Crowds flock to Tokyo show
OPI reports that the trade show format is alive and kicking in Japan
If trade shows were judged purely on crowd levels in the aisles, then the ISOT event in Tokyo would surely be a contender for the top spot. From the minute the doors opened at 10am on Wednesday, 9 July, to when they closed at 6pm on the Friday, there was hardly a lull in visitor traffic. People were even queuing to register just a couple of hours before the end of the event.
"This year has been a real eye-opener for me," admitted Pentel Europe Director Ken MacKenzie, who was visiting the show for the first time in a couple of years.
"It is much busier than the last time I was here and if we had this kind of throughput on the stand in Frankfurt, our decision about whether to attend Paperworld or not could well have been very different."
Patrick Becker, Sales and Marketing Director of German vendor Kum, has been attending the show for a number of years. "It seems that the number of visitors is getting bigger every year," he said. "Not only did we have significantly more visitors than in previous years, but the exhibition halls also appeared to be fuller."
Reed takes action
ISOT is experiencing a new lease of life after organisers Reed Exhibitions Japan saw that the event in its stationery-focused format was stagnating. It tagged on a number of mini-exhibitions such as OFMEX (an office machines and equipment expo now in its 6th year), office security and gift shows and special zones for hobby, crafts and design stationery.
"We used to run ISOT concurrently with the Tokyo Book Fair," explained Reed Japan President Tad Ishizumi. "Now we need all the space for ISOT and related exhibitions."
Ishizumi and his team have also come up with a number of other initiatives to drive visitor numbers. One is to encourage more buyers from other Asian countries to attend.
"This show should be for the entire Asian market, so that even European exhibitors can meet buyers from Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as from Japan," said Ishizumi.
"We travelled to Korea and Taiwan to meet major retailers there and persuade them to attend our event," he continued. "To the best of my knowledge we are the only trade show to do this kind of thing."
The increase in foreign visitors was noted by many exhibitors interviewed. "We are very satisfied with the results," confirmed Hitoshi Nagai, Senior General Manager of Plus Corporation’s international operations. "We were able to meet many new potential foreign customers at this year’s ISOT."
Reed also made over 10,000 phone calls to Japanese retailers in the month leading up to the show and visited major buyers to personally hand them their show invitations.
The change of schedule in 2007 to a Wednesday-Thursday-Friday pattern from the traditional Friday-Saturday- Sunday has also been beneficial to the show, argues Ishizumi. "We immediately saw an increase in visitor numbers," he confirmed. "Not only that, but we noticed that more decision-makers, both in terms of exhibitors and visitors, were attending."
This year’s numbers confirm the upward momentum of ISOT with over 67,500 visitors over the three days, almost 8 percent up on the 2007 figure. The number of exhibitors, meanwhile, grew from 950 in 2007 to 1,037 this year.
Opportunities in a softening market
All this against a backdrop of a stagnating Japanese market and a gloomy economic outlook, as the country starts to feel the effects of the US subprime fallout.
"The Japanese market is becoming very soft," admitted Fellowes Japan President Takashi Yamawaki.
"Since April, all manufacturers, wholesalers and dealers have witnessed a slowdown in business. Corporate customers and consumers are not purchasing unless they need to, and companies especially are trying to cut their expenses," he added.
However, Fellowes Japan does see opportunities for products that offer added value, whether through innovative functionality or design. Hugh Darcy, Global Marketing Director of the company’s binding and laminating division, said that sales of Fellowes laminators in Japan had shown a 45 percent year-on-year increase.
"European styling appeals to Japanese consumers and this has helped us to be successful in getting into key mail order and wholesale listings," said Darcy at the show.
"We’re also focusing on the safety innovations of our products," added Kirsten Gehrig, Fellowes’ Global Marketing Director for shredders. "There was a scare in the Japanese market a couple of years ago when some children were injured using shredders, so we’re really pushing our SafeSense technology."
Market observers in Japan are seeing a greater demand for cheaper, imported products as the number of discount stores and mass merchandisers gain ground on the traditional retail set-up. However, the middle ground is also being squeezed from above by more demand for high-end products.
"We are noticing an increase in high quality and design-orientated products by users who do not care for cheap items," declared Yutaka Hasegawa, President of leading Japanese stationery supplier Yamato. This sentiment is echoed by Esselte Japan’s Managing Director Andrew Hankinson who announced that he has signed a new distribution agreement for the Leitz brand with Japanese retail merchandising specialists MDS, precisely to tap into the higher end of the market.
"There are a large number of Japanese retail ‘design’ stores that carry premium quality stationery products and this is a segment of the market that we are looking to exploit," he explained. But breaking into the Japanese market can be challenging and time-consuming for overseas companies.
"One of the challenges of doing business in Japan is that it is a market that requires time," noted Kum’s Becker. "You cannot come here only once and then expect to be in the market. The trust of the customer is something that needs to be earned over the years by continuously supplying high quality and attractive products."
"The Japanese market is very difficult," agreed Karen Harrison, Head of Marketing at computer cleaning products manufacturer AF International, exhibiting at ISOT for the third time this year.
"However, it was interesting to see that Japanese visitors this year had more confidence to approach a foreign firm and we found many visitors more receptive, approachable and forthcoming," she added. "We met some very appealing firms that are interested in distributing and developing our brand within their market and we are extremely confident that our expectations will be met."
Innovation on show
Japanese company Mac Machine Tool’s Paper Block machine compresses waste papera into small handy-sized blocks which weigh just a few grammes and don’t damage the original paper fibres. The picture shows Mac Machine’s Takayasu Nogami holding two of the blocks, each of which represents around ten sheets of A4 paper.