Wake up call

With Paperworld in Germany looming large, there again comes the inevitable criticism. But this year more than ever, exhibitors and visitors alike are actively voting with their feet. Are the organisers aware of the ticking clock? OPI finds out...

“For companies in the paper, office supplies and stationery sector that are looking for international markets as well as for manufacturers wanting to present new and innovative products, Paperworld in Germany remains the most important international trade fair.” These are the words of Paperworld Director Michael Reichhold. 

It’s difficult to argue with this statement. But why is it then that there is such discontent among visitors and manufacturers alike when it comes to what, once upon a time, was an absolute must-attend/exhibit event in the OP calendar; an event that would raise eyebrows if anybody important in the sector dared to miss it?

Just from a manufacturer point of view, there’s possibly been no other year when such a large proportion of brand manufacturers – Faber-Castell, Novus Dahle, Staedtler, edding, Durable to name but a few – have withdrawn their support, not necessarily for Paperworld as a total event, but certainly for 2014.

Lack of relevance

For some of the resellers attending as visitors, it’s simply a lack of relevance. Christian Langvad, OTTO Office’s Head of Procurement & Business Development, is brutally open about the fact that his staff just don’t want to go anymore because of this lack, so much so that the company cancelled all participation for next January. He says: “We have been loyal to Paperworld for many years, during all the years of changes and discussions about the event. We always went with our full team – about 20 to 25 people – but nobody, including our category managers, wants to go in 2014 and one of the reasons is that the relevant exhibitors or partners they want to meet are simply not there.”

And that, Langvad continues, is not just because the big OP vendors are increasingly staying away, either completely or just from the exhibition ground, instead basing themselves in nearby hotels. “Office products account for about 50% of our total sales; the other half is generated through partners like HP or Canon, office furniture manufacturers and other new categories like facilities management (FM). So if only 50% of revenues are generated through OP companies and if a sizeable percentage of those partners aren’t even there, I completely understand why my buyers say ‘we don’t want
 to go’.”

The fact that many of the ancillary categories that OP resellers are typically selling now as part of their overall offering – technology, FM and furniture to name but a few as mentioned above – barely make an appearance at the fair has been a longstanding discussion point. 

Reichhold’s comment when approached by OPI about this appetite for a broader range was evasive, to say the least, and is unlikely to engender confidence that a Kimberly-Clark, SCA, Ecover, Nestlé or Douwe Egberts is ever going to be on the list of exhibitors. “We realise that there is a trend towards a broader range of products and that the visitors like to see additional products at the fair,” he says. “That’s why we develop this concept from year to year. We have the product group of Remanexpo with the recycler industry that is very interesting for a broad part of visitors. Also there is the special event ‘Mr. Books & Mrs. Paper’ that shows additional office and paper products for the book traders.”

International focus

Part of the attraction of Paperworld in the past has been its growing international focus and the fact that it not only attracted buyers from trade and retail operators in Germany and neighbouring countries – as was perhaps the original remit many years ago – but a solid and high quality delegation from the large global players. 

Lyreco is one of them, but Group Marketing Director John Watson doesn’t rate the quality of the event anymore, with all its individual parts not coming together to make it a rounded and – it’s been said many times before – must-attend event. He says: “The problem with Paperworld is that it lost its way; it’s drifting aimlessly into a very slow death. It needs to reinvent itself, among other things with new category exhibitors. But what the organisers really need to work out is the value that it brings. Is it an exhibition, a meeting venue, a conference? 

“My team and I don’t go to Paperworld anymore to see the new product launches; that’s gone and probably finished 15 ago. But it’s still done in the same format, with big spaces for big stands to display products. For a distributor like Lyreco that’s just not relevant. What we go for is the big picture, the year ahead. What are the key directions that I need to be aware of with my team?”

The view that new product launches are not important should ruffle more than a few feathers among the manufacturing community (not to mention organisers Messe Frankfurt), but is perhaps given credence by the fact that a sizeable glut of big name international vendors descend on Frankfurt’s nearby hotels year after year, presumably having those big picture discussions Watson is talking about – without the new products in tow.

The target group of Paperworld exhibitors isn’t of course just the larger operators and the always thorny issue of piggy-backing onto those vendors that pay a hefty price for their presence in the product-orientated halls is one that is longstanding and unresolved. 

