Mr. Berlemann, how much Chinese do you speak?
Berlemann: 一点点 (Yì Diǎn Diǎn.), well – a little. Enough to order food at a restaurant, to call a taxi and give the driver the right directions. But not enough to negotiate contracts for trade fairs. To do this I still have to learn a little and I’m already busy doing that.
Why did you become the boss of the Chinese trade fair subsidiary?
Berlemann: It was certainly a combination of things; but the key prerequisite for this was definitely having the “trade fair bug” which is precisely what happened to me – since 2011 when I started working with Messe Düsseldorf. Furthermore, I had already had a focus on Asia for a fairly long time. In 2008 I spent a term in Qingdao, which is also well-known for its beer. There I realised that this continent fascinates me.
I first got in touch with Messe Düsseldorf as a trainee working at the subsidiary in Singapore where I worked in marketing. The international flair immediately got me excited. During my training I came to ProWein, and one of the first central themes there was whether ProWein could also become active in China. In 2013 I actually spent a whole year with colleagues on site to develop the event – the work we did was not only about canvassing exhibitors but also about recruiting visitors and building networks. And now I’m basically returning there.
How much time do you actually have to spend on site in Shanghai?
Berlemann: Most of the time. This is basically my first visit to Düsseldorf when I can say: this might be my home country, but when I fly back to Shanghai, I’m flying home. This definitely also has to do with the fact that my family has moved there – my wife and our two kids have lived with me in Shanghai for six weeks now. Together, we are exploring the city and now really feel at home there. But I will, of course, come to the events in Düsseldorf. In 2020 when we expect a record year for the trade fair company, I will definitely come here more often – and privately you are sure to also find me at the Christmas market and attending one or two Fortuna football matches during my visits.
What is special about the foreign subsidiary Shanghai?
Berlemann: China is exciting in general – a market that continues to be incredibly dynamic and multi-faceted. In terms of digitalisation China is currently setting the standards and trends. The exhibition landscape is a special one: I don’t think there can be any other so intensely contested market in the world. You have to imagine the situation as follows: in Germany the trade fair companies in the respective cities are responsible for most events; in Shanghai all major trade fair organisers are represented in one city and they all organise some big events. This means: any conceivable theme is usually covered by three different events. The Anglo-Saxon exhibition organisers are also strongly represented – and I would say that we are very well positioned as Messe Düsseldorf. With our offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong we boast a total of 70+ employees, whom I have already got to know and appreciate. This makes matters so attractive overall.
How do the events work?
Berlemann: Trade fairs in China are not like trade fairs in Germany. It may seem so at first sight but the market there has completely different dynamics. Most events, even capital goods fairs – our “powerhouse” at Messe Düsseldorf – are held on a yearly basis. We organise a “K” every three years and drupa every four years. In China there is at least one major event for the print market held a year. This also evidences the tremendous purchasing power that exists in China.
This also sounds like a major challenge...
Berlemann: No doubt about it! On the exhibitions market you have to prove your worth afresh with each and every event anyway. Add to this an entirely different approach in China: with some themes – for us this is ProWine China, a satellite event of ProWein, or All in CARAVANING, the foreign spin-off of CARAVAN SALON – what you are really doing is development work on the market. In these sectors we are part of the development. Here, we have an even more important role to play as a partner to the industry than at well-established events. Our trade fairs not only bring exhibitors and customers together – which naturally is our business model and hence the focus of our attention; but they also revolve around seminars and lectures – a segment that plays a bigger role there.
A wine trade fair in China is expected to look quite different than here...
Berlemann: When I initially addressed this theme I was told: the Chinese mix expensive Rothschild with coke and drink wine with straws. I had never seen anything like it. There is a well-developed red wine culture but white wines are only developing now. The beauty about China is that even more exotic regions stand a chance there since the market shares are not all taken yet and the Chinese are open to this topic. You can also drink Georgian or Russian wines there and Australia is also very strong but the French account for the biggest share.
And the Chinese are also into caravanning?
Berlemann: So far it is more a case of the Chinese spending their holidays in static motorhomes rather than travelling in them. Most rent pitches on campsites with stationary mobile homes – they do not drive there all the way from home. But this is also changing slowly; this free style of travelling is also getting more popular among the Chinese. However, you need bigger RVs there because you often travel with your grandparents and room for three generations is needed.
How many exhibitors do you bring from your Düsseldorf trade fair to China – or do you only address Asian exhibitors who would not come to Düsseldorf?
