OutDoor show in Germany hits stride as THE European outdoor trade fair

Busting at the seams with 675 exhibitors covering 10 halls, open space and atrium areas, the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, has come of age with full programming, well-attended parties, bustling aisles and a higher representation from outside Germany than ever before.
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Busting at the seams with 675 exhibitors covering 10 halls, open space and atrium areas, the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, has come of age with full programming, well-attended parties, bustling aisles and a higher representation from outside Germany than ever before.

"Every year, I stand here and say how the show has grown, how we're getting more exhibitors and how it's getting more and more exciting," said Rolf Schmid, Mammut CEO and chairman of show owner European Outdoor Group trade association, at a press conference on opening day, July 23. "Well, I'm pleased to say, nothing has changed."

Slid slightly later and to a Sunday through Wednesday, July 23-26, slot based on some negotiating with summer ispo last year over nearly overlapping show dates, the 13th annual OutDoor nevertheless drew 20 more exhibitors, or 4 percent more than last year, while 12 percent more exhibitors this year came from outside Germany.

In addition, the show covered 320,400 square feet this year, up from 293,400 last year, jamming full every hall. Two of 10 halls were filled with 700 tents from 39 companies for attendees to crawl in and out of for full inspection. That, of course, is where the show intends to take space when it grows, as expected next year, show director Stefan Reisinger said, since tents can be placed on open space in a center court area. Of course, with the size of OutDoor and its growth -- now the second largest show put on at the Friedrichshafen center next to the Eurobike show -- the city is considering expanding the convention center, city major Josef Buechelmeier told SNEWS®. Although one can't know exactly, Buechelmeier said, the shows bring in extra income to the entire region, with conservative estimates of net profits of about Euro 70 million to Euro 100 million (USD $89 million to USD $128 million).

Attendee traffic didn't climb as significantly, an early report on the final day indicated, but remained strong. A total of 15,511 trade visitors went through the turnstiles, compared to 15,137 in 2005. Note that in Europe every day an attendee goes in and out, he or she is counted as a separate visitor, although multiple times on one day are only recorded as one. The increasing international interest crept through the attendee ranks too, with nearly 60 percent coming from outside Germany representing 65 countries. (Of course, both Austria and Switzerland are a short jump away from Friedrichshafen, meaning they also count as "foreign," according to show tallies.)

As usual, the show turned into the worldwide launch of many 2007 products, including those of U.S.-based companies such as long-time show exhibitor Outdoor Research and first-timer Mountainsmith, since OutDoor is a few weeks before Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. By one estimate, over 130 products were shown at OutDoor for the first time anywhere in the world, underscoring the increasing importance of the show globally. For companies like Outdoor Research, which have been at the show for many years, traffic was noted as good with more of an international flair.

"Traffic was good, as strong or stronger than last year," said Josh Espin, Outdoor Research's international sales director, who said the company would open several new markets from contacts made at the show. "We saw more accounts from new markets, like Russia, Scandinavia, Asia and Eastern Europe. The show is becoming more and more global. People are willing to get on the plane for the long trip."

The positive vibe wasn't limited to U.S. companies expanding their global reach. High-end Sweden-based outfitter Klaettermusen, for example, calls the OutDoor show the No. 1 show on its calendar. In fact, it spends three days driving the team and its goods in a truck down from Sweden for the event.

"Normally here, we see 70 percent of our customers," said Peter Askulv, Klattermusen co-founder and president. "This show is better, and the organization is much more relaxed" than some other European shows. He also said in general logistics has gotten better, but that getting in and out of the convention center area still can raise your blood pressure since the country roads get jammed at peak hours. Last year, he said, they got caught in a traffic jam and had to let a couple of reps out of the truck to run across the farms and trails the rest of the way to the show to make their appointments. This year, they camped on-site to make sure that didn't happen again.

Messe Friedrichshafen's incoming CEO Klaus Wellmann told SNEWS® that a new and wider road and better access will be built by next year to lessen the sweaty palms and jams.

Normally, a show that runs Thursday through Sunday, this year's jiggering of the dates led to a slower first day than normal, some exhibitors pointed out, since European attendees don't necessarily want to spend their weekend away from home. But that meant full aisles on Monday and Tuesday, with heads down in serious meetings from show start to finish.

The international flair is an important one to OutDoor show owner EOG and management at Friedrichshafen since it had been dinged in the past as being "too German," hard to get to and hard to navigate for non-German speakers. The show has worked hard to counter those complaints by instituting more buses and shuttles, translating more presentations, and offering more materials in not only German and sometimes English but also in other languages. In comparison, the first year in 1994 had only 35 percent of exhibitors come from outside Germany, while this year 77 percent did.

The international trend has affected attendees too, with only 30 percent in the show's first year coming from outside Germany, while double that did this year.

To help attract new attendees, the show instituted more programs, including a series of workshops and lectures called, "The Outdoor Woman," to address that segment's growth, and the launch of an EOG Association for Conservation, to recognize the industry's interest in environmental protection. There were also presentations about economic factors, the future of retailing, and sales trends of outdoor and sporting goods gear in Germany and Europe. (Stay tuned to SNEWS® for more stories in the coming weeks.) In addition, the halls are now strictly non-smoking, with larger signs and ashtrays covered with steel. Exhibitors and attendees agreed that there was far less smoke than in the past, even at the infamous OutDoor party that lasts until the wee hours.

At this point, the show is contemplating its future and what segments it may let into its aisles. Reisinger said the wellness and health themes have been growing in Europe and that the interest in outdoor as "lifestyle" is another trend, with the likes of running, action sports and lifestyle companies looking at OutDoor as a venue.

"I'm not interested in massive growth in exhibitors," Reisinger said. "I want quality exhibitors and more retailers."

Basically, it will come down to how big OutDoor wants to grow since it now is large enough for a broad business base, but small enough to be intimate and even cozy. And some exhibitors still have to stay an hour or more away since the town of Friedrichshafen has a limited hotel and room base for that many visitors. Many that SNEWS® spoke to found the area, once you figure out how to get around, quite pleasant and not a disadvantage at all.

"We are very proud of the show," Wellman told SNEWS® on the last day of his first OutDoor show. "We provide the platform, and it's wonderful the brands use it."

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