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Glass exhibitions: Do we really need them?

Do we really need them? European Scene

May 8, 2008  By John Roper

European Scene: How do you feel about glass exhibitions? Personally, I hate them but it
is part of the job to go along and pretend I don’t. Actually, I wonder
if we really need them anymore.

How do you feel about glass exhibitions? Personally, I hate them but it is part of the job to go along and pretend I don’t. Actually, I wonder if we really need them anymore.


I start to focus on exhibitions now because, for us Europeans, March and April are the exhibition season. In March we have Glassex, the only UK trade show for the window industry this year, followed by Interbuild which is the big general building show that happens every other year. In between there is Fensterbau in Nuremburg and somewhere on the calendar is an architectural hardware show, also in Germany.

Glassex, however, is ‘our’ show and this is where the bitching starts. Love them or hate them, we take our trade shows very personally. Everyone has an opinion and could make a better job of running the show than the organisers.


My first Glassex was in 1983 and even then there was a suggestion that the show should be held biennially. The suggestion actually goes back to the first event in 1980 and, because the organiser refused to have anything to do with it, the Glass and Glazing Federation told its members to boycott the show. Which many of them did.

I told you, we take exhibitions personally over here.

Fast forward to 2006 and the debate is still hurtling around the industry. People compare Glassex, unfavourably, with Fensterbau. The German show is vast, of course. If we take our shows personally then the Germans take them seriously. They do it big, really big. The comparison is actually pretty unfair. Glassex could never be as big as Fensterbau. The event reflects the size of the German market, but it is very much a local event. The UK industry is not nearly as big as the German one and the market is quite different too. But a lot of people think that if Glassex were
biennial it would become as big as Fensterbau because, the argument runs, everyone in the industry would attend at once.

Then there is the Interbuild argument: if the biennial Glassex were held at the same time as Interbuild – which has a strong windows and doors section anyway – as a show-within-a-show then everybody would come.

The argument actually has merit, but I doubt it would work and some of them would still complain. “It is not the same as it used to be in the old days. No atmosphere,” they would say.

Both events are run by the same organiser and for them there is a degree of commercial suicide in all of these suggestions.

People have unrealistic expectations of trade exhibitions. Every year, Glassex is expected to solve all of their problems and this year the industry has plenty of those. As the industry consolidates so do visitor numbers. The organisers trot out the now familiar “Numbers down but quality up” argument with monotonous regularity.

It is complete rubbish: numbers are down because the industry overall is down. Taking a booth at The National Exhibition Centre is very expensive, far more expensive than the German venues. Marketing managers have to justify the considerable expense of exhibiting. Services too are expensive. I must not use the word monopoly, let us just say the exhibitors’ choice of contractors, catering and the like is very limited. And then it costs seven pounds, about $14, just to park your car.


You need to do a lot of business to justify being at any exhibition.

But do any of us really need national trade events? They may be an okay social thing but, as far as products are concerned, don’t we all do that on the internet these days? Almost nobody holds back, or times new product launches for the annual trade show anymore. You can get your product out there tomorrow with an e-mail campaign that costs almost nothing and, as long as your I.T. department is under control, have it on your web site the same day. In an industry of small enterprises, why does someone need to take out a valuable day and spend money on gasoline, parking the car and lunch to see what he can see on his computer during a coffee break? -end-

*John Roper is editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazines published in the UK. His comments reflect opinions from the UK and may not be applicable in Canada.

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