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eroFame 2015 – Wieland Hofmeister draws positive balance

As the organisers have announced, eroFame 2015 saw an increase over last year’s instalment in all three major areas – number of visitors, number of exhibitors, exhibition space. This positive impression is underpinned by the feedback from the exhibitors, the overwhelming majority of which were more than happy with the event. But where there’s light, there’s usually also shadow, and some exhibitors from Europe and the United States criticised the growing number of Chinese companies at the trade convention. But the eroFame team takes such feedback to heart and will try to find a solution as Wieland Hofmeister, CEO of Mediatainment Publishing eroFame GmbH, explains in our in-depth interview.

 


eroFame 2015 has gone by in a flash, and now it’s already in the rear view mirror. Is the verdict on the event already in?
Wieland Hofmeister: Once again, we’ve had a great show with great people and interesting products – eroFame was more diverse and more multifarious than ever. And also bigger. However, that also entails a new set of challenges that we have to face.

Could you give us a few bare figures, for instance about the number of visitors? The quality of the visitors is hard to measure, but it probably was in the same range as in previous years, was it not?
2015 was the biggest eroFame since the inception of the event, with 204 registered exhibitors, a bigger exhibition floor with 6,000+ square metres, and 2,843 registered trade visitors, not to mention close to 1,800 partying guests at the eroFame Oktoberfest. I think that qualifies as a good result. As for the quality of the visitors, it has traditionally been very high at our show, and it continues to be extraordinary as our exhibitors confirm every year. It is said that quality is sometimes more important than quantity, and it is certainly true for trade shows. We are going to do our utmost so that eroFame will continue to live up to that saying.

“eroFame ist he only truly global trade show for the erotic market in the world” – Is this statement from a renowned industry member overly generous or does it aptly reflect the international character of the show?
Actually, I have nothing to add to that statement. It’s all in that quote. Of course, I feel humbled by such praise. It’s about the most wonderful compliment one could make. Thank you to whoever said that.

The number of visitors was up, as was the number of exhibitors and the size of the exhibition floor, making it the biggest show in the history of eroFame. What is your explanation for this positive development, and how much longer can the event continue to grow. When will you reach the end of the flag pole?
By now, every informed member of our industry knows how important eroFame is. It has become an essential event that everybody should attend, and word about that has spread throughout the industry. That’s why we see steady annual growth in terms of trade visitors. I know I do this every year, but still, I have to stress that, compared to other trade shows for the erotic industry, our visitor numbers are on a very high level, and personally, I am a bit stumped that these numbers keep increasing. After all, more and more business is done online, and experts have been predicting a decline in the brick and mortar trade for years. And of course, we have also seen that more and more people are buying erotic products on the internet – but there are comparatively few dedicated platforms. Everybody in the industry knows that just because there are more customers for a product, that doesn’t mean that the trade selling this product will grow in equal measure. All things considered, I feel that we are actually nearing the end of the proverbial flag pole as far as the number of exhibitors and trade visitors is concerned.

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What feedback have you received from the ranks of the exhibitors?
Most exhibitors have been highly satisfied with the eroFame concept – of course, you can’t do right by everyone, as much as we would like to. I feel that we are doing everything we can to provide our exhibitors and visitors with a platform for communication and business in our industry. We try to offer them the best value for their money and to help them and organise the show as best we can.

Compared to previous shows, there have been a few changes this year to nip unfair practices in the bud, such as people selling products on the corridors. Have these measures proven effective?
Definitely. We had hired some people especially for that task, and they did a good job so there was very little of that compared to last year. We cannot allow that our exhibitors – companies that have paid to present their products on the fairgrounds – finance the activities of “hawkers”. Of course, we don’t want to turn eroFame into a miniature version of a police state, after all, the trade convention is intended to be a meeting place for the erotic industry, for establishing contacts and business relationships – so there has to be a certain leeway and goodwill in that regard.

Product piracy has been another topic that was addressed at this year’s eroFame – and already before. Were you able to keep the copycats at bay?
Yes and no. Unfortunately, there were a few exhibitors who violated the rules we had set for product piracy. There were hardly any problems with European or American producers, however. Prior to eroFame, we had announced that we would inform the authorities if we heard of such infringements, and we did. It is a shame that some exhibitors didn’t want to play by the rules and that the trade supervisory authority and public prosecutors had to be brought in to put a stop to these activities. Their stands were shut down and they were banned from the fairgrounds as a result. In line with the extended terms and conditions of the trade convention, these companies will not be allowed to partake at eroFame ever again. Any company infringing German or European laws is banned from the event indefinitely – and we will continue to take this kind of action against product piracy at future eroFame.

