Messe Frankfurt was understandably jubilant that buyers and suppliers could once again gather in person for its largest consumer goods fair, Ambiente (now co-located with Christmasworld and Creativeworld).
The event last took place in early February 2020, a year which was hit by the double whammy of the onset of COVID and Storm Ciara. In 2022, it was cancelled at the last minute due to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant across Europe.
The organiser’s press release referred to a “sensational comeback” as its sold-out exhibition halls welcomed more than 4,561 exhibitors and 154,000 visitors from 170 countries. “Our new one-stop-shop concept is working,” said Detlef Braun, Member of the Executive Board at Messe Frankfurt, citing the “overwhelming participation and tremendous nationality” at Ambiente 2023.
Hopax European Sales and Marketing Director Stuart Seymour was impressed with the size of the show, having participated at every Paperworld since 1998. “My main impression was the whole event was much bigger than I expected,” he told Workplace360, admitting that he was unsure what to think after seeing many familiar names from our sector were not exhibiting.
The lack of business products suppliers was also something noted by other attendees. “Some major players in our sector were missing which would have attracted more traffic to Hall 4.2,” stated Danny Berendsen, EMEA Sales Director at Bi-silque. “The pallet of manufacturers needs to be more diverse and complete for visitors to obtain a good ROI.”
This was echoed by Durable CEO Rolf Schifferens. “The absence of many companies from the sector was criticised by customers,” he noted. “An increase is therefore needed for the next Ambiente, otherwise a visit to the fair is not worthwhile from the customer’s point of view.”
One concept, two halls
From a workplace perspective, there were two main locations at Ambiente Working: Hall 4.2, which was dubbed ‘Office Heroes’, and Hall 3.1, where a Future of Work area also included a lecture programme around the theme of ‘new work’.
It was a setup that was not particularly appreciated. OPI Commercial Director Chris Exner described the layout in Hall 4.2 as “unstructured and chaotic”. This was likely due to the need to fill the space, resulting in suppliers from the hobby and craft sectors occupying booths to make up for the shortfall in business products vendors. He also lamented the lack of workplace suppliers in Hall 3.1, which largely comprised exhibitors from the homeware and furnishing segments.
Messe Frankfurt argues that “the workplace is increasingly merging into social places where interaction and social exchange take place”. However, there was a level of frustration that Ambiente Working was split between Halls 3.1 and 4.2. Frank Indenkämpen, Managing Director of Novus Dahle, described this as a “weak point” of the event.
“Ambiente Working must not be cut off from the Future of Work area. To motivate more manufacturers to exhibit, the office must be celebrated in all its aspects. This means ‘traditional’ product portfolios alongside concepts of new work and suppliers of furniture and technology – in one place. They all bring something to the table,” he said.
Schifferens agreed: “As exhibitors, we would like to see an improved concept for the Working section, including the merging of the Future of Work and Office Heroes spaces.”
Glass half full
This is not to say that Ambiente Working was all doom and gloom for former Paperworld aficionados. Far from it, in fact. Georg Bettin, Managing Director of Acme United Europe, said the show had been “extremely good” for the company, with both the quantity and quality of visitors viewed as “excellent” despite former Paperworld customers only paying a fleeting visit or not attending at all.
The low number of competing exhibitors also provided Acme with something of a captive audience, boosting attendance to its stand. “I’m very happy we decided to give Ambiente a chance,” Bettin enthused, contrasting it with last year’s Insights-X show, which he described as “a disaster”.
Despite some criticism, Schifferens was also “satisfied”, noting the quality of the discussions was “good”, even if visitor numbers had been far below expectations. Indenkämpen said Novus Dahle had done “everything possible” to ensure its partners from around the world came to have a look at the new concept, confirming that all former visitors to Paperworld had attended. “The show itself was really good, with lots of visitors and packed halls – two things, as an exhibitor, you like to see,” he added.
Bi-silque tested the waters this year with an ‘express’ meeting point rather than a fully-fledged booth. Berendsen said meetings had been set up beforehand with visitors from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and South America.
“For these customers, Frankfurt is still the place to meet up with European manufacturers like Bi-silque so, from that point of view, it was very successful,” he said.
Seymour stated he was “very pleased” so many clients had visited the Hopax stand. He also pointed to potential new customers, although the leads to follow up were about half those of 2020.
“As always, however, the most important adage is quality, not quantity,” Seymour noted. “A high proportion of the prospects are companies we had not met before, so the Ambiente fair clearly attracted many different visitors from diverse sales channels.”
Keep an open mind
The Hopax exec noted Ambiente had a distinctly different atmosphere from Paperworld and recognised Messe Frankfurt’s changes might not be appreciated by all. However, he suggested people should be understanding and keep an open mind – and will recommend the company attends again in 2024.
Indenkämpen is concerned that those who visited specifically for Ambiente Working in 2023 had a “disappointing first experience”, which might deter them from returning next year. “It is imperative more business products companies take part in the show in 2024 and realise this is a big chance to reinvent our industry,” he stated. “If this does not happen, the ‘office’ won’t have a real international podium anywhere in the future, which would be a shame.”
Berendsen agreed: “As an industry, we can have a great influence in making Ambiente a key event in the calendar. We must embrace it, as the requirement to meet and network once a year and see all products is still very high.”
The ball is therefore very much in Messe Frankfurt’s court as to how Ambiente Working is organised in 2024, but it certainly appears a lot of work needs to be done on the concept.