Product launchpad

And there are definitely many vendors that view Paperworld as a great launchpad for new products. Indeed, says Durable’s Senior Marketing Advisor Horst Bubenzer, the reason the company cancelled its participation next January is chiefly a result of its new products not being ready. “If we had exhibited, we wouldn’t have had enough news basically and without having anything to show for, four days at Paperworld with a sizeable stand is a hugely expensive undertaking.”

As explored in more detail on page 28 (see ‘Paperworld time-wrestling: Yearly or Biennial’), the innovation cycles of many OP manufacturers are not as frequent anymore and that’s essentially why several companies are increasingly opting to exhibit every other year, a fact that Paperworld organisers are finally beginning to acknowledge and address. This is no doubt a hugely difficult undertaking given the event’s entanglement with same-time events Christmasworld and Beautyworld. 

Fellowes has already been alternating its attendance over the past eight years and will again be present with a stand next year. And for the US-based company too, the event is indeed an opportunity to show its new products, plus a good time to finally put its difficulties in China behind it. 

Hugh Darcy, VP of Global Sales and Marketing, Business Machines, says: “It was never our intention to formally revert to a biennial attendance. Our intent is always that, if we’ve got an interesting message for the trade community and if we’ve got something exciting product-wise to talk about, then we will attend. As a new product development business, for us Paperworld is a very important launch pylon. The pitching season starts in January so it’s the time where we aim to raise awareness. 

“If you want to get listed at an Office Depot, a Staples or a Lyreco – although we have very tight one-to-one relationships with those kinds of companies already – it’s the place where you can start to show the world what you’ve got. Also, of course, it may be different when you’re dealing with one of the big boxes. But if you’re looking for a new distributor in Russia or India, you need some initial contact; you need someone to see what your brand is all about, its importance and power in the industry, etc. And that’s one thing that Paperworld can do really well. We also don’t have all of the major distributors all the time,
 so there’s always a chance that someone from Depot will walk on the stand, saying ‘come on, let’s start talking.’ That’s really paying for the stand that year isn’t it, if we get that contract?”

Improvements needed

And while Darcy admits that he even attends during Fellowes’ non-exhibiting years because it’s simply a good place to meet everyone, he also has plenty of ideas for improvements – echoed by many of his peers, from the reseller as well as manufacturing community.  

Timing for a start could be much better. Many of the international visitors arrive on the Monday – historically also the day when the European Office Products Awards dinner was held (now held as part of the OPI Partnership event), showing a lack of commitment towards the event. 

But most of all, Darcy believes that Paperworld needs another powerful raison d’être to keep attracting both exhibitors and visitors. Yes, there is a plethora of ‘side shows’ in the form of lectures, competitions, award ceremonies, even full-on mini exhibitions like the Office Gold Club Procurement where companies that don’t necessarily have big exhibition stands (most don’t now in fact) have small booths in an adjacent hall and discuss strategy, products and so on with commercial end users. And all these are undoubtedly valuable, but they don’t give that bigger picture and they are by and large small scale and national (though often translated into English). 

Says Darcy: “I was at CES in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. The organisers run a really intensive conference programme where you can see industry leaders talking on stage, answering questions, etc. There are different streams you can subscribe to – and pay for – but those I saw were absolutely packed. 

This would translate fantastically into a potential Paperworld concept, he adds. “So there could be a technology stream, a facilities management stream, etc. It would be a golden opportunity to discuss, say, the electronic office. As for big name speakers, I would really like to see what Eric Bigeard makes of the world today; I want to see Jamie Fellowes up on stage talking with the head of ACCO. Those encounters are worth paying for and you can say to your boss ‘I need to go to that because I’m going to learn something’.”

OTTO Office’s Langvad agrees, also highlighting the need for more networking opportunities. “I mentioned this to the organisers some time ago and was told that there had been a big party for exhibitors. Why don’t they do that for the visitors as well because this is a chance where people really can meet and chat together? The days of actually placing orders at a fair are long gone. The function of an event like Paperworld is to speak to each other, to network, to get a feeling for trends and what’s next – that’s certainly why the buyers from our company used to go.” 

Turnaround?

Can Messe Frankfurt and the Paperworld organisers become thought leaders, return the fair to its former glory and make it the compulsory trip of the year again, even in times when money is short and time precious? A potential future change to a biennial event also needn’t ring the death knell. Other shows like Orgatec or Photokina prove that every other year doesn’t have to mean the end.  

