MEX Interview The fun of creating expos: An interview with Gunnar Mey & Florian Niethammer
Creating expos, building upon existing ones, differentiating oneself from the competition and maintaining high standards are all aspects of a successful show. I rcently spoke with two representatives of Messe Stuttgart about what lies at the heart of Moulding Expo 2019.
Gunnar Mey and Florian Niethammer were organisers in two ways, both as organisers of Moulding Expo 2019 and of course of the event in Slovenia where I had the pleasure of interviewing them. Therefore, the following interview will contain answers by both of them as well.
I always feel that, although trade fairs are very central to the industry, there is very little talk about trade fairs apart from visitor numbers and attendees. So my first question would be: Why Moulding Expo? What was the initial spark that led to its creation and why was it needed?
Mey: There used to be a fair for the tooling industry that happened at different places in Germany. It had the status of being the leading expo in the field and it even started to form international variants in China, Russia etc. This lasted for roughly 20 years, the last five of which were marked by an increasing dissatisfaction on both the exhibitor and visitor side. The core idea of the expo no longer lined up with the ideas and expectations of those attending the fair.
However, since the organisers did not react to these demands in any form, the conclusion was as simple as it was inevitable: people stopped attending.
This dissatisfaction was noted by us in Stuttgart and we went through an extensive analysis process of the market and the industry. We also spoke to several important figures from the industry. We engaged in depth with the topics present at the time and after many talks and interviews, they encouraged us to create a new expo from this. We then worked on a first concept for this trade fair and in several steps discussed and reworked it together with the industry.
Niethammer: And we actually asked the companies and the associations if they wanted this trade fair or not. We went to their general meetings and let them vote whether they would support a Moulding Expo. We did not confront the industry with a finished concept but rather worked hand in hand with them when we were creating it. And that is why I think that there is a high level of identification with the fair today. It is about being an active part in designing the fair and not “just attending”.
You mentioned that a failure to listen to feedback and adapt to it was the cause of the preceding expo’s failure. The question now is, of course, how do you avoid that the same thing is does not happen to Moulding Expo? The expo has established itself now, but how do you evolve the concept to keep it from becoming stale and feeding the same growing dissatisfaction?
Mey: I’d like to compare this to a romantic relationship: The things you do to finally get to know this other person you are interested in, to get a first date and so forth. This is similar to our experience when creating this expo. First came the flirting, the talking with the industry and getting to know them, their problems and interests. After that, it is just like any other strong relationship: You must invest time and effort into it to keep it going. Even after a number of years, one must still be interested in what the other party cares about and what their expectations are. And I think on this front we are doing pretty well. There is a strong personal engagement here, starting with the two Florians (Florian Niethammer and Florian Schmitz) and the communications department. We are all very close to it all. We visit the companies and we have a panel that discusses the current hot topics of the market with us and provides us with feedback for our ideas.
Niethammer: We see ourselves as a bit different from other organisers since this industry is almost a personal matter to us. We take their topics very serious and do not define our success by every square metre sold but rather by how well we understand an industry and can implement that into the organisation of a successful trade fair. That is where the fun in creating expos starts.
There is a current trend towards smaller, more regional fairs and away from the big international ones. Companies prefer to stay very close to their target audience and thus also present their new innovations close to them. In the light of these developments, do you think the idea of a large trade fair is something that will persist in the future? Especially considering the advancement of technologies such as VR etc. and the possibility of bringing the fair into the customers' office via a download?
Mey: I think the topic of a fair is very important in this regard. If I apply this to Moulding Expo, it is about technology, high investments, but also about a personal level and the people of interest within this industry. Tool and mould-makers come to Moulding Expo as companies exhibiting, but there are also the tool and mould-making departments within companies that do not come as exhibitors, but rather attendees. And this combination of technology, investments, getting up to speed on trends, networking with others from the industry, is hard or even impossible to replace with something entirely digital.
It will be exciting to see how we can improve the expo experience with digital components. For instance, how we can improve the efficiency of a visit with these tools. There are many interesting opportunities for us that we want to work with. Going back to Moulding Expo, I view digitalisation as complementary to the experience and not as a replacement of it.
I want to thank both Gunnar Mey and Florian Niethammer for taking the time to speak to me.