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11Mar

Cologne International Hardware Exhibition – What Were People Talking About?

Norbar has been going independently to the Cologne Fair for about 27 years now and probably for 20 years before that sharing a stand with our distributor so we have seen a lot of changes. The significant change this year was the drop from four days to three for the event. Strangely, we still started on Sunday; it was the Wednesday that was dropped! Whether the three day show was a good decision was certainly something that exhibitors and visitors were talking about. From a visitors point of view the show is significantly smaller than it was 20 years ago and it no longer takes four days to do it justice. On the other hand, they would have found stands busier and may have had to wait longer to speak to the people they needed to. There was talk amongst exhibitors of possibly having to take more staff and having more stand space in order to cope with the concentration of visitors down to three days and this would largely offset the cost benefit of exhibiting over three days rather than four.


Needless to say, the exhibition still died after lunch on Tuesday, the final day. If the intention of the exhibition organiser had been to keep the show buzzing right to the final bell then they failed in that. Perhaps the fourth day should be re-introduced but with an earlier close The other big topic for Brits at the show was the prospect of a Brexit from the EU. Without wishing to get into the debate in detail in this blog, the views of the various German people that we spoke to could be summed up like this: It would be a shame if you left but, on the other hand, if Germans were given a vote right now, they might vote to leave also. It is clear that there is immense frustration about the EU, not only in Britain, so perhaps we should stick together and sort it out rather than leave, possibly precipitating further exits?

 

I guess that at trade shows of every variety a hot topic is how ecommerce is disrupting traditional routes to market. Cologne Hardware is primarily a show for manufacturers to talk to distributors so the various factions are present, both the traditional bricks and mortar distributors and on-line re-sellers. The heart of the problem is this: if the most efficient way of getting products from manufacturers to end customers is the internet, who are we to stand in the way of this? Traditional distributors will either adapt or go out of business but that is just life, isn’t it? However, there is another side to the story which is particularly pertinent to small to medium sized business like much of the tool industry. How do we globally build our brands and provide service to our customers without our traditional distributors? We can’t afford to have people on the ground in every market so we rely on our local distributors. They invest in stock, knowledgeable staff, service facilities and brand building events but then run the risk of losing out to others with no such investment and therefore a lower cost base. This is inevitably the biggest talking point when manufacturers and distributors get together.


On a lighter note, it is now clear to me that the Germans are as passionate about talking about the weather as the British! Various photographs were being brandished of the 150 mm of snow just up the road in Solingen whereas Monday was just dull and wet in Cologne. It is the altitude difference and the effect of the Rhine, you know!

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