Next up in my series on the Creativeworld 2014 show that I attended in Frankfurt, Germany, last month, I want to take a look at how the culture and routine of the show differs from what attendees of the U.S. trade shows in the industry (especially the Craft & Hobby Association) are used to experiencing.
The differences start right from when you pack your suitcase and get dressed in the morning. The wardrobe that I packed for Creativeworld was very different than what I packed for CHA two weeks earlier – and not just because the weather in Frankfurt is the polar opposite (literally) of Anaheim.
For Anaheim I packed more casual, less conservative wear – jeans, and khaki pants are perfectly fine there, and plenty of personal style is on display on the show floor. Creativeworld’s unofficial dress code, however, is somewhat more narrow and dressy.
Instead of wearing khakis and golf shirts, a large percentage of men walked around in suits (or at least jackets). Alternatively, a really good sweater seemed to be an option. For women, dressier looks are mostly on display as well. A wardrobe of dress slacks or a skirt and sweaters seemed to be the rule for most women, and worked well for me all week. And whereas fabulous (preferably handmade) jewelry is the must-have accessory at CHA, in Frankfurt the must-have accessory for the show is a scarf.
Earth tones were the preferred fashion color palette I saw all around me. I stuck out like a neon sign riding the train every morning in my bright pink winter coat – I would literally be the only spot of color in a sea of brown, black and gray coats in the train car. Other riders eyed me with sharp sideways glances like they weren’t sure what to make of me!
For footwear, comfort has to be the rule at the Messe. I saw a lot of women wearing dress boots with their outfits. Personally, I opted for running shoes, the only viable option for that venue due to the arthritis in my feet. Paired with slacks no one seemed to pay much mind to my less than stylish footwear.
Business totes or briefcases are the luggage accessory of choice in the Messe – you won’t see rolling crates and craft totes there. The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is the strict emphasis on business style. Second, on a more practical level, they just aren’t needed to carry large volumes of paperwork and giveaway materials (I’ll address why in a moment.) I used my new leather SOLO Vintage Collection Bucket Tote. I also used it for CHA and am totally in love with it – it holds my laptop and plenty of other things very comfortably while staying on my shoulder very nicely, but folds almost completely flat to fit in my suitcase for the trip to the show.
This my best blending-in outfit that I wore all week: earth tones, sweater & slacks, scarf, and my leather tote.
Another day, another sweater…but the same scarf! Scarves seem so emblematic of my memories of Germany that I ended up buying one as a souvenir during the day I spent touring in Heidelberg at the end of my trip! (Did you know that in Germany T.J. Maxx is called T.K. Maxx?)
Did you notice what I am not wearing in the pictures above even though I am on the show floor? Once you are through this gate into the Messe complex in the morning, you do not need to scan your badge again. You do not have to show your badge every time you come and go from a hall, and exhibitors want your business card, not a badge scan. So badges stay tucked out of sight in briefcases to be pulled out every morning as you enter the Messe.
Because of that, and perhaps because of the Europeans’ reserve and immense respect for privacy, you get this strange to CHA attendees sight (below): not a single badge in sight as you around the complex.
Another thing that isn’t in sight as you move around the complex is cameras. Most of the booths in the Creativeworld, Paperworld, and Christmasworld shows are simply off-limits to photographers. In three days, I took less than 400 photos combined at the 3 shows. I can easily take many more photos than that in a single day at CHA.
So what is the difference? Why are this show’s exhibitors so anti-photography that the show actually makes signs available to them showing a camera with a bar through it? The answer lies in the exhibitors’ attitudes towards having products photographed that haven’t been released to consumers yet.
In the U.S., most manufacturers come to the CHA with the intent of showing off their products to the media and gaining exposure for them to build buzz and demand for them when they are released. In Frankfurt, I found that manufacturers were highly protective of their unreleased products and almost never allowed photography of them. Two halls are basically entirely “no photography” – the Christmasworld show (because it is such a long time until those products will be released, there is significant concern about rip-offs being generated) and the International Sourcing hall, where Chinese and other overseas manufacturers show samples of what they can produce for manufacturers.
The rare cases in which I was allowed to photograph were either products it seemed that were already for sale or new products from smaller manufacturers that were anxious to build momentum for products or find distributors.
Being prohibited from photographing products is not as big of a killer to doing business at the show as it sounds at first. Many booths have relatively few products even on display – the booths aren’t mini pop up shops for taking orders like the show floor is filled with at CHA. Instead, you’re more likely to see booths that look something like this:
Wait, where are the products? There’s a few spread around this company’s booth on displays but the largest portion of space is devoted to small seating areas where staff can sit and interact with clients and other contacts, building relationships and laying the groundwork for future sales or partnerships.
It’s all about talking, not shopping. Which is another reason that you can use a shoulder bag briefcase and not a huge rolling tote at Creativeworld. The show rules at the Messe forbid handing out product samples, and since the show isn’t focused on sales, there isn’t a huge collection of catalogs to lug around either.
Another thing that is all about talking is the Creative Talks program that the Messe instituted this year for Creativeworld as its first real education. The talks were a half hour long each and held in a small amphitheater type setting right in the middle of the show floor.
In case you need a hint, here’s a look at the Creative Talks stage and seating area with a talk on the role of media in trends in the U.S. market in progress!
And speaking of 14:00, you might want to practice your math before going because life at Creativeworld means calculating a lot of “minus twelve” in your head to translate 24 hour time to 12 hour time. Time is usually written in 24 hour clock format in Germany, although it may be spoken in 12 hour format.
For those who don’t speak German (or English, as the case may be for a presentation like mine), there is help available. Just grab one of these stylish sets of headphones and the waist pack that goes with them before taking a seat, and turn to the proper channel for the English (or German) translation of the event in progress, and you are good to go!
The food was a wonderful surprise at the Messe. I’ve never been in a U.S. convention center that had good food but Messe Frankfurt has snack bars seemingly everywhere that serve options such as (actual) fresh sandwiches and other goodies. I got this hot-out-of-the-oven cheese pretzel in the hallway of the building that housed Creativeworld. It was my lunch one very busy day!
One final thing that is very noticeable is in the casual socializing at the show. At CHA, you can approach almost anyone to talk to them, ask their opinion of things or for information. Trying to chat up a random stranger at Creativeworld (like while waiting in line to order food) is more likely to get you a strange look than it is to make you a friend. It’s not that they are being rude – far from it in fact. I found Germans to be very proper and have never had so many doors held for me in my life! We are just not something they are used to encountering. The natural American outgoing, openness can quickly turn you into a bull in a china shop when surrounded by more reserved Europeans. It takes some adjusting to avoid culture conflict, and it’s easy to see how Americans who don’t dial down the effusiveness have earned the stereotype of brash and ugly.
All of that said, however…some things are the same no matter which side of the Atlantic you are on – like Tim Holtz demoing, surrounded by legions of fans: