established a joint venture with the Glasgow-based Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre to produce Clarion-owned events in Scotland, beginning with the Spirit of Christmas and The Baby Show. The newly formed Clarion Events Scotland also assumed responsibilities for events run by Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre's organizing unit, a pair of Scottish Wedding Shows, Outdoors, and Carnival. Two months later, Clarion Events Scotland reached an agreement with the Scottish Motor Trade Association to organize the next two biennial Scottish Motor Shows. Also in 2003, Clarion launched the first London Wine Festival, a consumer tasting event that sought to take advantage of surging wine sales in the United Kingdom.
All told, Kimble launched 14 new events and shelved 5 shows during his first three years at the helm. The company doubled in size and annual revenues increased to £35 million. In 2004 he was presented with an opportunity to make Clarion a fully independent company. In January of that year, Candover put EC&O up for sale. Four months later, EC&O was sold to an investment group led by St James Capital. Afterward, Kimble approached EC&O about a possible management buyout of Clarion. Encouraged to proceed, he secured a backer in Hg Capital, and in October 2004 a £50 million deal was completed to acquire Clarion. Hg invested about half the equity, with Royal Bank of Scotland providing debt facilities and Indigo Capital providing mezzanine financing. EC&O had been approached by other parties interested in acquiring individual Clarion-owned events, but its new owners opted instead to keep Clarion intact for Kimble.
Although separated from EC&O, Clarion retained a close relationship with its former corporate parent and continued to operate out of the same offices. Concurrent with the buyout, Kimble announced that Clarion would continue to invest in its existing events, but it would look to grow as well through strategic acquisitions in the United Kingdom. Clarion also expressed interest in European expansion. “The new independence gives us greater opportunity to explore further afield,” Kimble told Claire Bond of Marketing Event in a November 30, 2004, article. “We are looking at the possibility of shows in Europe and are actively pursuing opportunities there, as well as acquiring shows in Britain.”
Kimble had maintained a good relationship with Morris, who was now the CEO of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, England. In June 2005 NEC's in-house organization arm, Centre Exhibitions, entered into a joint venture with Clarion. Dubbed Clarion Events NEC, it assumed control of 10 Birmingham-based shows, including The Classic Motor Show and Antiques for Everyone as part of Clarion's wider effort to take advantage of opportunities in England's Midlands and other markets outside of London. Clarion Events NEC also sought to buy and launch new shows throughout Europe. At the same time as the alliance with Centre Exhibitions, Clarion acquired the International Trade Fair, International Food Fair, and Autumn Fair from Trade Fairs Scotland. It also added Mela 2005, the Mega Asian Experience, an event scheduled for the NEC that fall.
Hg Capital did not plan to hold its investment in Clarion for the long term. In October 2007 investment bank Close Brothers was hired to handle the sale of the company and the first round of bids were received early in 2008. A deal was struck in February 2008 to sell Clarion for £120 million to New York private equity investor Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS).
Like Hg Capital, VSS followed a “buy-and-build” philosophy, quickly expanding its portfolio companies through acquisitions and then selling them for a profit. Kimble and his management team remained in place, but he told Marketing Event in a March 4, 2008, article, “We are looking to re-invent ourselves. I believe that this is not just a new chapter, but a new book. There will be significant changes.” When the sale to VSS was completed, Clarion wasted little time in expanding into a new sector. In May 2008 it acquired three arms fairs: Defence Systems and Equipment International, Latin American Aerospace and Defence Exhibition, and ITEC (Europe's leading military training, simulation, and education exhibition and conference).
Over the next seven years, VSS financed another dozen “bolt-on” acquisitions that expanded Clarion into new sectors and new regions of the world. For example, the company acquired the German-based Survey Marketing + Consulting GmbH & Co. KG, a provider of market and product analysis services. Renamed Clarion Survey GmbH, it then acquired a Turkish-based exhibition organizer.
In December 2014 VSS reached an agreement to sell Clarion to American private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, Inc., for more than £200 million. The deal closed the following month. Pursuing the same model as Clarion's previous owners, Providence financed further acquisitions to prepare the company for yet another sale.
In March 2015 Clarion acquired Internet Retailing Events, a U.K.-based events company. In July 2015 Clarion added the Border Security Expo and the US/Canada Border Conference to its portfolio of events. Later in 2015 Clarion expanded its North American operations with the acquisition of Urban Expositions. Based in Kennesaw, Georgia, the 20-year-old company produced and managed a portfolio of 37 events in 9 industry sectors and published Airport Revenue News, an airport concession industry trade magazine. Soon after joining Clarion, Urban Expositions (renamed Clarion UX in 2017), acquired the Womenswear in Nevada trade show held semiannually in Las Vegas.
In 2016 Clarion acquired three global supply-chain conferences and exhibitions held in Europe. A year later, it added to its Asian holdings. It acquired RetailEX ASEAN, a trade exhibition held in Thailand for retailers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
In the summer of 2017 Clarion was once again put on the block. There was no shortage of interest in the property. Five private equity firms were shortlisted, but before a second auction round could be conducted, New York hedge fund sponsor The Blackstone Group met Providence's £600 million asking price and took Clarion off the market.
Other than a new private equity firm owner, little changed for Clarion. Kimble remained as chairman and the company continued to expand through a series of acquisitions. In January 2018 Clarion acquired the Berlin-based Premium Exhibitions, a producer of several trade shows in Germany. The following month, Clarion added the Hong Kong–based Global Sources, a leading Asian exhibition and online business-to-business marketplace operator. Because of its name recognition, the Global Sources brand would continue to be used in Asian markets.
Clarion Asia; Clarion UX; PennWell Corporation.
DMG Events Limited; The Freeman Companies; GL Events SA.
Arnold, Martin. “‘Buy-and-Build’ VSS Buys Clarion Events for £120m.” Financial Times, February 22, 2008.
Bond, Claire. “Clarion Plots Assault on Europe after MBO.” Marketing Event, November 30, 2004.
Espinoza, Javier, and Martin Arnold. “Blackstone Seals £600m Deal to Buy Clarion Events.” Financial Times, July 23, 2017.
“Exhibitions: Changes to Come after Clarion Events Is Sold.” Marketing Event, March 4, 2008.
“Failed Motor Show Comes Back to Life.” Marketing Event, May 13, 2002.
McCall, Margo. “Clarion Events Expands into Amusements.” Tradeshow Week, July 11, 2005, 2.
“Morris Hands-On at Clarion.” Antiques Trade Gazette, September 18, 2000.
“P&O Events: P&O Events Announces Its New Name.” M2 Presswire, October 29, 1999.
Smith, Peter. “Clarion Buy-Out for Hg Capital.” Financial Times, October 27, 2004.