The ‘Salute’ wargames show, organised by the South London Warlords must be the biggest show in the UK, and certainly the most well known. We have attended now for the last 5 years and it still remains a ‘love- hate’ experience! The show itself is fantastic and I do enjoy it. The logistical headache of getting a few of the many ranges that we carry, to the ExCel Arena in London and then back again, is not so much fun. After doing the show for 5 years, we do know what to expect and many of the challenges are now second nature.
The preparation for Salute actually starts a couple of weeks after the last show has finished. The only range that we actually manufacture ourselves is the DeeZee range, so everything else has to be bought in. I don’t think that there is much point in taking ranges of stock where the manufacturer will be at the show. For example, there is no point in taking the range of Perry Plastic Boxed sets when the Perry’s themselves will be there, along with the manufacturers, Renedra and their main show agents Dave Thomas. To make matters worse for the independent traders, manufacturers use Salute to launch their latest products and often hold back distribution of these until after the show. So we are looking for smaller companies or less well known ranges to take along and show case.
In this respect we are lucky to work with Paul Corcoran at Blitzkrieg Tanks. Blitzkrieg produce some of the finest resin tanks available in both 1/56th scale and 1/48th scale, so taking these to Salute is a natural choice as they are not easily available elsewhere.
We also were working with Javis to showcase their latest range of Battlezone scenery and this would be available as a complete range for the first time at Salute 2016. So with DeeZee and our perennial offer of four 1/100th scale Zvezda tanks for £10, we had our ranges ready. Incidentally, I am still surprised at how many wargamers are unaware of the Zvezda 1/100th range. They are superb models in their own right and even better, are completely compatible with the Flames of War range, they just cost less…
We actually booked our hotel back in July 2015, about the same time as we booked our stand with the Salute team. The hotel, the Ibis at the South end of the ExCel centre is ideally placed for both the exhibition and there is a sneaky cut through down to the van park. As with most hotels in London in this price bracket, it is a bit functional rather than luxurious but I have no complaints and will use them again – the staff were very helpful and cheerful. We had an Eight floor room with a nice view over the Thames & the 02 Arena.
So with ranges sorted and rooms and Stand booked it was just a question of waiting for the big week! Of course that’s not entirely true. As usual with these endeavours, there are lots of meetings and conversations during the year to keep things on track but the real effort starts in Salute week. The first major task is to build our displays. We like to have a dry run to make sure that all looks well and of course that the stock will actually fit into the space that we have! Once this is done we then take off all but one item of each stock line so that we have a display template and then cling film the racks ready for transportation.
There was a slight glitch with the van hire this year. The Company that we have used in the past decided not only to double the rental rate (yes, double…bastards!) but also were no longer open on Sundays so that we also would have had to hire the van for an extra day. Fortunately we found Kev’s Van hire who not only had very reasonable rates but agreed to take the van back on Sunday. We will be using them again and I am happy to recommend them to anyone else needing a van. I’ve got to say that all the blokes on the hire desk were very helpful.
So on the Thursday before the big day, we loaded the van, made sure that everything was tied down securely and we were ready for the drive down to ExCel. There was one other task to complete though. As we run live stocks on the webstore, we had to remove inventory from the computer. I didn’t want to be in a position of selling something on line that we had actually sold at the show and so disappointing a customer. It’s a bit of a task but not all of our customer would be at Salute!
The drive down to Excel takes about two and a half hours if there are no traffic problems and we were lucky in that respect. I only drive a big van once a year but surprisingly, I soon get used to the new sized vehicle and it is quite a pleasant experience! On arrival at the ExCel centre you are then in the hands of the ExCel staff and their systems. The first job is to book in and get the relevant permits to get you into the hall. As Salute is the not only show that is on in the centre, there is usually a queue and a wait before you can get to the show area. We were lucky this year. Once I had booked in, we had a short wait and then we were sent up the ramp to the exhibition halls. There is then a frantic couple of hours unloading the van and building the stand. We only had one glitch with this process – I had managed to bring the wrong sized hooks for part of the display! However, a quick phone call back to base in Nottingham and we arranged for the right ones to be delivered on Saturday morning.
The stand was all ready to go (apart from two racks) by 4.30pm Friday so it was time to park up the van and check into the hotel for a shower before going out for a meal and a beer or two. I’m always amused that the hotel is full of our friends and ‘rival’ traders from Nottingham, so there’s no shortage of company in the bar! However, with another busy day coming this was no time to be staying up late. I’ve done this once and I can promise you that doing Salute with a hangover is no fun! It was early to bed for us!
We were up early and off for a good breakfast before the show. I can recommend the Airline Café that is just opposite the hotel. For £4.95, you get a full English fry up and a decent mug of Coffee. Lovely! And so off to the show. Now if you are looking for a review of Salute, you will be disappointed with this article. The best place to go is the Wargames Illustrated site! My Salute consisted of being on my feet all day on a very busy stand. That said, it was a very enjoyable day. I get to meet some of the customers that support us and talk to some really interesting people about wargaming and model soldiers. Thanks to some extra help from Pete, who helps for the day, I also managed to sneak off and visit a couple of my suppliers to say hello but other than that, I saw very little of the show itself.
At 5 o clock, the show ends and despite being on our feet all day, work starts again as the frantic dash to take down the stand and pack every thing away in the van starts. We finished loading our van at about 6.30pm and wearily started the long drive home, with a pit stop at Cambridge services KFC for a meal break. Thanks to a closure on the A1, we arrived home at around 10.00pm and once again, it was shower & straight to bed. And so up early the next morning to take all of the stock back to our unit, unpacking the van for the final time, before taking the van back to the depot. By 11.00am on Sunday we were ready for a rest! There was just the inventory to add back on to the computer and to start listing all the new releases.
That was my Salute experience, or rather the short version of it. I find it difficult to convey how huge the ExCel arena is and as a consequence, how many miles that you walk over the weekend. The South London Warlords do a fantastic job of organising such a massive event. The strange thing is I have barely ever spoken to any of them, other than the ones on marshalling duty who do a great job making sure that we get to the right place in the hall. The show is over for another year and we will no doubt be back again. The planning will start in about 4 weeks…..