The folks who do ISH are taking over NEX. Who's next?

You could have rolled a bowling ball down the aisles at October's NEX Show in Chicago without hitting a soul. Many exhibitors vowed they would never come back, and many predicted it would be the last NEX show.

They were prophetic, even though they didn't know that Messe Frankfurt Inc. was negotiating with the NEX partners to take over the show, which had been co-sponsored by PHCC-NA and the American Supply Association since 1984, joined by the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating in recent years. As of this writing, an agreement in principle has been reached. Messe Frankfurt has scheduled a press conference in Chicago Dec. 5, and it's a good bet this agreement will be a done deal by then.

They will announce that the first ISH North America, as it will be called, will be held in 2002 at one of the major U.S. exposition venues - Chicago, Orlando or Las Vegas most likely. It will be the first step toward achieving industry manufacturers' dream of a comprehensive trade show that consolidates various existing plumbing-heating expos.

The ultimate ideal would be to merge ISH North America with the shows put on by ASPE, NKBA, NAHB, ASHRAE, and maybe even the hardware and home center shows geared toward the retail market. This would create a humongous exposition, even topping the world-renowned ISH trade fair held every other year in Germany. That's not going to happen any time soon. Unless something has changed drastically since Nov. 1 when this was written, Messe Frankfurt is not close to getting any of those other show managers to sign on. But those sponsors have to be looking at this organization in a different light than they did the NEX suitors, who never brought enough to the table to generate much interest in joining forces.

Applause From Exhibitors

The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute (PMI), representing 40 of the industry's most prominent companies, has identified trade show consolidation as one of its highest priorities. Many PMI members are fairly small firms with annual revenues of no more than $30-$40 million, and exhibiting at a show like NEX can easily end up costing $100,000 when all the bills get added up. Multiply that by as many as six or seven national expos in a year, plus regional shows, and you can see how marketing budgets get bloated.

The big expense in exhibiting comes not from the registration fees paid to the show sponsors. PMI has made clear that its members wouldn't mind paying a little more to exhibit at a consolidated show. Savings would come from reduced travel and drayage expenses - and from having sales and marketing staffs engaged in more productive activity than sitting around talking to one another.

In a May 1995 PM interview, Messe Frankfurt's former president, Dr. Michael Peters, expressed mild interest in forming a North American trade show, although stating that Asia was a higher priority. Messe Frankfurt has since organized a Chinese PHC trade show, and NEX fortunes have steadily declined. The exposition was clearly gasping for breath, and time seems ripe for Messe Frankfurt to move in.

Good For The Industry

What this organization brings to the trade show business is marketing savvy, a worldwide brand name and credibility. With ISH and various other trade fairs, Messe Frankfurt has demonstrated a knack for satisfying the financial interests of varied parties. That's what it will take to persuade consolidation partners.

That's the carrot. There's also a stick. Messe Frankfurt's track record must be making those other show managers nervous about competing with this organization for the hearts and dollars of exhibitors and visitors. Some have contractual obligations to future shows that would rule out consolidation immediately, but it will be interesting to see how many new binding commitments get made from this point on. A few years down the road, ISH North America could start a bandwagon effect that sees it grow in size and scope pretty quickly.

That's what plumbing-heating manufacturers are hoping, and that's what this observer thinks would be good for our industry.