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Many exhibitors were sceptic about the numerous Chinese companies at eroFame. They felt that these companies and their products hurt the commercial interests of Western producers, distributors, and wholesalers. Do you feel that this negative opinion is warranted?
Such criticism is warranted if we’re talking about exhibitors who do not abide by the rules we have established. However, competition is part of a free market economy, and sometimes that means brutal price wars, unfortunate as it may be. Our industry is not the only one that is faced with this situation – many other markets are confronted with the same problem, especially if there are Asian producers offering products at much lower prices. Originally, Western companies had their products made in these countries to achieve greater profit margins, but now, we see the other side of the coin as Asian producers set their sight on the international market. Of course, we understand that Western producers are not happy with that situation, but I’m afraid there is little we can do about that. The situation is what it is; free economy also applies to international business. That said, and being a European trade show, the organisers of eroFame definitely want to protect the interests of European and other Western industry members within the framework of fair business.

It was no surprise that there would be many Chinese exhibitors at eroFame this year. Could you have taken steps before the event to limit the number of Asian producers?
As I explained many times in the past weeks, we have to, and will act in accordance with European law. A trade show of this scale cannot simply exclude interested exhibitors just because. We, the organisers, are obliged to welcome every interested company at eroFame – provided there is enough room on the exhibition floor. And this year, there was enough space.

Given the number of Chinese exhibitors, some other producers felt that these companies were given a place at the event because of financial considerations on the part of the organisers. What do you say to that?
Well, every company works to be financially successful, and we are no exception – but we do so in the interest of our exhibitors, our visitors, and to ensure and improve the range of services at eroFame. Claiming anything else would be ridiculous.
As I already mentioned before, we are bound by law to welcome all interested companies at eroFame. The decision to have eroFame 2015 take place in Hall 27 of the Hanover fairgrounds had been made many months ago, so we couldn’t simply change the location, and as every visitors of the show has seen, Hall 27 offers space for even more exhibitors than we’ve had this year. I will admit that we were rather surprised when we received all those booking requests from Chinese producers. Apparently, certain specialised industry agencies had focussed on eroFame this year. These agencies are located in Europe, but they know little to nothing about the legal regulations for trade shows. Instead, they engage in brokerage and intermediary activities, and companies from Asia seem to be a lucrative target audience.
Finally, I would like to emphasise that only 15 per cent of the exhibitors at this year’s eroFame hailed from Asia, and most of them only booked the smallest stands, so it’s not like we lined our pockets by welcoming them to eroFame. Nonetheless, we are aware of the fact that we have to protect the interests of our long-standing and loyal exhibitors from Western industrialised countries, and we will do so.

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What will eroFame do to prevent another ‘Chinatown’ on the fairgrounds next year?
Well, ‘prevent’ is certainly not the right way to put it because, again, we are obliged by law to allow every company from the erotic industry to present their products at eroFame – provided we have enough room to accept all interested parties. As I mentioned before, we feel that we have more or less reached the zenith as far as the number of exhibitors is concerned, and that’s also why we have rented Hall 2 of the Hanover fairgrounds for the next few years – other, bigger halls are not available to us anyway.
Taking into account the registrations of our regular exhibitors, there is only limited space left for eroFame 2016, and there simply won’t be enough room to accommodate many more companies than we’ve had this year. And while I don’t want to paint a negative picture of our Asian exhibitors this year, several of them disqualified themselves from future eroFame trade shows because they ignored the terms and rules of the show.

Let’s look at this from another angle: The fact that Chinese companies are showing interest in eroFame is the result of our globalised times, and similar developments have taken place in many other markets. Also, eroFame prides itself on its international character. So wouldn’t it go against the very concept of the show to ostracise Chinese companies?
We do not ostracise anybody, we only bar companies from the event that act in a negligent, wrongful, or illegal way. We owe that much to the other exhibitors who undertake great investments to present quality products. And we also owe it to the trade members and, ultimately, the consumers.

