I bring you a cautionary tale this week.
In the Summer of 2016 we were contacted by an individual who said he was calling on behalf of Upper Street Events - a company well known to us as we have exhibited with Country Living Fairs over the years.
This individual, Olivett Asare, said that Upper Street Events were starting a new initiative to make it cost effective for small businesses to exhibit abroad. They had cherry picked exhibitors from their database to take part in a new scheme which was by invitation only. They only wanted good quality British businesses with niche products. The first show was to be in Los Angeles in March 2017 and was called Source British.
( It transpired that Olivett was the Director of a company called Source British Direct Limited which has now been dissolved. )
The scheme was indeed, very attractive and we decided that it fitted our plans for the future so we signed the contract - a familiar contract that we had signed many times before with them for shows in this country.
The total cost for the show was going to be around £2000 including the shipment of our goods and stand to LA. The flight and hotel package was to be a further £2000 approximately, and then there were our ancillary costs of stand furniture, visas, food, etc etc. In all, a cost of approximately £5000.
Along the way the Department for International Trade became involved which gave us added confidence.
Prior to leaving for LA we were told that industry experts, buyers, and members of all branches of the Press had been invited and in excess of 3500 had registered to attend the show. We made our preparations accordingly.
On arrival at the show we met with the other exhibitors and we began the show build. Later in that day, the day before the show opened, we were called together for a 'pep' talk and advised to 'be ready' for the expected visitors - the 3500+ figure was reiterated.
The following day when the show opened there was not the tsunami of people as promised. In fact over the entire two days only 147 people came through the door and we had the distinct impression that most of those had wandered in by accident. The American admin assistant told us that there had never been that number registered - it was closer to 10% of that figure.
They must have known before we left the UK that the show was a flop.
Throughout the time afterwards we have never had a communication from Upper Street Events - and in fact, now, they are saying that the show was nothing to do with them, that Olivett Asare was operating from his own Limited Company. This is not true.
However, Trev and I decided to take them to Court to try to gain some redress as some of the companies that engaged with this farce have now gone out of business. We have just had the case heard - of course Upper Street Events did not engage at all and did not appear. Aha! I hear you say, then you won!
Not so. The Judge was very annoyed that they had not turned up as he said he would have spoken his mind to them. He had every sympathy with us and said we had been treated shabbily. He was very clear though that he could not find in our favour as there is one crucial clause amongst the many in the T&C's on their contract.
Clause 33. Status of Pre-Contractural Statements.
The Exhibitor acknowledges and agrees that it does not rely on any undertaking, promise, assurance, statement or warranty (whether in writing or not) of any person which relate to the subject matter of the Contract, other than that set out expressly in the Contract.
In short, this means that they can say or write anything they like to get you to sign the contract and unless it is written in the contract it means nothing.
In Business to Business there is no protection, no moral or honorable behaviour or protection from the Law. If you don't like the terms of the contract you need to negotiate terms to your liking. Good luck with that.
The Judge said that he admires small businesses in this country and he does believe the Law is stacked against us as mostly we cannot afford the legal muscle necessary to survive. He said it was brave to bring it to Court and personally speaking he would make the award if he could. He remarked that it was ridiculous of Upper Street Events to maintain that this was all nothing to do with them as it was clearly their contract.
The Judge also said that the only realistic scenario for bringing an action - any action - would be fraud.
Going forward, at what point does a liar become a fraudster?
So, I can now only write about this to warn others that no-one has your interest at heart except you. Be aware, educate yourself and believe that companies like Upper Street Events are long-standing and successful because they can exploit those smaller and weaker than themselves.
Sadly I am already contracted to go to the Country Living Spring Fair next year as we were the winners of the Editor's Choice Award. We bought extra space to augment our prize of a free stand and I very much doubt that we will be able to get released from that. This whole episode will colour how I feel about returning to the events in the future though - through no fault of Country Living Fairs or the magazine.