Access attended two remarkable Concours events and spoke to organiser Andrew Evans about the challenges involved.

Thorough Events has lived up to its name this summer, by staging two glamorous and successful luxury car events against a wider backdrop of Covid-19-induced gloom and challenging event guidelines.

Billed as an “automotive garden party”, London Concours took place in the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) headquarters from 19 – 20 August, having been originally scheduled for June. Bringing together more than 80 stunning classic and modern cars, and attended by hundreds of affluent enthusiasts, the event presented numerous challenges for its organisers.

Thorough created a revised operational plan that involved a reformatted hospitality experience, reduced audience capacity and increased venue space, along with the introduction of separate morning and afternoon tickets.

The company’s MD Andrew Evans says the positive media coverage and feedback from attendees helped pave the way for the company’s flagship event – the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace on 4 – 6 September.

His determination to go ahead with the events was strengthened when he awoke one morning to the news that the Government had given permission for public marketplaces to open.

“That was a red rag to the bull,” says Evans. “Public markets have many parallels to what we do except that what we do is much more contained, controlled and safer because we determine who comes, where they come from, when they come, and we have data on everyone who attends our events.”

Aside from a reduced capacity of around 1,800 people across the 5.5-acre London Concours site, and the creation of a new exit point, Evans says one of the biggest changes was the introduction of new ticket types.

“We created a Wednesday ticket and Thursday ticket, normally you would buy a ticket to the event and come on whichever day you chose. In hindsight I’m really glad we did that because the weather was biblical on the first day, but we had a good audience because ticketholders had to come that day,” he says.

To avoid people clustering at the entrances, the usual walk-up ticket purchasing facility was cancelled for both events, meaning tickets had to be purchased online in advance.

“The plan was to minimise staff interaction with guests, which is kind of counter-intuitive with hospitality”

With the audience primarily made up of high-net-worth individuals, the need for high-level hospitality at the events is paramount. At the London event, a tent that would normally accommodate 450 guests was used for 132.

“That was the maximum that we could have in there but not a single cost went down so that was crippling us financially, but it was part of the value proposition. We promote London Concours as an automotive garden party in the heart of the city, so we had to go ahead with hospitality,” says Evans.

Thorough hired the team at caterers Searcys, who came out of furlough to work on the event and created a Bento Box four-course meal for attendees.

Says Evans, “When people arrived the Bento Box was already positioned on the table, alongside their drinks. The plan was to minimise staff interaction with guests, which is kind of counter-intuitive with hospitality but that’s what we had to do for the guests to feel comfortable.”

Careful thought had to be given to almost every aspect of the show set up, ranging from the availability of hand sanitisation facilities to how catalogues were distributed.

“We couldn’t have dump bins because the risk of people picking a catalogue up, flicking through it, and putting it back in the dump bins was so great, so we had to use stewards to distribute catalogues,” says Evans.

Among the things that Evans says surprised him most during the build-up to the event was the struggle he endured to secure the involvement of key suppliers: “The supply base was, in some cases, just not there. We had an electrical contractor that we always use on the shows, but they could not service us because we were the only outfit running an event and they couldn’t bring the team out of furlough just to service us. There were similar impacts across the supply chain.”

While the challenges involved have been similar, one of the biggest differences between London Concours and Concours of Elegance is their scale. HAC is a six-acre site while Hampton Court Palace is 60 acres.

“We’ve got a really big beautiful setting to work in,” enthuses Evans. “There will be in the region of 300 cars per day in the gardens. We have 35 exhibiting partners and we’ve got one of the rarest car collections in the world being auctioned on Saturday evening. Collectively, the 15 cars are estimated to be worth around £46 million.”

Covid-19 not only impacted the build and organisation of the two events but its content. Concours of Elegance saw 60 cars compete, but travel restrictions meant many American and Asian cars were unable to feature.

“That was more than made up by the many British-owned extraordinary cars on display,” avers Evans.

Having enjoyed success with the new ticketing set up, Thorough went a step further with Concours of Elegance and introduced timed tickets, enabling attendees to select morning, afternoon or all-day sessions.

“That has given us a fix on the number of people coming and when they’re coming, which is important because it enables us to fast track them through our entrance points and scale the event,” says Evans.

Concours of Elegance attracted more than 10,000 visitors over the three days, but Evans says its success is not judged by the quantity of attendees so much as the quality: “We’re not interested in high volume attendance, we don’t want just anyone here, we want people who are high-net-worth car enthusiasts. Around 70% come because they are invited by sponsors and they only invite people they really care about. Because we had fewer sponsors we didn’t know what kind of an audience we would get, but the paying audience increased by 40%. That was helpful because it generated some revenue that we didn’t otherwise expect, but it went nowhere near offsetting all the additional costs.

“However, we got an audience that was really, really strong, and after talking to all of our partners its apparent that there’s not a person that came who wasn’t delighted – they were all so appreciative that we went ahead with the show.”

Concours of Elegance suppliers list

  • Venue: Hampton Court Place
  • Marquees: Purvis
  • PA/audio: NSR
  • Power: AAC
  • Tent fit out/walling/signs: Henson Franklin
  • Signage: Insight Graphics
  • Furniture: Thorns
  • Health and Safety Management: KRM
  • Operations: Viv Orchard Event Management

Catering: CH&CO