Aren’t you afraid that this whole discussion might tarnish the reputation of eroFame, or that it might even erode its position in the international erotic market?
I doubt that the participation of Chinese exhibitors at this year’s eroFame put a dent in other companies‘ business. Today’s informed trade members know how important it is to offer their customers top-quality products with the necessary certifications. Therefore, I think that maybe we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of that thing.
But don’t get this the wrong way: We definitely take the exhibitors’ feedback to heart – also and especially if there is criticism. The success and longevity of this trade convention depend on the satisfaction of our exhibitors and visitors. I think that we can maintain our position in the market as long as we respond to the wishes and needs of our loyal exhibitors and act accordingly – that is the concept we have been pursuing thus far, and it is the concept we will continue to pursue in the future.

On a positive note, the erotic market has grown and become much more professional over the course of the past few years. Has this development also been reflected at eroFame 2015?
Most definitely. The erotic industry has a bright future ahead of it as the sleeping giant – the female audience – is slowly but surely awakening to the appeal of this market and its products. The way I see it, producers and trade members are well prepared for the upcoming years. If you’ve been to eroFame 2015, you will agree that the atmosphere was just as professional and serious as it is in other markets. Compared to a few years ago, we have come a long way.

In the past, you encouraged exhibitors to create awareness for eroFame in advance of the event instead of them just waiting for someone to stop by their fair stand. How is that working out?
We supply our exhibitors with invitation brochures before every eroFame, and more and more companies use these brochures, sending them to their customers in the trade. This year, we have distributed more than 15,000 of these invitations in several languages. We are happy that there is a positive response to these advertisement tools, and we feel that they can be quite effective, ensuring a steady stream of visitors at the stand. However, there are still exhibitors who come to eroFame with false expectations. They hope for spontaneous orders from trade members who come upon their stand while wondering the fair hall, but that is not what eroFame is about. Exhibitors who inform their customers before the show and make appointments for eroFame in advance are guaranteed to have a successful convention. Others may have a hard time reaching their goals for the event.

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It is obvious that there is great interest in eroFame, but can the organisers improve or optimise the way they approach the trade to ultimately get more visitors to eroFame?
I dare say that we have pretty much found the perfect strategy to appeal to the traditional erotic trade, especially since we get such great support from the producers who create further awareness for eroFame among their customers. We would love to see more visitors from crossover markets – for instance, the owners of lingerie boutiques, cosmetics stores or the like – but it’s probably too soon for that. We have tried advertising eroFame in those markets – alas, our efforts proved rather fruitless. I am convinced that, before long, the inhibition threshold will fall and neighbouring markets will see the potential of the erotic industry. But we will need some patience before we get there.

How important are trade shows in this interconnected world of ours?
Nothing can beat personal contact with your customer. If personal conversations ever become obsolete, that will be a sad day. I hold the firm belief that meeting face to face is important, and I think that many others share this opinion. Networking, communicating, negotiating – it would be wrong to do all that just via the internet. People are important, and establishing personal relationships is vital. This is true for our private lives, and it is also true for the business world.

Can you already tell us the date and location of eroFame 2016?
Early October in Hall 2 of the Hanover fairgrounds

So eroFame will stay in Hanover? Some people feel that this is not the best location for the trade convention …
At the moment, we are bound by our contract with the Hanover trade show administrators. We entered into this contract to ensure stable prices for eroFame and also because we believe in Hanover as the right location. The fairgrounds live up to the highest standards, our partner hotels are within spitting distance from the venue, and there is also a lot to do and see in the city. Just think of the great events many of our exhibitors have been hosting on the evening eroFame Wednesday, or the much beloved eroFame Oktoberfest in the Munich hall. But of course, nothing is set in stone, and the location of eroFame is one of the topics discussed at the meetings of the advisory board.

Will there be big changes or modifications next year?
No, at the moment, there are no plans for far-reaching changes, but as always, we are open to suggestions from the industry. In December, the advisory board will meet to discuss this year’s eroFame – the board is going to look at the things that worked, at the things that didn’t work so well, and based on the results, the first decisions for next year will be made – all in the interest of putting together a quality trade show. We want eroFame 2016 to be successful for everybody involved. We will do our best to make it a worthwhile event, and I hope that we can count on the trust of our long-standing exhibitors and visitors. I’d like to thank all of them in advance for believing in eroFame.

This interview was first published in EAN 11/2015. EAN is free for retailers and other members of the erotic industry. To get your printed copy, click here!