For decades now, our exhibition presence at the bi-annual Hardware Fair (Eisenwarenmesse) in Cologne has been our headline act. This is still the case and we had a 66m2 stand as part of the Federation of British Hand Tool Manufacturers (FBHTM). Planning commenced back in October 2017. We submitted a brief to the exhibition stand contractors which the FBHTM had selected, and in parallel gave some serious thought to what our messages, product focuses and objectives for 2018 would be.
Step by step the plan, stand design and logistics have come together, the crate containing all our tools, literature and stand dressing items was sealed and despatched mid-February. It is at this point you realise the show, the largest hand tool exhibition in the world, is very close.
For all our careful thought and planning in the lead up, it was to be something entirely out of our control that, at the eleventh hour began to threaten our presence – the beast from the east! That is the prediction Britain was going to be ravaged by wintry gale force winds, snowfall and sub-zero temperatures courtesy of a weather system coming to the UK from Russia. As all Brits know, it does not take a great deal of adverse weather to bring the UK to its knees.
As one of three Norbar staff on the set-up team I was flying out to Cologne on Friday morning ahead of the opening day on Sunday (3rd March). The first sign of trouble came shortly after I had completed a very slow and frustrating 2+ hour drive home in snow on Thursday evening (1st March). Ordinarily my commute is about 50 minutes. A fellow member of the set-up team informed me that our flight had been cancelled. Nonetheless I chose to collect the third member of the set-up team and drive to the Premier Inn in Banbury. At least then we would be one step closer to our next destination. To put that in context, during the entire 27-mile journey we passed only 4 cars, the roads were punctuated with snowdrifts, and on Sun Rising Hill a car off the road and abandoned car at precarious angle. The second member of the set-up team had successfully got us booked on to the 20:00 flight out of Heathrow on Friday 2nd.
It was 1pm Friday 2nd and I’m at Norbar in Banbury. Oh, how the press thrives on adverse weather! Road closures, accidents, train delays, flight cancellations, the lost hours of work, the cost to industry and to our economy. In parallel, contradictions also seem to flourish. For every forecast that predicts heavy snow there is one that expects no further snow. The only reliable (albeit instantaneous) forecasting is to look out of the window. When I do that, there is no snow falling, no rain, just evidence of wind, cold wind.
Following a drive down a snow covered M40 and a traffic avoiding diversion onto the M4 we reached Heathrow with no drama. Eventually, after much tedious waiting we check in, cleared customs and boarded, but take off was delayed by 45 minutes. It was a brisk and uneventful flight that ends abruptly. Without warning of descent there was a sudden thud and we are on German turf.
During our journey it transpired that two American directors are now no longer coming out for the show in Cologne as they have encountered continued cancellations. Two further directors have been delayed in Chicago and are rerouted via Boston and are now not expected until Sunday afternoon. It is now past 11pm, and a MPV taxi takes 5 weary Norbar employees to the Art-Otel.
The following morning Saturday 3rd, we see our Managing Director who has arrived via Dusseldorf. Our Australian MD has also arrived and whilst not impacted by bad weather he was involved in a car accident in a taxi during a six-hour layover in Dubai. Fortunately, there was no harm to any people, just vehicles and pride. Our American colleague arrived with some delays but with no luggage, so his first job was clothes shopping. The trials and tribulations of getting to the fair!