Supply House Times' Editor Jim Olsztynski checks in from ISH Frankfurt.

Upwards of 220,000 people are expected to turn out at this event. (photo by Jim Olsztynski)

John Siegenthaler (left), a licensed professional engineer, principal of consulting engineering firm Appropriate Designs, author of hydronic heating books and hydronics editor for Supply House Times and its sister publications, Plumbing & Mechanical and PM Engineer, met with Caleffi Director of Marketing Rex Gillespie at ISH Frankfurt.

ISH 2011, the world’s largest plumbing-heating trade fair, is underway in Frankfurt, Germany. This is my sixth trip to the extravaganza, but the first one since 2003. Not a lot has changed in the interval, but there are a few nuances worth noting. In any case, here are some of my first-day impressions.

  • It’s a small world. Upwards of 220,000 people are expected to turn out at this event, only a few hundred from the U.S. What are my chances, then, of running into a half-dozen people I know from the U.S., as well as Australia, via chance encounters on public transit or amid the seas of humanity transiting between exhibit halls? But that’s what happened.
  • It’s a big world. For someone who’s been around the industry as long as I have, it’s a humbling experience to enter exhibit halls and realize you haven’t heard of 90% of the companies exhibiting. Not small companies, either. Some with lavish displays that would win best-in-show awards at most American trade shows. True, many of them market only in Europe or other far-flung parts of the world, but still…
  • Speaking of which …  trade show displays have become an art form unto itself.
  • Whatever happened to color fixtures?  Everything is white. Nobody sells colored fixtures anymore. Not that I’m a big fan of bathroom styling either way. I’m a function over form guy all the way. Just makes me wonder what causes fashions to come and go so quickly.
  • Alcohol diminishes. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of booths where you can imbibe beer and wine or even harder stuff, but more companies than I remember before now go the abstinence route offering guests water, juice and pop, maybe smoothies as well. One exhibitor explained the show simply has gotten so big it’s hard to police all the visitors, and it only takes one inebriate to spoil the show.
  • Watch your step. I tripped and stumbled several times today while entering or exhibiting display areas. No, not because I was over-served. It’s just that some exhibitors think it’s a good idea to put their displays on platforms that rise three to six inches above the show floor. I don’t.
  • The photo Nazis were nowhere in sight. It used to be part of ISH protocol to ask permission to take photos of displays, ostensibly to protect trade secrets. I got chewed out more than once in the past for violating this rule. It never made sense to me, since everyone there is purposely strutting their stuff by putting it on display for all to see. Personally, I think it was a European affectation stemming from vanity. People were afraid a candid shot might catch them in an unflattering expression. No matter. This tradition seems to have gone by the wayside since my last visit. Cameras blazed away left and right circa 2011.
  • Opulence knows no limits when it comes to bathrooms. That’s all I have to say for today. I’ll come at you again before I leave this place.