Part I – overview
As I return from the A+A trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany, here are some observations from my experience. Let’s start with public transportation in Europe. After landing in Frankfurt, I took the train to Dusseldorf, travelling for much of it at 300 km/h – arriving in little more than an hour, much faster than if I’d waited for a connecting flight. If I’d missed my train, the next one was about 20 minutes later. From there on to the local LRT that is free for people attending the trade fair.
Over the next three days I walked 30+ kilometres prowling the halls of the trade fair grounds. The show is huge, but occupies less than half of the available space. Even relatively small companies take larger booth space than the large companies use in North America. This is clearly a major portion of their marketing budget.
I can’t imagine what it would be like having to get to every building, let alone how crowded the city would be with attendees at a fair that takes up all the halls! As it is hotels offer “trade fair special” (i.e. more expensive) room rates, but I found myself a reasonably priced, delightful apartment right downtown through AirBnB.
In North America we have seen tremendous consolidation in our industry with a small number of manufacturers now dominating many aspects of the industry. While those mega-businesses have a large presence in Dusseldorf, they face a huge number of local and regional specialist competitors. One of the differences in Europe is that gaining CE approval is a much simpler and lower cost process than getting approval though bodies such as CSA, UL and NIOSH. This allows for greater product innovation.
Here are some trends that are readily apparent from walking the show:
- Fashion is much more important in European safety. Can you imagine a North American trade show that features a regular fashion show every couple of hours with song and dance routines, supplemented by more shows and dancing at some companies’ booths? The variety, stylishness and colours make a refreshing change from our standard royal blue or orange coveralls with optional reflective striping.
- The number of safety footwear suppliers is mind-boggling with European brands going toe-to-toe with Asian imports. I think I saw more manufacturers of just clogs in Dusseldorf than all safety footwear manufacturers combined at a North American show.
- The number of leather glove manufacturers (mostly from Asia) seems to have declined significantly with more and more synthetics on display from global, European and Asian suppliers. Dorsal protection was everywhere and there was a significantly greater emphasis from European manufacturers on anti-vibration gloves than what we see at home.
- “Lone worker” monitoring is becoming a big thing. There were many different options on show, ranging from dedicated equipment (often incorporated into gas detection) to a range of options that work through the cellular network.
- Safety at heights is a major concern. Many different horizontal lifeline as well as ladder climbing solutions on offer. Harnesses seem to be trending more towards a comfortable, sophisticated climbing harness style. There were several manufacturers offering sophisticated combination work platform/step ladder solutions that offered enhanced safety for maintenance opeations.
- While there were plenty of Chinese manufacturers exhibiting, it seemed they were a relatively smaller presence this time. Other Asian countries, seemed better represented than ever before. This may be an indication that labour costs in China have risen to the point where the country is no longer as competitive a source for “commodity” safety products.
- While there were plenty of stands featuring respiratory protection, there wasn’t quite the proliferation of dust mask (N95 and EN) manufacturers that had been attending the last few shows.