After four days pacing the boards of the London ExCeL there is always a sense of relief at returning to the office and resuming something akin to ‘normality’. I’m sure those who have been stood on booths or walking up and down the aisles in search of new ideas and products this week will be thinking much the same thing as they settle back into working life post-Hotelympia.
In many ways the real work starts now, irrespective of what camp you are in. Suppliers will be hurriedly following up leads and assessing how they can make the most from the conversations they had, while proactive buyers will be pondering how some of the things they have seen this week can be put into practice in their business.
So what about the show itself? A different format and lay-out greeted attendees this week, with the exhibition moving to the east end of the venue. If, like me, you ignored the message to alight at Prince Regent station rather than Custom House (and I know I wasn’t the only one!) you would also have had the joy of having to walk the entire length of the exhibition building to get to the entrance! Needless to say it was a mistake I only made once.
For the first time, catering equipment exhibitors were split over two levels and while this move created controversy among some who felt that visitors quickly disappeared to the upper level and never came back, manufacturers such as Rational seemed to be doing alright out of it. With live cooking sessions greeting visitors on their arrival, its stand was a flurry of activity for most of the week as far as I could tell.
Generally speaking, I thought the show had a positive vibe to it and the flow from heavy duty equipment into light equipment, and then into hospitality supplies and technology, seemed pretty seamless. Foot traffic is a bone of contention at any exhibition (the view among exhibitors typically being that there can never be enough of it), but on the whole most brands I spoke to were pretty content with the calibre and type of visitors that passed through.
Decision-makers and buyers from chains, hotels, restaurants, local authorities and care homes arrived in their droves, while the show attracted senior management from most of the major kitchen houses at one stage or another. At the end of the day, an exhibition organiser can only get people in through the door – once it’s achieved that it’s up to exhibitors to attract and engage them.
It was noticeable that many of the big manufacturers went down the route of making their stands more open and inviting than in previous years (i.e. you could see more carpet than actual equipment!). This proved effective, making the space less intimidating to passers-by. I’ve been at shows before where it feels like you have to bypass a whole army of sales ‘guards’ and a wall of stainless steel before even setting foot on a stand, so it was refreshing to see a more welcoming approach.
The award for originality must go to Winterhalter, which brought a cinematic flavour to the world of warewashing with walk-in simulators that allowed customers to experience washing technology in a whole new light, while Electrolux successfully had show-goers talking about its new instant finance equipment replacement service without needing to even have a single catering appliance on its stand. Yesterday afternoon must have been the quickest stand break-down it has ever done! Full marks to Manitowoc, too. It put together a resplendent stand that combined live cooking with clear innovation messages just a few weeks after its usual stand builder went bust on it.
I was amused to hear about one manufacturer who didn’t have a stand at the show casually dropping its sales literature around at opportune moments”
One comment I continuously overheard was about the lack of innovation on show, which I think is unfair. I think the truth is that there has been so much evolution in the design and creation of commercial kitchen equipment during the past decade that most major new developments are purely incremental. Just because there are no grand, game-changing launches shouldn’t disguise the fact that some of the highest level of industry engineering is taking place.
That said, there were some interesting concepts if you looked hard enough. Pneu-Therm’s combi plate, which can be switched from hot to cold in less than 20 minutes, could massively simplify life for operators that struggle with hot/cold changeovers and buffet counter removal. Unsurprisingly it has already caught the attention of Costa, which is trialling it in three stores.
Cooking suite maker De Manincor’s Total Control System also caught the eye and I’d go as far to say that its ability to link all kitchen equipment via digital control cards and redirect energy consumption to where it’s needed most offers a glimpse of what the future of kitchens will look like. If anything, I’d argue the company’s stand was guilty of under-marketing just what a unique product it has in its armoury.
So, that’s another Hotelympia done for another two years. I don’t envy the job that exhibition organisers have – expectations and demands of exhibitors appear to remain sky-high and everybody wants to see maximum bang for their buck. But sometimes nostalgia can be blinding, so people who hark back to the days when the year’s sales figures were decided by a week at the show, and contracts were signed and sealed on stands, need to get with the times.
In my opinion, suppliers need to see exhibitions purely as a platform for building brand profile, reminding industry buyers what they offer and what’s new, and meeting with customers that for the rest of the year will generally be on the other end of an email or phone call.
I was amused to hear about one manufacturer who didn’t have a stand at the show casually dropping its sales literature around at opportune moments. I won’t name and shame them, but there is a certain irony to the fact they didn’t value the show highly enough to afford a stand but were still keen to get in on the action.
Perhaps they’ll change their mind by the time Hotelympia 2018 comes around…