Despite all the criticism, there’s a resounding feeling that manufacturers and visitors alike are willing the organisers on to give it their very best shot. 

One of the discussion points surrounding Paperworld is the regularity of the event. Given the cost associated with attending with a full-scale stand in the main exhibition area – €0.5 million ($0.69 million) is not an unusual amount – plus the somewhat slowed innovation cycle of certain strands of some of the exhibition’s product ranges, a two-yearly cycle has been mentioned more than a few times. Indeed, judging by comments from some exhibitors that have chosen to stay away next January, it’s less a lack of support for the event as a whole rather than lack of support of its current format. 

Below are the views of just some of the many – often longstanding – exhibitors that have cancelled their exhibition participation at Paperworld 2014. 

“Faber-Castell will not exhibit at Paperworld in Frankfurt for 2014. Due to reduced visitor traffic from both local as well as international retail and wholesale customers we have decided to focus on smaller local fairs in Europe. We will analyse the results of this approach and will decide about the feasibility of a Paperworld participation again in 2015 and every two subsequent years.” Karl Heinz Raue, Head of Business Development, Faber-Castell 

From 2013, Novus Dahle with its partner Schneider Schreibgeräte and the mutual distribution company Schneider Novus will no longer attend Paperworld on a yearly basis, but will be represented in a two-year rhythm from 2015 on. Managing Director of Novus Dahle, Frank Indenkämpen, refers to changing markets and, as a result, declining visitors at the fair. “With our approach we will meet the consequences these changes have and at the same time remain loyal as a standing exhibitor,” he says.

“Paperworld is an important international information and communication platform, and we have always been pleased with all aspects of our attendance in recent years. However, we also think it needs some changes, which is why we are looking forward to experiencing the fair’s new features when we next attend. Furthermore, it’s clear from feedback from many of our partners that, given the length of innovation cycles, it makes more sense to exhibit every other year,” Per Ledermann, CEO, edding

“We’re planning to launch a comprehensive range of new products next year, but we simply won’t be ready at the beginning of the year, so we decided not to exhibit at Paperworld in 2014. You have to acknowledge that the innovation cycles of OP manufacturers are not as frequent as they used to be anymore and to exhibit at large and costly events as Paperworld on a yearly basis might not be feasible going forward.” Horst Bubenzer, Senior Marketing Advisor, Durable

Paperworld in the past has always vehemently defended the annual aspect of the event. When OPI spoke to new Director of Consumer Goods at Messe Frankfurt, Cordelia von Gymnich,  she said: “Paperworld will not take place every two years. We have conducted large-scale visitor and exhibitor polls, which confirm that once a year in January is the right time to hold the fair. This timing is particularly advantageous for international visitors. Moreover, the stationery segment is especially innovation and trend-orientated. This means that both the trade and industry need a Paperworld that is held annually.”

That said, recently there has been somewhat of a mini u-turn on this ‘policy’. In a press release issued on 27 November, Messe Frankfurt reiterated that “to maintain its position as a new-products show, as well as a source of inspiration and an economic driving force, Messe Frankfurt will continue to hold Paperworld annually”. The u-turn comes as regards manufacturers from two German manufacturers’ associations – the ‘Altenaer Kreis’ and ‘PBS-Industrieverband’ whereby Paperworld organisers confirmed that “an attractive exhibition area where [members of these two associations] can present their product innovations every two
 years from 2015”. 

The decision was the result of consultations between representatives of the two associations and Messe Frankfurt. It’s interesting that many of the companies that have recently withdrawn their support for 2014 – Faber-Castell, Durable, Staedtler, edding, Schneider – are within those groups, as are many others. 

Chairman of PBS Industrieverband Horst-Werner Maier-Hunke says: “The majority of the member companies of our two associations have voted in favour of presenting their new products every two years at Paperworld from 2015.”

For the time being, a working group has been set up that will discuss the specifics of this new arrangement in a meeting in early January, the idea being that a formal announcement will be made at Paperworld itself. 

Is this real progress some may ask? It’s early days, but it’s an encouraging sign that the concerns of (some of) the manufacturers that ultimately finance Paperworld are being taken into account. It of course also throws up the question that if all – or most – of these German brand manufacturers opt for a two-year cycle, what’s going to happen to Hall 3 on an annual basis, since so many of them are based in that space? More questions than answers at the moment.