It's not just a trade show. It represents an industry ready to burst out of its provincial shell.

Looks to me like ISH North America will be nothing more than NEX under new management," a potential exhibitor told me. Others have echoed the same thought.

These comments stem from the fact that ISH-NA has so far failed to fulfill its central promise of trade show consolidation by rolling up any other plumbing-heating exposition. This may still come to pass before the inaugural event in Toronto this fall. Yet, even if it doesn't, there is a crucial facet to ISH-NA that industry citizens need to understand.

Whether the Toronto show sizzles or fizzles, Messe Frankfurt has its gaze set farther than 2002. Theirs is a long-term vision to forge a North American exposition that will complement its extraordinary ISH Trade Fair in Germany, and ultimately rival it in size and scope.

If there's anyone in the world capable of turning the sow's ear of NEX into a silk purse, it's Messe Frankfurt. This organization brings to our industry not only marketing savvy and a world-renowned brand name, but a cosmopolitan outlook that's sorely needed in an industry beset by squabbles throughout its trade channels.

A World View

Messe Frankfurt puts on the world's largest plumbing-heating exposition every other year in its namesake city in Germany. PM has reported extensively on the ISH Trade Fair, and on three of the last four occasions we have taken tour groups to the show. Everyone who's ever attended ISH -- I can't think of any exceptions in my range of experience -- has come back with a rave review.

The spectacular success of Germany's ISH show has made it a mecca for the worldwide plumbing-heating industry. The 2001 version drew more than 2,200 exhibitors from 42 nations and upwards of 200,000 visitors from even more places. They represented every trade and commercial interest imaginable.

Messe Frankfurt has a similar vision for ISH-NA. "ISH North America will provide the building industry with one, consolidated annual event to serve the mutual interests of national and international manufacturers and buyers (including) home centers, kitchen and bath dealers, distributors/wholesalers, designers, architects, plumbers and plumbing engineers, contractors, builders /remodelers and manufacturers agents," is the way they put it.

This kind of diverse audience is precisely what most American exhibitors are clamoring for -- although there are exceptions. Many companies that make goods targeted to a niche audience prefer a smaller show focused on that audience. The best example here is ASPE's every-other-year Engineered Products Exposition, devoted solely to commercial specification products. ASPE doesn't like the idea of blending residential and commercial displays and believes its "boutique" concept best serves its members. Quite a few exhibitors also like the show just the way it is.

No doubt about it, the ASPE show does deliver for its participants. Yet, I think engineers and exhibitors would adapt quite readily to a comprehensive ISH-NA environment. Grouping would solve part of the problem. Even when that proves impractical, visitors would find their way to the exhibits of greatest interest. Residential and commercial products frequently get displayed side-by-side in Frankfurt, but I've never heard a single exhibitor complain about lack of traffic. (ISH-NA has solved a logistics concern for exhibitors participating in the 2002 Engineered Plumbing Expo in Ft. Worth, just days before ISH-NA, by assigning GES Logistics to pick up and deliver booths from Ft. Worth to Toronto.)

It would be a huge boost to its credibility if ISH-NA could strike a deal with at least one of the other trade shows that vie for plumbing-heating exhibitors. Messe Frankfurt has been negotiating tirelessly with other trade show sponsors to do exactly that, with nothing so far to show for those efforts.

It's a tough deal to pull off because trade shows get booked years in advance, and it's hard to get out of those commitments on short notice. Moreover, current show proprietors have financial interests to protect. Although Messe Frankfurt has a reputation for doing well by its show partners, people are naturally reluctant to tinker with a lucrative income stream.

Why We're Bullish

Be that as it may, PM believes that eventually ISH-NA will succeed in its quest to consolidate the North American plumbing-heating exposition market. Here's why:

  • Inefficiencies are abhorrent to a free marketplace. The American economy has been relentless in driving down the cost of goods and services. Plumbing-heating manufacturers are under enormous pressure to reduce their trade show expenditures by looking for the broadest audience appeal. That's ISH-NA. None of the other shows displaying plumbing-heating products is willing or able to broaden its scope.

  • Messe Frankfurt isn't under the gun to produce immediate gratification. Even if the Toronto event doesn't dazzle, they have time to learn from trial and error and move on.

  • "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Although none is quite the basket case NEX was, various other industry shows have shown signs of fatigue stemming from trade show proliferation. If, as we anticipate, the Toronto and subsequent ISH-NA shows prove themselves to be well-run and reasonably well-attended events, other shows will start to leak exhibitors to the broad-based ISH-NA. That could turn into a flood in fairly short order. Establishing such momentum may be one reason why ISH-NA is committing itself to an annual event for the first four years, before switching to an every-other-year format alternating with the European ISH show.

  • ISH-NA will have the most pronounced international flavor of any plumbing-heating exposition on this continent. Several European countries will have pavilions at the event. Companies looking to import or export will want to be at this show. The appearance of truly alien products will give North American visitors plenty of incentive to attend.

  • Messe Frankfurt has joined forces with the Davis Peterson Collaborative, named after two trade show consultants who were instrumental in the success of K/BIS. Smart move. In the international arena, it's always good to hire a native with proven expertise in a market.

  • In addition to the product exposition, ISH-NA will be hosting an extensive array of educational programs and panels appealing to diverse audience sectors. PM will be among those helping to bring this to fruition.

    Our Vested Interest

    A disclosure is in order. As previously reported, PM and other construction publications in Business News Publishing Co. (BNP) have signed a pact with ISH North America to help market and promote the show. So if you think we have a vested interest in talking up the event, you are correct.

    Nonetheless, nobody is holding a gun to my head forcing me to write this. I happen to believe that what's good for ISH-NA and our company is good for the industry as a whole. As a four-time traveler to the ISH show in Frankfurt, I have seen the excitement and cohesiveness that a spectacular trade show can bring to an industry.

    After investing 25 years, almost my entire professional career, in this industry, I have grown to love it and all of its constituents -- manufacturers, wholesalers, contractors, engineers and reps. But I love them like one does wayward children, being all too cognizant of their maddening flaws and immaturity. I'm tired of all the finger-pointing that goes on between different segments of the channel. I'm tired of the provincialism that retards industry growth and prestige.

    The European ISH experience is one that brings the entire industry together, at least for the moment. I am thrilled to be part of an effort that holds the potential for doing the same on our continent. ISH North America is not just a trade show. It represents an industry ready to blossom. That's why I and my colleagues at BNP are bullish on it. I hope so many of you who soured on spending valuable time and money on NEX will join in the rejuvenation.

    Hotel reservations can be booked online. To review pricing and location options, log on at or

    To reserve booth space or ask exhibit-related questions, contact Dirk Ebener, Executive Director, Messe Frankfurt Inc., 1600 Parkwood Circle, Suite 515, Atlanta, GA 30339; phone 770/984-8016 (ext. 17); fax 770/984-8023; e-mail: