In the end, the vote of the heart was the one that was cast, culminating in an announcement at a surprisingly packed-to-the-gills press conference Jan. 30 that Friedrichshafen won out over Munich as the location of choice for the next five years of the OutDoor show.
"The heart fact is that we have 15 years of success (in Friedrichshafen). I don't know how many shows can say they are still growing year-to-year," Rolf Schmid, president of the European Outdoor Group (EOG) and Mammut CEO, told SNEWS® after the announcement on the last morning of the winter ispo show. "Some people said, 'Can we risk the success? Can the heart be transplanted to Munich? Can this atmosphere be transplanted from one venue to the other?'"
It took the EOG 18 months of planning, studies, presentations, discussions and votes to come to the decision that will affect the OutDoor show from 2009 to 2013, leaving it where it began 15 years ago in a rural setting in a small town on Lake Constance on the southern border of Germany. Whether they were for the decision or against, none of the voting members or exhibiting companies could complain about the process itself, which EOG Executive Secretary Mark Held kept firmly on track. In the end, a secret ballot was cast by EOG member companies at a meeting Jan. 26, the day before the ispo show began in Munich -- each voter choosing one city, with the ballot dropped into a gray, locked box watched over by a notary public hired to oversee the election, tally the votes, keep the result secret and then pass the verdict to the EOG the last day of the show. Nobody but the notary firm will ever know how many or who voted for which city, although many speculate that it must have been quite close.
No one was allowed to vote unless a representative of the company was physically present, leaving a few companies burning up phone lines at the 11th hour when bad weather and flight delays would have kept the normal representative from arriving on time. Of 47 member companies or associate members, 46 were present. Four of those votes were cast by groups representing the interests of another national or regional group of companies -- Scandinavia, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany -- with at least two of those holding their own secret ballot among members before they cast their own secret ballot. All told, the outcome represented the interests of at least 120 companies globally, not to mention the opinions of retailers surveyed by the EOG and each member company.
"I am so very happy, happy, happy," Klaus Wellmann, CEO of the Friedrichshafen trade show management group, Messe Friedrichshafen, told SNEWS® just after the announcement, busting at the seams, jiggling in place and grinning from ear to ear. "I have to tell you that a big weight fell from my heart when I heard the outcome.
"It's not only about the economic impact," he said. "It's an impact on image. Friedrichshafen has a reputation of running shows of passion." He named Eurobike and a huge boat and watersports show his teams also run.
For the Munich trade show management team, Messe Muenchen, the result was a bit of a blow, although the outdoor groups have pledged their allegiance to the winter outdoor exhibit that still happens at the winter ispo show in Munich. None of the team members were seen in or around the press conference, which was conducted in English, but Messe Muenchen sent out a statement only in German from its CEO about two hours afterward:
"We respect the majority decision of the EOG that the OutDoor show will continue to be in Friedrichshafen," said CEO Manfred Wutzelhofer. "With our international and highly respected location, its outstanding infrastructure, as well as decades of successful work for the international sport trade, we fulfill all the needs to continue to successfully serve the outdoor industry.
"We regret that because of the recent EOG decision this can't integrally continue. Still we welcome the clear vote of confidence by the EOG for the ispo winter to continue as its winter venue," Wutzelhofer said.
Among exhibitors the response swung hard in both directions -- shock and smiles -- but all were unanimous in noting the fairness of the process and that the industry will stand united in support of the decision.
"I believe the process the EOG established to select the location and services of our summer trade show service provider was both fair, democratic and transparent," Topher Gaylord, president for The North Face outdoor and action sports international, told SNEWS®. "We have seen that through unity of our industry we are able to successfully develop and grow our OutDoor show over the past several years. The industry voted, through the EOG, to maintain the summer OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, and now through a unified effort, we will continue to bring energy and excitement to our industry in Friedrichshafen in summer."
Said Andy Schimeck, European managing director for Marmot, who was that company's representative at the vote, "It's important that this now be a decision that everybody sticks to. We stand for it together, and now we carry it out together."
It was no secret that Vaude, based only a few kilometers from Friedrichshafen and one of the founders of the show there, was highly in favor of leaving the summer show in Friedrichshafen. In fact, founder and CEO Albrecht von Dewitz slipped into the press conference himself -- as did several dozen representatives from other companies, such as Jack Wolfskin, Tatonka and Fjaellraven.
Von Dewitz was nearly busting with joy as he made the rounds in the room after the announcement shaking hands.
"We're talking about show sustainability, and we have it here," he told SNEWS®. "It would have been difficult to move the show -- halls, people, etc. -- and to replace it, but I was really unsure how the vote would go. I'm very happy about it."
Although prepared to stand united, a few companies expressed to SNEWS® some concerns that the show would be less international considering the limitations or difficulties perceived by some of access, flights, accommodations and nightlife. That's not to say that Friedrichshafen has not taken huge steps in the last two years to fix those perceptions and will by 2009 have even more steps in place. That includes three new hotels, new transportation connections in conjunction with the city and regional government, two new halls, a new foyer and new conference rooms. Already the second east entrance was being used in 2007 for fashion shows.
