Six years ago, paddlesports companies in Europe were drifting. They had no trade show to really call home. Most had abandoned the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, because its dates had shifted from fall to summer, which as the busy paddle season was not a convenient time for a show.
Then, in October 2003, eight companies gathered at a hotel in southern Bavaria in a small event that marked the first Kanumesse (www.kanumesse.de), a paddlesports-only trade show that has built a reputation as an important, well-run event that draws manufacturers from all over the world and helps unify the European paddlesports market.
"It's at the right place, at the right time," Jim Hager of Pyranha, whose company attended, told SNEWS®. "It's a really healthy atmosphere to show new boats and update dealers on programs for the year ahead."
As far as trade shows go, Kanumesse is a relatively small affair. This year's Kanumesse, held Sept. 17-19 at the Nuremberg Exhibition Centre in Germany, included 129 exhibiting companies and drew 1,141 visitors. Yes, the traffic is modest, but the number of exhibitors is good, participants said, considering a focus on the sports of canoeing and kayaking.
More important than its size, however, is the fact that Kanumesse is growing more popular each year, albeit by baby steps. In 2009, there were three more exhibitors than the previous year, and the net square footage of exhibit space grew from 15,059 to 15,902. Small progress, yes, but progress nonetheless. Kanumesse director Horst Fürsattel said that there is demand for more space, but he did not want to expand the show yet to keep costs from rising.
Another notable aspect of Kanumesse is how it has begun to influence the U.S. paddlesports market. Hager and others point to Kanumesse's success as evidence that a paddlesports-only show will work in the United States. Kanumesse's popularity actually helped inspire a few U.S. companies to launch a new paddlesports-only show in the U.S. (Click here to read a July 31, 2009, SNEWS story, "Canoe & Kayak show announcement sparks debate and OIA response.")
A critical event
What's most impressive about Kanumesse is that it draws all of the world's major paddlesports companies. Representatives of those companies told SNEWS it's an important event for a European paddling market that is growing.
"I believe there is a unified effort in Europe to genuinely grow the sport for the good of all involved," said Confluence CEO Sue Rechner, who attended Kanumesse. "While there is competition, there is also a culture of collaboration and cooperation. There are also far more paddle-specific retail shops in Europe which enables this type of focused show to succeed."
"We mainly go to support our distributor, who does an awesome job for us, but we also see people from as far away as New Zealand and South America," said Legacy Paddlesports CEO Andy Zimmerman, who attended Kanumesse this year. "In my mind, the show's success is based on its paddlesports focus, and that it's so well run."
One unique aspect of the show is that its organizer, Fürsattel, is also the owner of Hf, a PFDs and rescue equipment company that exhibits at Kanumesse. Fürsattel was part of the group that launched the show in 2003 as a way to revive the European paddlesports market, which had been losing momentum. He jokingly said he gained the title of show director because he booked the hotel room for the first Kanumesse, and his name was on the invoice. While organizing the show was at first something he did after work, he now splits his time between it and his duties as a manufacturer, and the success of Kanumesse is very personal to him.
He speaks about the show with passion, and says that it is much more than just a trade gathering, but proof that the spirit of the European paddlesports market is returning. "It's the pioneer spirit that we thought we had lost, but we found it again while doing this show," he told SNEWS. "This is the thing we are really proud of."
Fürsattel said his major challenge now is to increase the number of visitors to Kanumesse. In 2009, the show drew only 46 more people than the previous year. But Fürsattel is now reaching out to a wider range of retailers rather than just approaching paddle shops. He hopes that general outdoor stores and marine shops will recognize that Kanumesse not only has boats, but also other types of gear that they can sell to increase their profits.
"Many shops just don't know yet that these things are at the show," he said. Even if the number of visitors remains low, manufacturers said they are still pleased with the show.
"We had consistent attendance to last year, and it seemed that there were some new players showing on the floor," said Rechner. "Overall, a feeling of stability seemed to resonate throughout the show."