Berlemann: That’s difficult to say because it depends on the given trade fair. In principle, we, of course, organise events for the local and Asian market. Often, most exhibitors are Chinese companies who understand the local market best. But we also have trade fairs that are completely different – like our wine fair where just 5% of the over 800 exhibitors are Chinese. As a whole, we place emphasis on ensuring that many of our customers from Düsseldorf are also in China. After all, we serve as their extended “sales arm”.
How does one ensure to not enter into competition with oneself in the process?
Berlemann: Needless to say, you have to take this issue into account but in practice it has never been a problem. From the minute they enter the fairgrounds visitors in China are reminded of the leading international trade fair in Düsseldorf time and again and receive the clear message that it is important to attend the Chinese event – but that the No. 1 trade fair is in Düsseldorf. As a result our activities in China also boost visitor attendance in Düsseldorf. Our Chinese drupa satellite All in Print, for example, registers 100,000 visitors – if only 10,000 of these travel to Düsseldorf we are highly satisfied. Asian visitors are also becoming more and more important for our homebase trade fairs.
This probably also means that visitors at the Chinese fairs generally hail from the regional surroundings.
Berlemann: Of course, we don’t promote our China events in Africa or America – I would direct people prepared to travel such distances to our No. 1 events in Düsseldorf. But considering the size of the Chinese market our aim must be to lure visitors from each Chinese province to Shanghai. So far, we have predominantly registered many visitors from Shanghai and the two neighbouring provinces at most events. This is why for us the important question reads: How do we attract visitors from Guandong, the Beijing region in the North East but also from the cities (considered smaller in China with three million inhabitants) that we have never heard of before in Germany. There is great potential there. The next step then is to become a more comprehensive Asian trade fair attracting visitors from Korea and Japan.
What does your portfolio in China currently look like?
Berlemann: We currently have 13 events in our portfolio, five of which are held annually, all others every two years. 2020 will see us organise a total of ten trade fairs – even years are the strong years for us there.
And which of them are your most important ones?
Berlemann: Like in Düsseldorf this is the packaging trade fair, for example, which is called SWOP – Shanghai World of Packaging, rather than interpack there. This now takes place in November. With our print trade fair All in Print we have broken the 100,000 square metre record now, thereby becoming the second biggest event for the industry following our own No. 1 show drupa.
You used to be working with ProWein – do you perceive the B-2-B trade fairs as breaking completely new ground?
Berlemann: At the end of the day we are trade fair experts, after all. This does not mean that you could transfer all your experiences gained at a wine fair to a capital goods fair. But you know what you have to know, how to approach the task, understand your visitors and how to develop an understanding of the market – and this is what matters.
Have you found that the trade fair market in China wants completely different things from Germany?
Berlemann: Accents and briefs are predominantly made in Germany and then adapted on site. Major companies tune their innovation cycles to the sector’s leading international trade fair anyway and these take place in Düsseldorf. However, we advertise the fact that these innovations can then also be seen a little later at our Chinese events.
In Düsseldorf you have your own spacious exhibition centre. How do you do this in Shanghai?
Berlemann: We are co-shareholders of the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC), which to my mind is the best exhibition centre in China and one of the best worldwide but pleasantly manageable. If possible we pool our events there, but we cannot freely dispose of time slots to simply schedule our trade fairs the way we would like to – because it is one of the most frequented exhibition grounds worldwide. There are major events running concurrently all the time: so what you do is sit down with the key stakeholders and the various trade fair organisers and divide up the premises. Who gets which visitor lobbies? Who gets which registration counters? We have to fight to get the right halls located close to the entrance and underground station.
But you don’t hold all events there?
Berlemann: No, our caravan trade fair, for example, is held in Beijing, in Suzhou we organise the Medical Fair China, Chinaplas is held alternately in Shanghai and in South China while ProWein Asia takes place in Hong Kong. This also has to do with the partners we have found there and which industries are located there. Despite all of this we naturally also keep an eye on new developments and emerging hot spots such as Shenzhen.
Where do you see your biggest opportunities for growth over the coming years?
Berlemann: We only started the medical fair three years ago and are focusing on the medical device technology segment there. I see plenty of opportunities despite the keenly contested market. Nevertheless, we aim to place the event on the quality level of MEDICA. With many other events, as I said before, we are currently moving into new visitor markets, to grow or extend the nomenclature of existing events to include niche themes. The Chinese market, in general, still holds great potential.
Ms. Karen Bu
+86 21 6169 8307
Ms. Karen Bu
Tel: +86 21 6169 8307
Fax: +86 21 6169 8301
Address：Units 306-309, Tower 1, German Centre for Industry and Trade Shanghai 88 Keyuan Road, Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, Pudong, Shanghai 201203, China