ispo outdoor/ski shows thumping with energy

With a third of the halls dedicated to outdoor or ski at last week's ispo show in Germany and a lively crowd and ambience that kept energy high and beer flowing, these segments were a focal point of the annual winter show.
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With a third of the halls dedicated to outdoor or ski at last week's ispo show in Germany and a lively crowd and ambience that kept energy high and beer flowing, these segments were a focal point of the annual winter show.

Although some exhibitors felt the normally slow first day was even putzier, an apparently busier Sunday and Monday made up for it, with the last day on Tuesday being its average start-teardown-early self. (Heck, some booths were ghost towns by 3 p.m. -- two hours before closing.)

The show, which covered 1.6 million square feet, seemed to draw an increasingly larger number of both exhibitors and attendees from Eastern European areas, and in fact has become THE show of not only the European Union for retailers, distributors, buyers and media to attend, but also of a broader spectrum from Eastern and Mediterranean countries. Nevertheless, German attendees and exhibitors still make up the largest single group, although non-Germans as a group outweigh Germans. Of 1,517 exhibitors from 43 countries, only about one in four was from Germany (360), with the next largest representations from Italy (211), Taiwan (121), VR China (102) and Pakistan (98). The contingent from the United States numbered 57. The exhibit numbers slipped downward slightly from last year's 1,584 from 46 countries.

All told, there were 47,000 trade visitors on the four days, with 60 percent from outside of Germany. That is down only slightly from a visitor count in 2002 of 47,565, of which 63 percent were from outside Germany. Another unofficial measure of attendance: How jammed the Underground is in the mornings and evenings. Sunday (second day) felt like rush hour in Tokyo or New York, with folks jamming in nose to back-of-head. Don't bother holding on because bodies were so closely jammed that you didn't need to. By Monday evening, you still couldn't find a seat.

With the energy in the outdoor and ski areas and the emphasis of the winter show on those areas with awards, parties and demonstrations that keep visitors hanging in the halls (beer glass in hand), one sometimes thinks it's one big outdoor and snowsports show. (Remember, board sports also had three additional halls, in addition to the two each for outdoor and ski.)

Compared to U.S. shows, ispo tends to be more of a Show with a capital S, with brands presenting themselves as a whole to make a statement and less slam-bang product highlight presentations as found in North America. With nearly every booth except the tiniest of postage stamps offering a refreshment bar with beer, juices and coffee, people tend to spend more time hanging out and quatsching about what's going on in the business. Then, after hours, you meet in the beer garten to watch the last of the ice climbers on the Lowe Alpine co-sponsored artificial ice wall and quaff another liquid refreshment.

If anything was a buzz at the show it was likely the emphasis on soft shell, with about every company on the planet doing its best to knock out its own soft shell jacket. The only problem is, most designs were (yawn) been-there-done-that -- with one prime exception: Klattermusen, a tiny company from Sweden whose name means "climbing mouse" in Swedish (www.klattermusen.se). With only four full-time employees, including the husband and wife founders, and in 62 stores, including 25 in Sweden, Klaettermussen doesn't have plans anytime soon to come to North America. But its Embla jacket (for women) and the men's version, Ask, were beautiful examples of attention to detail, design and fabric use (Euro 330, or about USD $357). Peak Performance, on the other hand, won the first ispo ski award for textiles for its soft shell, and we're still trying to figure out what's so nifty about it. Seems like JAS to us (Just Another Softshell).

Big presentations were, of course, held by Jack Wolfskin, Mammut, Salewa, Schoeffel, Nike ACG, Vaude, Patagonia, Columbia, The North Face and Lafuma in the outdoor halls. In the ski halls, Amer Group's Atomic held court along with a regular Italian empire with Marker, Tecnica, Nordica and Voekl nearby, not to mention Fischer, Lowa, K2 and Rossignol. We particularly liked Lange rolling out the one requisite blonde bimbo -- Lange Girl 2003 signing her poster, which showed her basically half-clothed, and turned the passing gallery of trade visitors into a bumbling bastion of bumper cars and Keystone cop silliness.

A few highlights, for what they're worth, with no claim that these are the hottest products or moments but they are interesting and, in some cases, memorable:

  • Buff's parent company had specially made show giveaways emblazoned with No War -- and those who saw them were snapping them up. Buff was also rolling out its new Buff gloves made of Polartec fleece with Buff fabric on the backside. Functional and fun. "Each year we try to introduce new products in the Buff family -- always to protect you from the weather," designer Ignasi Rojas (and son of the founder) told SNEWS.
  • Roc'terra had a python skin rock climbing shoe on display called the Tyranno. Oh really?
  • Mammut's soft shell "Laser" jacket is taking price points back up, it seemed, with an approximate retail planned of Euro 400. While that translates to about $432 USD, the U.S. team tells us it managed a U.S. price of $299 -- we can only imagine the margin's are thin, but who's to argue at that price? Mammut also hurried in a small wall display of Raichle boots to give its newly acquired company a presence. More is promised come summer at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen. Mammut also broadened its women's line, introduced a year ago.
  • Montrail was signing up distributors and agents in other countries (although CEO Menno van Wyk had to practically beat off an attempt by an Armenian businessman to be a Montrail distributor there -- promising to sell a whopping 30 pairs (!) of shoes a year). Meanwhile, van Wyk was showing the new ice climbing boot with compatible crampon that debuted at OR but only unofficially since the boot didn't have CE certification in Europe yet. If a passerby didn't know what was going on, you'd wonder why the CEO kept going into the closet with a few other men several times a day.
  • Because of the date conflict with the Outdoor Retailer show, folks were rushing in bleary eyed on late Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. Tom Herbst of Arc'Teryx arrived with duffels in hand about 5 p.m. Sunday straight from the airport and could only ask, "Where's our booth?" Others from Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Lowe Alpine, Gore-Tex and Nike ACG had done the transatlantic shuffle between shows and were seen clutching cups of espresso.
  • Leave it to Nike to get the company's Timing and Vision division in front of people in an unusual way. Most visitors arrive via the Underground, then walk a couple hundred meters to the building's entrance. Along the way, manhole covers had been branded with Nike Timing and Vision with a swoosh and photos. Trying to stay upright on some snow and ice, you couldn't help but see the branding.
  • Joe Campisi of Malden Mills held court in the same spot in a hall where the company has been for years and was doing his traditional "corner count." Several times a day on each day, he counts the number of people who go by for one minute, and that gives him an idea of how the show compares. His casual and unofficial comment: "It's a little off."

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