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Germany's ispo show finishes with record-breaking growth, and non-stop glitz, glamour and gear

Perhaps it's a problem all trade shows wished they had: The show gets so large, so energetic, is so well-attended, and is so packed with new product and companies, plus fashion shows, parties and events, that it's impossible to see it all and get around to all the happenings. Even if you tried, you’d likely send your pedometer, if you wore one, spiraling into frenzied overload. Yup, that's a problem most trade shows wished they had. And it's one the winter ispo trade show in Munich, Germany, had to the nth degree at this year's show, Feb. 4-7.

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Perhaps it’s a problem all trade shows wished they had: The show gets so large, so energetic, is so well-attended, and is so packed with new product and companies, plus fashion shows, parties and events, that it’s impossible to see it all and get around to all the happenings. Even if you tried, you’d likely send your pedometer, if you wore one, spiraling into frenzied overload.

Yup, that’s a problem most trade shows wished they had. And it’s one the winter ispo trade show in Munich, Germany, had to the nth degree at this year’s show, Feb. 4-7. With attendance taking another leap to 64,000 over the four-day show, ispo recorded a 5-percent spike in attendance from the 2006 edition. Although the halls were just as packed, those thousands were also spread over a larger space — more than 1.9 million square feet in 16 halls, which was up two halls and more than 200,000 square feet from the previous year.

And no attendee could want for something to do — a revamped event guide (more of a small book, to say the least) had endless lists of celebrity appearances, parties (Click here to see a photo of one!), happy hours, special events, fashion shows, workshops, lectures, production demonstrations and business meetings. Special areas housed the sports design winners in a pre-show event focusing on personal design sponsored by Volvo. Also in a special area — albeit in the far reaches — were winners of the show’s BrandNew competition for young companies from around the globe, and special exhibit areas for startups segregated by sports segment, from board and fitness, to style and ski — an area that ispo has emphasized even more lately with its well-done trend scouting that brings fresh ideas to the show that the industry may normally miss.

“ispo winter ’07 will go down as a record trade fair in ispo history,” said Manfred Wutzlhofer, CEO of operating trade show company, Messe Muenchen GmbH, in an official statement. “In addition to increased amount of area and number of exhibitors, we can now also report a visitor record…. The mood at the trade fair was positive despite the difficult winter season.”

Indeed, in a pre-show press conference held annually four days before the gates swing open at the ispo grounds to let in the floods packing the foyer, Wutzlhofer and representatives of sporting goods manufacturer and retailer associations lamented the spring-like winter that had held Europe in its grasp. Naturally, the questions about how global warming was changing the face of the industry were posed. “Staying flexible” and figuring out how not to be reliant on winter sports were answers given about how suppliers could manage.

“I don’t want to downplay this problem,” Wutzlhofer told the Germany-based press (and SNEWS®) in attendance, “but when it comes to the winter sports, let’s not get so panicked…. It’s not as if they’re saying there won’t be any more snow…. It’s just a seasonal phenomenon.”

Of course, a coincidentally timed release later that week about global warming indicated, of course, the warm weather wasn’t necessarily a quirk, although the sudden spike this winter in temperatures was more dramatic than the very slow trend previously forecast by scientific researchers.

The possibility of global warming didn’t stop exhibitors and attendees alike from flocking to the halls since functional apparel, footwear of all sorts, fitness equipment and accessories, running equipment, even tennis and soccer gear awaited. And if you can’t ski or otherwise slide around or down snow, you can certainly run, walk, hike, bike or participate in any other activities. And you can also just look like you do by donning technical duds on the street and to the clubs, which has now become accepted across much of Europe.

But that didn’t keep the major buying groups — Intersport and Sport 2000 — from casting a wary eye at how the winter’s huge downturn overall would actually affect pre-orders in 2007 and all sporting segments down the road.

“This is a difficult situation,” Klaus Jost, Intersport executive said at a press conference the first day of the show. “When winter sport suffers, so do all the rest suffer.”

Look for a detailed status report from the buying groups and other European and German sources in SNEWS® later this month. In it, we’ll take a look at the groups’ past year in numbers, forecasts and other takes on the EU and German economy.

Exhibitor numbers up too with spotlight on softgoods
Exhibitors numbered 1,970, compared to 2006’s 1,633, of which 84 percent came from outside Germany. Of attendees, two of three came from outside Germany. Among exhibitors, an increasing trend was noted for companies to group, associate or distribute PR and exhibit on a national level, with many Scandinavia-based companies putting up their booths in a Scandinavian pavilion, and PR being sent out as a group by both French and United Kingdom-based companies.

Also of note — at least in a few halls — was the increased lack of on-floor smoking, with ispo putting out signs calling for no smoking in halls, eliminating ashtrays in most locations and establishing smoking areas outside. Still, many of the smoking areas were sad indeed, in dirty side entries mostly without cover from the drizzle. Still, that didn’t keep the board sports and fashion halls from remaining nearly as smoky, and some attendees and exhibitors blatantly ignoring no-smoking signs, with some sucking dramatically wherever and whenever they wanted. Coincidentally, only three days before the first day of ispo, France’s new law banning smoking in public places went into effect — mon dieu, moi? go outside to puff on my Gauloise? — while German legislators had again in January voted down a national law — ach du lieber, nobody vill tell me vat to do! In Germany at least, that leaves a policy to be decided at a summit Feb. 23 where each state will make its own rules.

