The necessity of trade fairs

The Redwood Blog
Published:  07 April, 2015
Mike Redwood

It is sometimes hard to judge what companies expect from trade fairs. I could provide a very long list. To find new clients, to sell more product, to identify trends, to understand what is happening, to try to manipulate a market, to attend useful meetings or seminars, to get “inspirations” for product innovations or just to be re-assured by the presence of customers and competitors - just a few of the many reasons companies attend a trade show. 

What is clear is that for each and every attendee the objectives evolve. For all the larger tanners in the world finding a new customer at a major trade fair such as Milan, Paris or Hong Kong would normally be a failure. It would evidence that their team is not as in touch with their market place as it should be. This was not the case when APLF began over 30 years ago. The world had not globalised by that time. European tanners were still trying to spell the names of famous US brands and few knew what Asia looked like beyond the boundaries of Hong Kong.

These days the larger groups find fairs useful as they can meet a large number of customers in a very short space of time, and fit in all the other information gathering and relationship building activities while doing so. For smaller companies finding new customers can remain important and coming away with orders sufficient to pay for attendance is still a big measure.

Yet for all there is the socialisation and ritualisation that takes place and links us together with our colleagues in different ways. Sometimes this is meeting one-to-one with individuals which may be a buyer-seller exercise but more often than not it is two people that have a special relationship of some sort going back over many years. Perhaps a former employer, or a mentor or a college roommate. Then there are the selected networks of partners which might be customers and suppliers or more often trade associations of some sort. The leather industry likes those; or is it just that we like meetings?

A liminal space

And finally it is the whole community of visitors and exhibitors; where exhibitors and visitors get caught up in rituals, the almost public celebration of being part of the group of attendees. The fair becomes a liminal space “a place where boundaries dissolve a little and we stand there, on the threshold, getting ourselves ready to move across the limits of what we were into what we are to be.”

The value of trade fairs is that it involves full immersion, with an opportunity to feel and touch the product and dialogue with skilled technical people. This experience is provided in context, amidst the suppliers’ products and with large amounts of personal interaction.

Year after year we visit the fairs, visit the same stands, talk to the same people, walk the same routes and effectively perpetuate ritualistic behaviours that elsewhere have been identified as important patterns in industrial contexts.

This year is particularly important as we have just seen in Hong Kong. We have turmoil of one sort or another in many parts of the world. A slowing Chinese market, an almost dead Russian one, Brazil back in economic crises, the EU supported by quantitative easing and oil and currency values becoming too volatile for comfort. The automobile industry cannot get enough hides, the footwear industry does not like the price of leather and the luxury industry is trying to decide. It may not make life comfortable but we must try and understand it.

What does this mean about APLF (or MM&T as we should really call it)? It means we have to be there, and always expecting to meet a known group of colleagues. Attending is a fixed thing. Thanks goodness it is such a good city to visit. 

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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