The past ten years have been full of excitement for The NEC Group, the venue management company responsible for a number of arenas and event facilities across Europe. With CEO Paul Thandi at the helm, the business is in constant evolution. It also has an increasingly strong focus on playing a role in the economic regeneration of the cities in which it operates.

Paul’s leadership philosophy is to encourage his team to stretch the limits of their thinking, and to look at the future rather than the past. This approach has led to The NEC Group capitalising on some great opportunities within the sector. “The business was doing well when I joined but nobody was thinking outside of the box,” says Paul. “We had more than three million people visiting our venues each year and they were coming to see content which our customers were putting together — an exhibition, a show, or a conference; however, we weren’t capturing any data from those events. I immediately saw an opportunity to establish a data business within the company so we could understand our visitors better and tailor our products and services to suit.”

This led to a revival of The NEC Group’s sites across Europe. “We had these iconic venues that were opened in the 70s, 80s and 90s but they hadn’t been properly updated to suit the needs and demands of the twenty-first century.

We were asking people to come to these venues and spend their hard earned money but we weren’t really providing them, in my view, with the appropriate hospitality and catering services. In order to deliver on that we needed to establish a fighting plan.”

The business set about investing in and commercialising its operations, in line with the valuable data it was now capturing. It struck naming rights deals, partnered with food and beverage companies, and improved the atmosphere of its venues. It also launched a hospitality offshoot, Amplify, and a ticketing business, The Ticket Factory, which sells for venues and events nationally and internationally in addition to operating as the official box office for The NEC Group.

Events venues are economic regenerators

Paul explains that the work The NEC Group does is actually rather important as its venues are seen as economic regenerators, helping the government and other entities to transform a particular part of a city. “Fundamentally, we bring business and leisure tourism into that particular destination,” he says. “We have millions of people coming to our venues each year to see 750 events take place and their expenditure in those regions adds up to £2.1 billion of economic impact. That indirectly supports 29,000 jobs.

Paul Thandi, CEO of The NEC Group
We know who the visitors are through the data we are capturing and we can sell them better parking, electrics, food, hospitality, and other things so they have the best possible experience.

We know who the visitors are through the data we are capturing and we can sell them better parking, electrics, food, hospitality, and other things so they have the best possible experience.

If you can maintain that, and grow the number of visitors coming to the region to spend money on services and products, you are doing something that regenerates the economy. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have transformed our business into one of Europe’s leading venue management companies, and we are having a societal impact as well.

“Furthermore, at the NEC site for example, we now have retail businesses, so it’s all about the destination. In fact, all of our businesses are becoming 24/7,” explains Paul. “We have recently struck a partnership with a gaming company called Genting. They have invested £150 million into a fully integrated destination leisure and entertainment complex called Resorts World Birmingham, located adjacent to the Genting Arena. There are fifty-two units of retail, nineteen bars and restaurants, two floors of gaming, and a private gaming floor. There is also a cinema, a state-of-the-art conference centre, a 178-room hotel, a spa, and even a small cosmetic surgery. The real benefit for us is that now, at that venue, we are getting an extra three million people visiting. Our visitor numbers across our venues have increased from four million to seven million overnight.”

In recent years The NEC Group has also decided to do some co-promotions, where it works with other organisations to reduce some of the commercial risk. Each year it hosts a few live concerts with a local radio station which has been well received, and last Christmas it held the world’s biggest pantomime, showing Cinderella at one of its arenas. “We sold 35,000 tickets and it was a huge success,” Paul notes. “We are now working on our next production and these are examples of how we have moved our business on; we are not just facilitating the content anymore. We know who the visitors are through the data we are capturing and we can sell them better parking, electrics, food, hospitality, and other things so they have the best possible experience.”

In addition, The NEC Group is trying to make the content it delivers more meaningful — Paul says that everything it does needs to have the enjoyment of visitors top of mind. “We need to make sure that when they are with us, we absolutely look after them. There is a whole bunch of customer measures that we religiously review. We look at what the customer hierarchy of needs are and we invest capital expenditure into that, tracking it to ensure it is always improving.

“If the customer is happy then the people who bring that content to us (the show organiser, the promoter, the conference organiser) are also going to see a benefit. Ultimately, our business is about people and about the customer experience. We bring live to life, that’s our strap line and that’s exactly what we are focused on doing.”