Small but packing a punch

Private exhibition organisers believe they organise the more successful consumer exhibitions. Now they are looking to let the big players in on their know-how with cooperation agreements.

Consumer fairs are in safer hands with the smaller privately owned exhibition organisers. That at least is the theory of Peter Kinold, managing director of Kinold-Ausstellungsgesellschaft in Lindau-Bodolz/Bavaria. The reason: the smaller exhibition companies flexibility, their greater appreciation of public shows and a better understanding of the consumer. "The big guys concentrate mainly on international events and trade fairs," Kinold says. "They're not especially interested in consumer fairs - and that's reflected in their poor performance."
Kinold is backed up by his colleagues: "Things turn out better when specialists are at work," Christoph Hinte, managing director of the eponymous private organiser in Karlsruhe, says. He believes the in-house standards that the big exhibition companies apply to their work are not easily transposed to consumer shows. "Consumer shows have to be developed at the market. The same applies to the marketing: the approach must focus on small companies. Your business organisation has to be prepared for these themes." Applying process management standards geared more towards specialised trade fairs can be a blueprint for failure, he adds.
Kinold also identifies exhibition marketing as a crux, which is why consumers tend to shy away from shows staged by the big boys. "Promoting a consumer show is no easy business. You must be able to generate high efficiency on a shoestring." But he says the big exhibition companies don't know how to handle small budgets. It is also a matter of understanding the consumers, who are not recruited exclusively from international city slickers. Kinold cites the failed consumer show Lifetime in Frankfurt as an illustration: "The city folk had no problem with the English title, but not so the people in the outlying Greater Frankfurt area."
And many big exhibition centres have another structural disadvantage, the experts maintain: Consumer events are labouring under the launch of ever more specialised trade shows. All too often consumer shows lose important themes with the advent of special fairs. The IBO - International Trade Fair for Consumer Goods in Friedrichshafen is frequently cited as one of the negative examples; for years it has been haemorrhaging attendance and exhibitors. Yet at the same time other themes are thriving in the Lake Constance region. Of course shows like Motorradwelt, Eurobike and Interboot are of interest to consumers as well. So why should people attend the general consumer fair in addition to these special events?
In Christoph Hinte's opinion: "Keeping the importance of a consumer fair high in a supersaturated portfolio is an impossibility." Kinold seconds that: "Consumers want to see the whole gamut of new products when they go to a fair - they want to see everything at their show." And if they aren't shown everything they just stay at home, or go to the movies, or stroll across pedestrian zones or through shopping malls. The possibilities available to them, particularly in the cities, are becoming increasingly varied - which could be another reason why no consumer exhibition of note has been able to stay the course along the Rhine and in Frankfurt/Main. That said, Hanover, Essen, Leipzig and Hamburg prove that successful consumer shows are possible even in the big hubs.
As mixed as developments at the big exhibition centres are, as united are the experts in their assessment of the focus that shows need: "The consumer exhibition principle is the same as ever: the consumer wants to touch, see, hear, smell and try out," Carola Schwennsen, managing director at Fachausstellungen Heckmann in Hanover, says. "But the fun factor is becoming increasingly important for the fairs. It's no longer enough to deliver a plain-vanilla event. The consumer constantly expects to be presented with something new."
Kinold sees the Science Centers currently springing up in the US as worth emulating: "Where you can twist knobs yourself and be immersed in new worlds". Children in particular want to be able to "grasp" in both senses of the word. "That's how it should be at a fair." Heiko Könicke, managing director of exhibition company AFAG in Nuremberg, has responded to this trend with his "theme parks". At the spring exhibition AFA, the Easy Living world was on show yet again, filling an entire 6,000 m2 hall on Augsburg fairground.
The theme park was initiated by the Lechwerke utility and Augsburg municipal utility. AFAG acts as the conceptual partner and its event department also handles the erection. "The theme park is a sort of fair within a fair on the subject of energy and energy conservation," Könicke explains. In the middle there is an Action Level with lectures and presentations, also involving supraregional experts. Roughly 100 partners per event go on show there," Könicke says. They don't cannibalise traditional exhibitors, though. "Most of them are new clients."
Now Könicke is planning to set up a health park at the AFA in March with a similar concept, in half a hall to begin with. Potential participants include the pharmaceutical industry, associations and clinics. With this concept the exhibition maker has, after all, succeeded in holding area and exhibitor numbers steady in the last two years, while lifting attendance slightly to around 88,000. At the coming AFA he is aiming for substantial growth again. "We are seeing surging demand for space from exhibitors at the moment. What awaits us in the spring is gigantic."
It is a long while since such statements were heard from organisers of consumer shows. With the retail trade in the doldrums in recent years, the temples of consumption - consumer exhibitions - also gave cause for concern. "The crisis began in 2001," Kinold diagnoses in retrospect. "Economic activity took a battering, reunification euphoria had faded, and then there was also the fallout from September 11." Ultimately these developments also began to unsettle consumers. "Things kind of spiralled, impacting consumer shows particularly severely."
As economic activity turns the corner again, the private organisers are now also hoping for a resurgence in consumer shows. To enable the big exhibition companies to share in the benefits, in the months and years ahead Kinold intends pushing more aggressively for togetherness: "The future lies in concerted action between small organisers and big exhibition companies. We are holding in-depth talks about this at present," he says, signifying that the first cooperation deal is already cut and dried.
But relations between private and government-owned or municipal players are not always such a cosy bed of roses. Only at the end of last year, Heckmann's boss Schwennsen discovered how it can feel when the exhibition grounds flex their muscles. For 37 years she organised HAFA in Bremen, and the schedule was fixed through 2010. But then suddenly Messe- und Ausstellungsgesellschaft Hansa (MGH) refused to approve any further follow-on agreements. Instead, Hans-Peter Schneider, chief executive of MGH, is planning to launch a show of his own for the public at large, entitled HanseLife.
"The exhibition company is exploiting its monopolistic position to milk our customer structures," an aggrieved Schwennsen complains. But she has not written off her event yet and intends to sue Bremen Fair for "bad business behaviour". "We consider our legal chances not at all bad." Yet things needn't have come this far: "Indeed, we could certainly have envisaged a cooperation scenario with Bremen."
Markus Ridder

m+a report Nr.1 / 2007 vom 13.02.2007
m+a report vom 13. Februar 2007