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issue: January 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

A Tale of Two Trade Shows

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Editorial from Diane Ritchey, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

In the end, there just wasn't room for two.

Diane Ritchey, Editor

That's the consensus on the Domotechnica versus HomeTech trade show issue, which was decided in November last year.

After months of speculation, Domotechnica, long billed as the world's largest appliance show and originally scheduled to take place in February, was postponed and incorporated into the Berlin appliance fair known as HomeTech. In its place, Berlin and Cologne, Germany will host HomeTech in 2-year turns. Cologne will be the venue for the next HomeTech in February 2004.

Chief executives of Messe Berlin and KšlnMesse say the agreement to integrate Domotechnica into Hometech was due to a request by numerous appliance companies to establish a single international industry platform.

HomeTech, which was organized by the Association of European Household Appliance Manufacturers (CECED), and in cooperation with Messe Berlin, took place for the first time in February 2002.

For nearly 3 decades, Domotechnica enjoyed a reputation as the largest, most authoritative and most commercially successful appliance trade show in the world. To a large extent, it was the result of efforts by the appliance industry to continually offer new products and to treat the event as a meeting ground, a place to present and inspect products, to sell and order them.

But Domotechnica began to experience problems in 1993, when it cut back from annual to biennial events under pressure from leading European major appliance makers.

And in 2001 many European major appliance companies - BSH, Electrolux, Whirlpool, Merloni - chose not to exhibit at Domotechnica. Some opted to support HomeTech, while others selected other avenues to communicate new products to consumers. Rumors flew that some appliance companies wanted Domotechnica to change venues so that more European cities would be represented, and to reduce travel and hotel costs. Yet the smaller Confortec show near Paris struggled 2 years ago with a plan to move that event around Europe.

So it really was no big surprise when Messe Berlin, KšlnMesse, and CECED officials announced that Domotechnica and HomeTech will now become a joint venture, so to speak. A project team consisting of members from both trade fair companies will be responsible for all issues regarding the trade fair concept, its organization, and marketing and sales, among other issues.

"Let us not forget that Domotechnica 2001 no longer had the complete support of all 'white goods' manufacturers," said Jochen Witt, president and CEO of KšlnMesse. HomeTech with Domotechnica still present, he noted, also failed to convince all the companies in the sector to attend its respective event. "The fact is that the competition between the two trade fair companies was threatening to destroy the very purpose of a trade fair - to provide a true reflection of the market, from small- and medium-sized companies all the way to the global players," he said.

After all, he said, two fairs mean double the expense, making it difficult to attend both shows, and possibly leading the household appliances sector to increasingly shift to regional trade fairs. "A respectable event that only conveys an impression of the market, but does not really represent that market, is of very little use to the sector," Mr. Witt noted.

That statement may also apply in the housewares arena. The long-standing and successful Housewares Show, sponsored by the International Housewares Association (IHA), and held each January in Chicago, IL, U.S., may face competition from George Little Management, which has announced plans to launch its own housewares-oriented show that would debut in January 2004.

When I asked Phil Brandl, president of IHA, about the possibility of another Housewares show, he commented, "Before moving the International Housewares Show from its longtime January dates, IHA conducted exhaustive research of our customer groups - both attendee and exhibitor - and found that in an environment of everyone needing to improve efficiencies and reduce redundancy, retailers and suppliers are looking for fewer but more meaningful trade shows."

U.S. and non-U.S. retailers, he noted, wanted a first-quarter show, but later in the quarter was better than earlier. Thus, the Housewares show was moved to the spring timeframe to best serve the industry. Some of the reasons supporting the move included better timing for new product introductions, a better fit in the international trade show calendar, and a better business-planning environment supported by complete previous year-end information.

"Good business sense today calls for consolidation rather than proliferation of trade shows," he said. "IHA believes that anything that fragments the housewares trade show picture is counter-productive for our industry."

As the IHA Housewares show currently does, Domotechnica provided numerous benefits to exhibitors, the main being its ability to serve as a forum to gather information, experience new technologies, communicate, and generate business. There isn't and never was room for two major appliance trade shows in Europe. But Domotechnica had something that HomeTech doesn't, at least not yet. Perhaps it was its rich history: some companies believed in the show and exhibited for years. Many people looked forward to the week in Cologne to meet colleagues, see new technology, and establish new business.

The sheer cost of exhibit space, travel costs, and of key personnel being away from the office has led many appliance makers to cast a critical eye over the way they present new brands and products, in particular, through their presence at European trade fairs. The current prevailing view, from comments made in the past to APPLIANCE, is that the total cost/benefit ratio of show participation is perceived as more negative than positive.

Will participating in one major European trade show, such as HomeTech, really help an OEM to sell enough extra appliances to justify the expenditure? It appears the answer won't be known until after 2004. Let's hope that HomeTech can pick up where Domotechnica left off, win over all of the exhibitor groups, and enjoy success for years to come.


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