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This is an obituary

May 1, 2009  By John Roper

Glassex, the U.K.’s only dedicated window trade exhibition, passed away on Jan. 20 after a long illness.

Glassex, the U.K.’s only dedicated window trade exhibition, passed away on Jan. 20 after a long illness.

There has always been a lot of nostalgia around the event, and that is to be expected with a relatively small industry such as this. The event was launched in 1980 by Eagle Exhibition Consultants, which was owned by a flamboyant character called Desmond Corcoran. Glassex quickly got into the trade psyche to the extent that people still allude to what the show was like in the 1970s.

It was controversial from the beginning. Recent wrangles about the show being held biennially are not new. Back in 1982 the Glass and Glazing Federation – itself a different organization compared to today – expressed the opinion that Glassex should be held every other year. Desmond was never one to be told what to do and the 1983 event (my first) was officially boycotted by the GGF. Not that the boycott made a lot of difference, GGF members still attended and those that wished to exhibit came to arrangements with non-members to use their stands.


Of course, the original event was a glass trade show. The glass trade was still big and buoyant in the early 1980s with merchanting as well as processing forming part of the structure. What changed things was the growth of the embryonic replacement window industry and the decline of the merchanting sector as delivery systems allowed more processors to take delivery of glass in jumbo sheet size. Window fabricators too began to manufacture their own sealed units.

In 1986 Desmond Corcoran retired and sold his business to another exhibition organizer, Trade Promotion Services, which, within weeks, was itself bought by EMAP. From there the window trade and Glassex prospered together.

Although the show looked great with double deck stands and lots of glitz, there were complaints about fewer visitors – broadly not true, though the peak in around 1988 was 15,000. The problem was that the show got bigger but the industry itself stayed the same so the same number of people were being spread out over a larger area. Other things affected attendance too. EMAP banned children from the show. Sunday had always been known as “family day” because one-man-band traders would bring the family for a day out at Glassex. (OK, not my idea of a family day out either but it worked for some.) Stop the kids and, I guess, the guys had a hard time justifying the trip back at home.

The problem with “golden” ages is that they mostly exist in the minds of the people who remember them and however hard you try you can never go back. A succession of organizers, marketing and salespeople have come and gone. Competent all of them, but no doubt being told by the industry about the great days of Glassex and wondering why they can’t bring them back. The problem is that no one sees the history and therefore can’t appreciate and respond to the changes that have taken place in the industry. They say “there is no glass at Glassex.” Of course not – look at what happened in the 1980s. There are no double-deck stands because the vinyl systems manufacturers that used them don’t need to sell in the same way and their market has shrunk. So too have the number of systems manufacturers, by the way.

The industry is smaller; the case for biennial or regional is stronger than ever. The merge with Interbuild, which has also been long discussed, was scheduled for 2010. A general lack of interest has now caused the 2009 event to be co-located with Interbuild this year.

Perhaps it will be good. Perhaps the U.K. windows industry will recognize that it is not separate from the building industry. Windows after all are a building component.  For Glassex, I think it is already too late. For the window manufacturers, many of whom will, for the first time, come face to face with builders; it may well be a new opportunity.

Glassex R.I.P.

* John Roper is the editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazine published in the U.K. His comments reflect industry news, trends and opinions in Europe.

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