For Friedrichshafen a loss could have been a significant economic blow. In 2006, Mayor Josef Buechelmeier estimated, during an interview with SNEWS®, that the shows bring in extra income to the entire region with conservative estimates of net profits of Euro 70 million to Euro 100 million. Exact figures regarding the economic impact of the shows won't be available until some research is complete later this month, Wellmann said.
"Friedrichshafen had everything to lose," Schmid said. "Munich would have won less than the other would have lost."
Despite hearing complaints about how far away many find accommodations, most then speak in positive terms about the scenery, the family feeling of seeing each other in restaurants and on the streets, and the ability for pleasant countryside runs and bike rides. Although some noted Munich could be a better business venue because of access, they sometimes went on to say that Friedrichshafen in the end lowered expenses -- sometimes considerably -- because of overall lower costs for everything from hotels and food to exhibiting.
Flori Schuster, third-generation owner of Munich's Sport Schuster retailer, told SNEWS® that the logistics are a bit more complicated with Friedrichshafen, but that he doesn't think it really makes such a big difference since he and other retailers will go wherever they need to.
"It was a hard decision," said Cyril Pliquet, Mountain Hardwear European sales manager who represented the company at the vote. "It was a choice between city and landscape. There were advantages and disadvantages on both sides. But in the end, it was a choice between heart and reason."
SNEWS® View: Although we will never know with any degree of certainty, SNEWS® suspects the vote was very close and that Friedrichshafen narrowly won. Many key companies we spoke with during Outdoor Retailer Winter Market just prior to ispo Winter, and then other EOG members we chatted with at ispo prior to and after the official announcement, shared a common view: Friedrichshafen is a wonderful place and feels like home for the outdoor industry members -- there's nothing like bumping into fellow industry members along the waterfront -- but Munich has a foot-up simply because logistically it offers more convenience and more efficiency for travelers, particularly those coming from outside the immediate core of German-speaking countries. Logistical efficiency is all-important for a true international trade show, which is what OutDoor has been becoming.
Consider that during the 2007 opening day press conference, show director Stefan Reisinger, noted non-German exhibitors had again gone up: After Germany's 163 (up seven) came China's 80 (up five), Taiwan's 77 (up eight), United Kingdom's 64 (up 14), Italy's 63 (up three), the United State's 45 (up nine), France's 36 (up one) and Switzerland's 34 (up five). In addition, media attendance jumped by 18 percent, with 805 newspapers, TV affiliates, magazines and trade publications covering at least some part of the show. That compares to 682 in 2006 and seems to indicate the increasing importance of the show's market for global product debuts and trend-spotting since 26 countries were represented in that number.
The logistical challenges were not lost in recent years on OutDoor organizers in Friedrichshafen when they went into high gear to build on the area's potential. To Messe Friedrichshafen's credit, as well as the town of Friedrichshafen's, improvements to transportation, lodging and general trade fair infrastructure have been put on the fast track with some key improvements to be in place by the coming summer show and many others, including additional hotels and show halls, to be completed by 2009. Albeit a bit late, the response to the clearly expressed needs could have played a role in winning the necessary swing votes to keep the show.
OutDoor is a community. Rather like the outdoor industry is in the United States with Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and Winter Market, the community feel and desire to be in a place that speaks to the heart-strings and emotions of the community can move mountains. Or, in this case, decide trade shows. From a purely business standpoint, one could argue that Munich, and in the United States, even places like Las Vegas, are better suited to serve a growing trade show with international attendance. And, as nice as Munich is in the summer (Vegas has no redeeming values during the summer, let's be honest), Friedrichshafen's community feel, surrounding mountains and nearby places to paddle, hike, bike and run in a rural environment speaks to the heart. Folks we spoke to at this year's winter ispo pointed out to us how cool it was after show hours to see friends and colleagues in or about town, to share a foamy one, or to just kick back a bit -- just as they do in Salt Lake City, Utah. When the heart is involved in a decision, as it certainly was here, even a logical mind can be swayed to vote with emotion.
In the end, we believe all are still well-served. Friedrichshafen and the community will continue to benefit economically from a superbly run and well-attended international trade show. The OutDoor attendees in the future will find increasingly more transportation challenges minimized, lodging more accessible, and the treasured community feel of the show intact. Munich still has the EOG endorsement for ispo Winter, which is arguably the finest international trade show serving the winter outdoor, snowsports and sporting goods markets, as it too continues to improve its offerings and organization.
At this point, the industry knows where it will be for the next five years; contracts were set with both Munich and Friedrichshafen, signed by their agents with only one -- Friedrichshafen -- gaining the EOG's signature after the vote announcement. But Friedrichshafen will need to make good on its promises and improvements. Next vote, and hopefully one that is far less convoluted, drawn out and secretive, will be more about the brain we suspect, and less about the heart. A heart only rules for so long. Congrats to both. There really is no loser here.