ispo is not a trade show for the weak of heart. Or legs. Still growing and evolving after all these years, visitors can drive themselves into the ground trying to take in the entire palette in 16 halls covering 180,000 square meters (1.9 million square feet) at the edge of Munich, Germany. Shoot, first you have to choose which of three entrances you'll use.
Once again, the show proved it is ready to do whatever it takes to be a leader, which it is when it comes to the sporting goods market internationally. It closed after four days, Jan. 27-30, with 64,000 attendees -- the same as last year -- representing 113 countries. (Note that European shows do turnstile counts, and retailers are counted once each day they enter.)
"ispo winter has once again confirmed its position as the leading international trade fair of the sporting goods and sportstyle industries," said Manfred Wutzlhofer, CEO of the show management group, Messe Muenchen, in an official statement.
Simply put from Danny Cornter of Wilds Sports, a retailer in the United Kingdom: "Brilliant show!"
According to a preliminary, unaudited count released by ispo on the last day of the show, 70 percent of the attendees came from outside Germany -- a couple of ticks up from last year. They had the chance to peruse 2,026 exhibitors from 48 countries (compared to 1,970 in 2007), of which by ispo tallies 83 percent were "foreign," or about the same as last year. (If you take out the core German-speaking countries that drops to 74 percent; if you also take out direct neighbors Italy and France, that drops to about 59 percent.) After Germany with 347 exhibitors came Taiwan (243), China (237) and Italy (211), then France (91), Austria (91) and Pakistan (88). From the United States came 70.
No matter how you slice it, the show remains a must-attend because of how it manages to make everything it does, well, just plain big. Forget tiny stages with limited-reach microphones or claustrophobic meeting areas. This is about The Show: Stages are huge, lights theatrical, climbing walls high, projections massive, seating trendy, and the multitude of lounges to gather, network or just rest up plentiful -- usually with plenty of free-flowing beer, coffee, sodas and snacks. Forget status quo. You have to give ispo credit for always being willing to think a bit outside the box -- and most of the time pulling it off to some degree. If there is even the smallest trend, it will be represented at ispo, sometimes so big that it can actually boost its image and catapult it into even more growth.
Hall reorganization works well
This year a reorganization of the sports segments and their halls made a lot of sense: Outdoor, which normally had two halls plus another half shared with snowsports and a few late-comers smattered into other corners or aisles, spread its wings into four entire halls, leaving snowsports two halls of its own. The location focused on one end of the show grounds -- remember, we're talking about a kilometer or more between east and west entrances -- allowed those visitors to one of the show's busiest segments to use one entrance.
Now so-called "performance ispo" embraced running, triathlon, biking, fitness and related gear and apparel. Instead of being a bit of a stepchild, the halls gained an identity of their own -- and allowed those attendees focused on that area to come and go from the newest third, north, entrance. Board sports had about two-and-a-half halls (since the BrandNew new company area took up the back half of one hall), and were a world into themselves with pounding music, floors strewn with cigarette papers and other scraps, and enough folks standing around in aisles (pounding espresso til about noon, after which beer became the drink of choice) that other non-board-focused aliens wondered what they all actually did all day other than just hang out.
Upon arrival, media representatives received a seven-page printout of events all over the halls, including three different fashion shows several times daily in three different halls, lectures and panel discussions on four different stages or venues (not counting several simultaneous but separate events), and a list of parties each night.
>> For the first time, smoking was nearly non-existent on the grounds since a law went into affect in Bavaria prohibiting smoking in all public spaces. Ash trays were limited to outside doorways. "What a pleasure to leave at the end of the day and not have my clothes and hair reek of old smoke," said one U.S. visitor.
>> The large attendance and sold-out exhibition halls doesn't mean that Europe has totally recovered from two consecutive winters that saw warmer-than-usual weather and less-than-usual snow, but retailers were still filling their shelves with alternatives. (SNEWS® will have a report on the last year's economic trends in the European and German sports markets in the coming weeks.) Of course, like some other shows, the retailer and buyer attendance was status quo despite growth on the exhibitor side.
>> Style and fashion were a huge part of many exhibits with two halls dedicated to that: Sportstyle and so-called "ispovision," where exhibitors selected from application forms display trendy new and fashionable goods in sleek modern ways. Heck, even ispovision's bar was trendy, with lounge music rather than rock, purple shag carpets, flowers hanging from the ceiling, dimmed lighting and champagne appearing to be the drink of choice. (How do all these people have time just to hang out and sip champagne?)
>> "Wearable Technologies" was one of several special platforms that was a bit of an innovation area, allowing both suppliers and brands to display goods and materials that were more of the future than currently on the market in most cases. They included technological innovations that are incorporated into clothing or held or worn in some way that do something or react in some way to the user. (Look too for a special SNEWS® report on that segment in coming weeks.)
>> A year ago, ispo launched a new exhibit platform called "Best Ager," which was meant to be more of a thought-provoker for both manufacturers and retailers about the needs of the 45 to 60-plus user. (Last year, it was called 50-plus; we're not sure why the "aging" population is suddenly younger. Perhaps because staff is younger?) Apparently, the term "Best Ager" means something in German lingo although we English-speakers remain a bit perplexed about the terminology. Name aside, the point is to show the market that the baby boomer demographic is active and has money to spend if the correct marketing and sales techniques are used. Findings from a study released at the show said that group had on average euro 341 (about USD $505, depending on the exchange rate) per month in disposable income, which is more than the general population. And 84 percent like outdoor sports, compared to 74 percent of those younger. But nearly a third in that group said they believed sports products are geared mainly toward the younger generations. Summarized the study: "There is substantial potential here with respect to communication with this target group."
>> A topic that suddenly was nearly everywhere after a year ago being only scattered here and there was sustainability and the environment. An annual all-day forum on design sponsored by Volvo exclusively discussed "eco-design" and factors involved in that, also bestowing awards in several categories. (Look for several stories on various awards, including ones from this platform, in coming weeks.) A visitor couldn't walk one aisle without seeing some indication about eco this or that, recyclable this or that, or sustainable this and the other -- leaving many to wonder how many of the awards, labels and certifications were just so-called "greenwashing," or marketing for marketing's sake.
The show remains an invigorating eye-opener for anyone involved in the sports industry. We noted that the subway line to the show grounds from the city were elbow-to-elbow most days and still crowded even on the last morning.
The ispo winter show in 2009 will be a week later -- Feb. 1-4. (www.ispo.com)