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European Scene: April 2011

U.K. trade shows, global lessons?


April 7, 2011
By John Roper

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As of this year the U.K. window industry has no dedicated exhibition. Glassex has been cancelled.

As of this year the U.K. window industry has no dedicated exhibition. Glassex has been cancelled. A couple of years ago I wrote an obituary for Glassex. However, the patient struggled on beyond expectations as part of the building exhibition, Interbuild. In spite of its size, this show apparently had its own problems as well. Now both are gone. The U.K. window industry takes its media very personally, and everyone has an opinion as to how things could be done differently or better. So there will be endless speculation as to why Glassex failed, whether it should have survived at all, whose fault it all is, and whether we even needed such an event.

The strange thing is, our continental colleagues seem to make exhibitions work. The Glasstec exhibition in Duesseldorf is huge, and covers every aspect of glass from bottles to architectural, and every kind of machinery to make or process the stuff. Fensterbau does the same for fenestration and then there is the building exhibition, Bau, in Munich. Strangely, while the U.K. exhibitions flounder through lack of support, these are all must-attend events for the U.K. industry and, for many companies, must-exhibit events, as well.

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Cost is a big factor. My association with exhibitions goes back to the London Motor Shows of the late 1950s. From then until now, exhibitions have been regarded, in the U.K. as a licence to print money. Venue operators control catering and charge what they like. Contractors of all kinds try to do deals with organizers for sole supply and are equally uncompetitive. The result was the worst aspects of monopolistic operating with the exhibitor paying dearly. And all of that before you even try to park your car, which, anywhere in the U.K., is difficult and always expensive. Car drivers are just a milk cow for everyone, from government at all levels down to anyone else that can get in on the act. I used to exhibit at Glasstec, though I have not done so for a good many years. When I did it was cheap, cheaper than exhibiting at Glassex, where, as a publisher, I got the stand space for free. Moreover, there were no restrictions on DIY catering or stand fitting. I recall one time having to wire-in my own telephone, something which at any U.K. event would have caused an instant strike.

As far as Glassex is concerned, it always seemed to me that the rot set in early. It started as a glass trade exhibition, but in the mid-’80s changes to the trade meant inevitable decline. The embryonic window industry came to the rescue and Glassex carried on with a new profile but the old name. That always seemed to be the problem. The now defunct Glass Age magazine constantly complained that there was “no glass at Glassex,” in spite of the fact it too relied on the window industry for its income. At its height, Glassex was impressive. Exhibitors spent huge sums on big, multi-level stands and staged amazing events – the systems manufacturer Veka once ran a competition to win a Jaguar car.

But the industry and its needs changed and somehow the organizers just didn’t get it. The aim always was to put on a Glassex of yesteryear. While, as publishers, we were recognizing the rise of the installer and publishing accordingly, Glassex seemed to continue to operate as though nothing had happened. Moreover, as the refurbishment sector declined, it was inevitable that windows would again be seen as what they always were – building components.

The U.K. window industry loves to talk to itself. Other events have sprung up ostensibly to fill the gap opening up as Glassex faded. But at such events, increasingly, I saw marketing and sales people talking to each other, boosting the feel-good factor, not even noticing that their potential customers were not in evidence. We Brits always like a cosy club; the customers are just an unwelcome distraction.

Exhibitions can be a good idea at all sorts of levels but, in the U.K., exhibiting is an expensive way to market. The Internet is cheap and immediate and offers a real alternative. Exhibition organizers need to catch up. Things change; the survivors are the ones that change with them. •


John Roper is the editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The
Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazine published in the U.K.


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