With no-smoking being one developing trend, the real sports trends at the show spoke to fashion, fashion, fashion, style, style, style. Sure, there were great new skis, heart-rate monitors, backpacks and treadmills, but looks still played a role in those items too, which also played into the emphasis on style. A survey taken of attendees during the show registered that more than half had an interest in softgoods in some way, from functional to casual or a cross-over, up from 40 percent noting that interest a year ago. One in five visitors said they were interested in wintersports areas — a given considering a winter show, albeit in a year that has so far left most of Europe without much snow or winter sports to speak of. Next on the list: Nine percent were interested in outdoor hardware, while 9 percent expressed an interest in fitness and running.

Also of note when it came to trends:

  • Increased mention of the environment and minimizing impact with products and processes. Certainly, this is more of a topic in the outdoor area with corn and bamboo fibers being promoted because of their regenerating ability, and more discussion of the toxicity of some chemicals and treatments used in creating waterproof materials or other goods that we may take for granted.
  • Technology’s influence and incorporation into sports gear. This may not be new but this year was the first at a winter ispo that so many had clothing that accommodated iPods or cell phones, equipment that could interface with you (for example, during a run or workout) and then translate the information gathered to a cell phone or computer. Plus, we saw jackets and gloves with built-in sensors so you can text message or chat from any slope or hill without fumbling for a phone.
  • The growing lack of differentiation between functional clothing and leisure apparel. For example, a new so-called “Wearable Technologies” area allowed companies to demonstrate products and services, such as soft textile keyboards, textile control panels on clothing, Bluetooth-enabled gloves for making cell phone calls, and cell phones used to record and log you-name-it. SNEWS® notes it wasn’t long ago that no right-thinking European citizen would venture out in athletic or hiking shoes, with a ski jacket or running pants on to go shopping or clubbing. Today, it’s a given as functional apparel takes to everyday tasks and cotton tees are no longer the only thing seen in health clubs or running trails.

The Wearable Technologies area was first put together for the summer show and had a real coming-out party for this winter show, which is significantly larger.

“It’s an effective way to promote us,” said Sue Stanley, marketing director for U.K.-based Eleksen Electronics, which specializes in textile touchpads, and set up shop in the area that showed products, suppliers and prototypes. “I like the concept.” 

Aging hits home

Another highly promoted area was something ispo called “Best Ager” — no, don’t say “ah-grrr,” but rather “age-er,” as in someone getting older, although we had never previously been aware that those starting at age 50 were aging seniors. Heck, even the AARP doesn’t start sending membership come-ons ’til you hit 55. And we native English speakers would never have thought to even use a term like “best ager.” Amazing what native speakers of other tongues can conjure up. (We were told this term was something some fitness expert in Germany had figured out, with the press picking it up and starting to bandy it about in the last few months.)

A so-called “interactive gallery” was put together in 140 square meters (1,500 square feet) of the far reaches of a back hall done by a center for innovations based at the Technical University of Munich, which unfortunately needs a little help with its English translations. For example, the Best Agers were called in the palm-sized pamphlet “a most interesting generation,” when of course 50+ isn’t a generation at all. And we oh-so-liked one exhibit area of the gallery that was intended to show that those 50+ liked to shop comfortably and “without ruffle.”

When SNEWS® talked to a representative at the exhibit to find out what this walk-through maze of rooms was supposed to mean, he pointed out that a visitor had to read a playful question on a pole at the entrance to each room, then look at the artsy exhibit inside the room to try to figure out the answer. The whole point, he said, was to spark discussion and to open eyes among manufacturers as well as retailers. About the term “Best Ager:” He said it was chosen since the commonly used terms, such as seniors, are “unsexy.”

But the best part of the entire promotion was the back flap of the teeny promotional booklet, which included a toy-sized magnifying glass — guess since the tiny brochure’s typing was so correspondingly small they had to make sure its audience would be able to read it. Who cares if some of their very own “Best Agers” would be the readers and may dislike the “ruffle” they’d have to experience by pulling out reading glasses.

We would be remiss to not mention the grand, non-stop and sometimes elaborate parties that happen not only in the booths and halls, but also in the clubs and elegant venues in town. In fact, interesting is that the show is not isolated, with much of the city of Munich knowing it is going on (as if they could miss it since the undergrounds on all four days are as packed as those in Tokyo rush hours, so much so the first three days that the system likely could use “pushers” to cram folks in so the doors could close). There are posters announcing board parties and bar scenes for all-comers, often after the ispo VIPs have had a short soiree and departed.

One party was on Tuesday, Feb. 6, the night before the last full show day, and was an “invite only” GQ Style Night with red carpet entries by stars, models and celebrities from in and out of the sports world. One of the much-awaited events was a … er … performance by Dita von Teese, burlesque actress and stripper, Playboy cover model and estranged wife of rocker Marilyn Manson. Dear Dita proceeded to do an elegant striptease — starting with the long white gloves down to a teeny thong and two other appropriately placed glittery patches. Then she emptied a bottle of champagne over her body, climbed into a huge champagne goblet, bathed herself seductively in the bubbles while she played with a sponge made to look like an oversized strawberry (click here to see photo in our The Herd chat area).

Now that’s an eye-opening warm-up act for the normally ho-hum lineup of speeches, awards and fashion shows. What are we missing out on in North America?

Look for continued reports out of the ispo show in the coming weeks, including economics, market reports, looks at BrandNew winners, and outdoor-specific and fitness-specific coverage.