Michael Duffy, director of sales and marketing for Kokatat, said he appreciated the event is a smaller gathering. "The focus on paddlesports is very beneficial," he said. "Having an hour or more to talk with a customer reminds me of what OR was many years ago. I get to spend quality time with my customers, and ask them about how they are on a personal level, rather than rushing to spend all of our time together talking product and programs. Part of the reason I got into this business is the hazy line between work and play, and Kanumesse reflects that."
The vibe at the show
Having found a home at Kanumesse, European paddlesports companies are as upbeat as ever, and many people told SNEWS that the vibe of the show was very positive. "There was very good energy this year," said Stephan Glocker, editor in chief of Kanu Magazin, Germany's lead consumer paddlesports publication.
This upbeat atmosphere was partly due to the fact that people just appreciate having a paddlesports-centric show, but it's also due to the fact that much of Europe avoided the economic slump that U.S. paddling companies have suffered during the recession.
"European companies feel maybe better than the American companies," said Glocker. "Everybody expected the 'crisis', and some dealers decreased their preorders, but nothing happened."
"The economy didn't seem to have as much of an impact as it did in the U.S.," said Hager of Pyranha. "It seems the U.K. and European paddlesports market had a good year." (To get your own impressions of the show, click here to see the first in a series of YouTube videos from Australian Anthony Yap, owner of Titan Kayaks.)
When asked what was creating buzz at this year's Kanumesse, Horst said Europe still lags behind the United States when it comes to trends, so rec boats are still creating quite a stir, while kayak fishing is only beginning to make ripples.
Glocker said that the whitewater boat market in Europe has not changed much, but sea kayaks are booming, even in Switzerland where people take them to the Alpine lakes.
One activity that has yet to capture the European market is stand-up paddle boarding. "The paddling community in central Europe is still skeptical," said Glocker. "Will it become a real market, or just a straw fire?" He likened it to sit-on-top kayaks, which couldn't make it in northern European areas.
While the European and American markets have their differences, one thing remains the same -- people on both sides of the Atlantic appreciate hanging out, drinking beer and watching killer films of expert paddlers.
"The highlight was the fair party on the second evening," said Glocker. "Steve Fisher, the world's best whitewater kayaker, showed us a perfect and impressive video/slideshow about his life as a pro."
Glocker added, "The party is much more than a meet and greet; some of the real big deals are fixed there."
Apparently, the party is also the place to hatch devious plans.
"The night after the fair," said Glocker, "Steve Fisher was kidnapped by a bunch of German kayakers and found himself in an even bigger party: the Oktoberfest in Munich -- he loved it."
Like Hager of Pyranha said: "It's all about being in the right place at the right time."
SNEWS® View: Kanumesse might be small, but it's clearly rocking and rolling. No doubt about that. Our hats are off to Horst for bringing his passion to the show and putting in the long hours to make it a quality event. But, the big question on many minds is whether the success of Kanumesse is proof that a paddlesports-only show can also thrive in the United States. During Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, we heard lots of buzz about Kanumesse, and people held it up as a model for what should and could happen in North America. Apparently, those types of comments continued in Nuremberg at Kanumesse. "Discussions occurred about every hour on how to make it happen for the U.S. markets, and I look forward to seeing developments as we move into the fall," Hager of Pyranha told SNEWS. However, Horst cautioned the situation in Europe is very different. Foremost is the fact that when Kanumesse launched, Europe did not have a calendar full of smaller paddlesports gatherings the likes of U.S. regional shows or the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium. Kanumesse was filling a much larger void, and it did not add to an already cluttered travel schedule. Also, the European paddlesports market has not seen great economic fluctuations, and travel is less expensive than in the United States so people in Europe do not face the economic strains we have here. So, no, it's not clear that Kanumesse's success indicates than an American version is a good idea. Nevertheless, Kanumesse is something to celebrate because it shows that the passion of a few people can set a lost and wandering market on a new course to succeed. Of course, the other big lesson here is that you better be prepared if you sign the hotel invoice. No telling what you'll be doing next.