Friedrichshafen becomes Europe's summer outdoor show

What began in 1994 as a small German-centric outdoor show launched by several key European brands not happy with the summer ispo has blossomed into the summer trade show for international outdoor companies selling into the European market.
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What began in 1994 as a small German-centric outdoor show launched by several key European brands not happy with the summer ispo has blossomed into the summer trade show for international outdoor companies selling into the European market.

"No ifs, ands or buts, we want to become the show for the outdoor industry," said Rolf Schmid, president of OutDoor show-owner European Outdoor Group (EOG) and CEO of Mammut Sports Group. The EOG was formed in February 2003 from the so-called German "Fachgruppe Outdoor" (Outdoor Trade Group) with the goal to represent and to serve the overall European industry.

Schmid told SNEWS® later that the show has evolved. "When we started this, it was a really German-speaking show, but it has changed. Now the majority of visits are not German."

To that point, Mike Wallenfels, an executive with exhibitor Mountain Hardwear, told us at his booth, "I don't feel as if it is only German at all. It really is drawing across Europe."

Numbers released yesterday appear to indicate that the OutDoor show is well on its way to fulfilling that proclamation.

Attendance figures for 2004 showed an increase of 4.5 percent, from 13,517 in 2003 representing 67 countries to 14,130 representing 68 countries. Like ispo, OutDoor tallies its attendance numbers by scanning badges entering each day, so one attendee visiting the show for three days counts as three toward the final attendance numbers. Numbers of exhibitors were up too, by almost 17 percent from 492 in 2003 to 577 this year, necessitating adding another exhibit hall to expand show space to 25,000 square meters (269,100 square feet) – up from 21,020 square meters (226,250 square feet) in 2003 (not counting two halls used for tent city).Â

OutDoor also reported registered credentialed media numbers at 577, though the SNEWS® team as well as some exhibitors greeted the tally with raised eyebrows. One company executive commented to us, "You mean to tell me that OutDoor is saying there was one media person for every 24 show visitors? Not likely."

Regardless of the ultimate "official" number of credentialed media, it was clear the media were at OutDoor in force with packed press conferences and, during most times of the day, a packed press facility which offered computer stations, as well as in typical European fashion an endless supply of beverages, snacks and sandwiches in a thankfully smoke-free environment.

Perhaps one downside to the increased number of square meters is that it spread out the number of show attendees more, leading to some exhibitors to wonder aloud to us if show attendance was down. And despite the very few who also voiced mild dissatisfaction over a lack of real international attendees, the vast majority of exhibitors and company executives we spoke with over the four-day show were enthused and looking forward to next year when OutDoor once again invades Friedrichshafen July 21-24, 2005.

Schmid told us that the EOG was committed to holding its summer show in Friedrichshafen for the next five years. At the same time, he told us the winter ispo in Munich, Germany, continues to be the winter outdoor show, and the EOG will work closely with ispo to improve group's role in it.

Activities that never stopped
The new EOG team, headed up since March 31, 2004 by former Lowe Alpine executive Mark Held, has worked closely with organizer Messe Friedrichshafen to create an OutDoor show that was packed as much with activities and things to see as it was with products and companies hawking goods.

Starting with tent city, where one could literally lose your way wandering among a sea of tents pitched in two halls covering more than 8,500 square meters (91,500 square feet). We stopped counting tents after we reached 400, but suffice it to say it was mildly overwhelming. One look at all the similarity of design and color did visually underscore the reason why so many consumers get confused – hard to tell one tent from another amid the masses without a playbill.

And while we enjoyed clambering in and out of tents at will in the area, a dark side of the access freedom did raise its serpentine head – knock-off artists practicing their craft with no concern for business ethics. We watched with amusement as one Asian gentleman carefully photographed each tent from one company, then whipped out a measuring tape and a notebook to fully document his appreciation of the fine original craftsmanship we assume he would soon be duplicating.

The problem was certainly not limited to the light security of the tent city either. While we were in the Asolo/Lowe Alpine booth, we watched two Asian photographers working the displays of clothing with cameras. An Asolo representative chased one off, only to have him circle around and start photographing again from the other end of the display. Another more firm shoo-off resulted only in the Asian gentleman laughing in what appeared a scornful manner. Doubtless he would return again and again until his job was done. As offensive as the behavior is, manufacturers and show management we spoke with agreed there was little that could be done without turning an open trade show into a collection of walled fortresses that were no longer inviting.

And inviting is what OutDoor prides itself on, from the show's proximity to nearby Lake Constance to the quaintness of a small town like Friedrichshafen and its surrounding villages, to events on-site. Aside from tent city, fashion shows were trendy affairs with thumping music that attracted viewers from across the hall. The climbing wall hosted climbing competitions with standing-room-only crowds boisterously cheering on their favorites. A "shoe parcourse" area hosted talks and demos about Nordic walking that attracted gathering crowds to hear about the newest product and how to sell it.

Attendees turned out en masse (this year, more than 3,000) for the famous (or, shall we say, infamous) OutDoor party on the Saturday night of the show. Paying a small fee, party-goers got a t-shirt and an endless supply of food and beer along with loud rock music. Last year, the police turned out to tone down the festivities even. The night before, hundreds thronged to the nearby Vaude headquarters for a beer fest party (invite-only, but one's not that hard to come by). A small lake (pond?) outside the front entrance served as a place to paddle around/test canoes, outriggers and other paddle craft – although SNEWS® observations noted some serious sun-bathing and pond-side lounging and less serious testing. An "adventure race" on Saturday evening pre-party attracted about 40 teams of four, but we call it an adventure race tongue-in-cheek: The event was done relay-style and lasted only about six minutes per team, with each team member either biking a short course next to the pound, paddling around the pond, "snowshoeing" on grass and carpet, or carrying a huge cartoon-like backpack that was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 20 pounds. Laughs were hard and frequent during the event.

On the more serious front, the show for the first time put on with the EOG a series of workshops on three topics: PR, sponsoring, and product know-how, once each in English and German. Mark Held and co-speaker Till Gottbrath told SNEWS® that considering this was the first time educational events were held at the show, they were pleased with attendance that ranged from about 15 to 25 per session. Still, they found that fewer retailers came than hoped for, especially for the Q-and-A session on products that was nearly filled with brand representatives.

Making the trip easier
With some past complaints that getting to and from or around Friedrichshafen was difficult, organizers have been expanding ways to make life easier. The Messe and EOG worked with Lufthansa to add flights direct to Friedrichshafen from Frankfurt, a direct bus from the Zurich airport was scheduled, Hertz established hearty discount car rentals, hotel rooms were added to the booking service, and show tickets could be bought online. After last year's sizzling summer in Europe, air conditioning was added to the fairgrounds buildings. Also wireless Internet connection was available nearly everywhere in the buildings (although SNEWS® found few knew about it). A third lane on the access road to the grounds was done in the nick of time (white lanes were still being painted just a day or two before the show opened).

In addition, an expanded website – www.european-outdoor.com – now offers information in four languages.

Show organizers will look at adding more benefits, including later ferries across the lake from Switzerland for those flying into Zurich in the evening (a few were stranded across the lake), overall better communications, and later bus shuttles to and from hotels.

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