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Hannover Diary, Day Three

read Day One here
read Day Two here

I would imagine that just about everybody who reads IndustryWeek has been to at least a couple trade shows during their careers, and many of you are probably well into double- or maybe even triple-digits on trade shows. I'm sure I've logged somewhere in the vicinity of 150-200 conferences, exhibitions and other assorted in-person gatherings over the past 20+ years. Going to a trade show in Hannover, Germany, however, is unlike any other experience I've ever had. And I would submit that if you haven't attended a trade fair in Hannover, you haven't really seen the ultimate in manufacturing trade shows.

In Day One of this diary, I wrote about how difficult it can be to actually get to Hannover, but now I'm going to tell you why so many make the trip to the Hannover Messe (and by "so many" I mean somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 attendees). Hannover itself is hardly a metropolis (its population numbers about a half million people), sitting somewhat in the shadow of larger (and more accessible by air) cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin. What makes Hannover a unique trade show experience is the sheer quantity of exhibition halls in one area. Many of you have probably been to McCormick Place in Chicago, one of the granddaddys of exhibition centers. Try to picture 20 McCormick Places all clustered together in one campus, with shuttle buses running attendees from one hall to another. The Hannover fairgrounds houses something like 30 or more different convention halls, and the Hannover Messe itself (just one of several gargantuan trade events held throughout the year) occupies about 20 different halls, with 10 different trade shows and assorted smaller conferences scattered hither and yon.

Hannover Messe is kind of a like a cross between a major university campus and Disney World. If you believe the Wikipedia entry, the Hannover fairgrounds is the largest in the world. I certainly can't imagine anything comparable, though I hear rumors that the Chinese are trying to build a complex that might someday rival Hannover. And apparently the city of Milan, Italy, has a venue that in some ways might rival the Hannover complexthe bi-annual EMO trade show (devoted to machine tools and factory automation) rotates between Hannover and Milan. But however you want to judge a show, in terms of sheer impact, it's hard to beat the Hannover Fair, which looks less like a trade show than it does a small city.

So who comes to Hannover Messe? Well, according to the show organizers, they attract more than 5,000 exhibitors for the one-week show. Attendance at this year's show, according to the staff, was expected to be right around 200,000 (which includes a lot of kidsunlike most U.S. events, the Hannover Messe not only is open to high school and college age children, but it actually encourages their attendance with special programs developed specifically for them). If those numbers hold true, that would represent an increase in attendance of something like 30%, which is significant no matter when it happens, but is especially noteworthy during a period when the U.S. economy is in a slow-down mode.

In fact, anecdotally speaking, I heard very little about any kind of an economic slow-down while in Hannover. True, there was acknowledgment that the subprime crisis had hurt a few industries, most especially building and construction, but I didn't get any sense that an economic malaise was dampening any enthusiasm amongst the companies I talked to (admittedly, any company exhibiting at Hannover Messe would have its eggs pretty well spread throughout the entire globe, rather than just centered on the United States). In the next installment, I'll offer a look at some of those companies, and some of the strategies and technologies they've developed to stay competitive in a global marketplace.

TAGS: Supply Chain
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