From the packed fashion exhibits and busy aisles of the outdoor and snowsports halls to the hinterlands of fitness and running, the ispo sporting goods show in Munich, Germany, proved again that it has what it takes to help every market segment and every exhibitor succeed.
The show also underscored an optimistic mood in the sports trade in central Europe and signaled that a so-called recession and hesitant consumer spending were on the way out after a euphoric winter.
"The extremely pleasant course of the trade show reflected the correspondingly positive industry situation," said Manfred Wutzlhofer, CEO of show management group Messe Muenchen GmbH. "As the 2006 year begins, retailers and the industry are in agreement that the trend reversal has been successful."
Numbers were up, the halls were long sold-out, wait-listed companies were squished into tiny areas in walkways between halls, and exhibitors all the way around spoke positively about their accomplishments.
"It's been a madhouse," said Arie de Ligt, director of international sales for U.S.-based Heatmax, which introduced its line of oxygen-powered body warmers to Europe. "It's been so busyâ€¦. I quit."
Even on the last day of the four-day show Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, some exhibitors were still in meetings, despite tear-down mostly starting (contrary to rules, of course) nearly two hours before the show's official curtain at 5 p.m.
Show management declared the show a raving success, with the number of attendees surpassing last year's figure by10 percent. There were more than 60,000 attendees, according to preliminary figures, compared to 2005's final audited total of 54,433. Of that figure, about 60 percent were from outside of Germany, only slightly up from last year's 59 percent.
Nearly 160,000 square meters of space (1,722,225 square feet) in 14 halls were packed to the gills with an all-time-high of 1,806 exhibitors, or nearly 13 percent up from 1,600 in 2005. Of those, 81 percent were from outside ispo's host country and represented 49 total countries.
Attendees streamed past a few of the exhibitors shoe-horned into walkways, where normally the order of business was buying ice cream and hotdogs, finding a bathroom or taking a smoke break. U.S.-based Sawyer Products was one exhibitor in a walkway sitting at a teeny table against a plate-glass window. According to John Smith, a company manager who manned the table looking cold and forlorn many of the times SNEWSÂ® dashed past, Sawyer was on a wait list and got a call after Christmas with an offer of a small space. Despite costing nearly as much as a regular small booth without half the attraction, Smith said, "It's worked out really well." Mostly offering summer products like bug protection and water filtration, the company had few but nonetheless key conversations that were the makings of superior business development in the areas of licensing or partnerships internationally. Now if only they had heat in the walkway to stave off the sub-zero temps outdoors that flowed through the glass at their backs. (Maybe Heatmax and Sawyer ought to get together.)
Even back in the often desolate fitness hall -- one entire hall back from the central walkway artery in a second layer of halls -- the energy may not have been as high but exhibitors seemed to be pleased that traffic had still trickled back to them.
"The show is going very well," said Dave Neziol, vice president of North American Sales for Accell Fitness North America, a subsidiary of The Netherlands-based Accell Group with brands Tunturi and Bremshey. Accell had a large spread in the center of the C1 fitness hall where Neziol said they had seen the company's core customers and shown 13 new products.
Overall, though, the energy at the winter ispo was high. The underground trains are normally packed eyeball-to-eyeball just the first two days of the show, but people still stood shoulder-to-shoulder the last morning of the show's four days. Fashion shows, lectures, roundtables, parties and other events filled an entirely separate, perfect-bound, 65-page guide to help visitors not miss a thing -- although not missing a thing in 1,722,725 square feet is an impossible task. One thing ispo does right, among others, is put on flashy and highly professional fashion shows and events; plus, mini-bistros in each hall for snacks and coffee offer a central meeting area for business, networking or catching up with industry friends without leaving the floor -- a real plus to keeping energy high.
Still, not everything was perfect or ideal. An odd organization of several booths in some halls eliminated aisles, requiring visitors to walk around the booth to access back areas or to walk straight through another company's exhibits. We were told that's how assignments came through from ispo, likely a way to pack in a few more booths, but creating an inconvenience in hall navigation.
"Our customers eventually found us," said Sabrina Angelone of Malden Mills, which had been moved from its forward space to the very back wall of the B6 hall -- not the company's choice.
One negative perhaps was ispo's attempt at instituting a totally smoke-free environment (click here for our Oct. 17, 2005, SNEWSÂ® story, "Germany's ispo show approves 100-percent smoke-free grounds"). Although some sections of some halls seemed a bit less smoky, no-smoking signs were absent except for one at each entrance. Ashtrays still were in all the upper walkways and at the doors between halls, and some exhibitors tracked down and told off smokers ensconced in neighboring exhibitors' closets or retreated choking from smoke-filled bathrooms. Most felt that it would not be nice to force smokers into sub-zero Munich temps, but a smoking zone in the foyers between outside and inside (separated by doors) was the best compromise. Still, many smokers decided they should make their own rules and moved ashtrays inside. The pressroom was pleasantly smoke-free for the second year, although SNEWSÂ® found not all were so happy. One woman marched into the press lounge and, with shock in her voice, asked the attendants, "You mean I can't smoke here?" When the answer was negative, she stormed out, announcing loudly in German slang that that was bull.
Smoking or not aside, the trends seen across segments, some of which SNEWSÂ® will address in upcoming stories, included retro looks (think argyle) and bright colors (a pox on pastels and charcoal), safety of all kinds from extreme avalanche gear to reflectivity and helmets, technology's influence (from product innovation to a requirement practically that apparel and gear be iPod, MP3 or cell phone compatible), and a continued increase in gear and sizing for women. In the outdoor apparel arena, merino wool was becoming THE story with more exhibitors, more acceptance and the introduction in Europe of Patagonia's new merino base layer.
Wellness and fitness were also the talk of the buying groups as European nations have realized a pattern of increasing obesity and are looking for ways to stop the trend. And consumers have begun to accept higher-priced equipment. Nordic walking and other pole-enabled sports continued their dominance too as companies jockeyed to come up with products acceptable to that demographic.
Still, ispo must have been making an attempt to keep the press confused. In the main press lounge, an impressive array of clocks notes times in key cities worldwide. While the Munich clock was correct, the rest of the world was out of whack. One day it was 11:57 a.m. in Munich, 3:18 p.m. in London and 1:02 p.m. in New York.
We're still confused.
Ispo continues its worldwide steamroll with its Russia event later this month, its second China ispo in March, and the unveiling of a second China event focused on summer to roll out Aug. 21-24, 2006, just a month before its Russian summer show, Sept. 20-23. An ispo summer show in Munich -- much smaller than the winter event -- is set for July 16-18. The ispo 2007 winter show will be a week later, Feb. 4-7, 2007.