Magazine Article


Tradeshows as Goldmines
Photographers, Dealers, Distributors Find Attending Photokina a Boon to Business

"Cathedral by the Rhine" Andrew Cowin, courtesy German National Tourist Board.

The World Cup is over! But cheer up fans, the next big world class event—the World Series—is only a couple months away. The next big international happening? Well, not exactly. Roughly half way between these major worldwide spectacles the photo industry will be on stage. photokina—the self-styled World’s Fair of Imaging is one of the few that can legitimately call itself “the World’s best.”

Every two years, over 1,600 exhibitors from upwards of 50 countries head for the massive, fairgrounds along the banks of the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany to show off their wares. Hey, 160,000 projected visitors, give or take, can’t be all wrong. And they keep coming, even-numbered year after even-numbered year. Neither the increasingly larger crowds, rising prices, or the galloping Euro, have been—and likely won’t be—able to stop them.

Why do we go? Why should we? For starters, it’s the only time you can get to mingle with just about everyone and see just about everything there is to see in the industry in just one place, over the course of just one week. As a grizzled veteran of 20 photokinas (that’s 40 years) with legs beginning to show signs of wear and tear, I’m just as excited and anxious to hit number 21 as I was for number 1 back in ’66. The reasons vary, of course—my primary purpose was to check out the new products—but enough about me. Talk to enough people as I have over the past few weeks, and all the reasons for going to photokina will sooner or later come out.

New products are a prime concern of David Zatz, Bob Noterman and colleagues at AAA Imaging & Supplies, a unique distributor out of Santa Ana, California. Unique in that they are also looking for old (used) products along with the new. “We are in the refurbishing business,” Zatz reveals, “the official refurbishing station for Fuji’s Frontier model minilabs, and Noritsu, both for the U.S. market. We spruce up used machines for end users—dealers, labs (one-hour, commercial, online) in the domestic market and for distributors only overseas.”

Since all AAA’s customers and some suppliers come to photokina, it’s a natural meeting ground. “Seeing their faces instead of email addresses or voices over the telephone provides the emotional opening we need to do better business.”

L.B. Ainsworth, vice president of Operations at Photos Ar’ Nice in Gainseville, Florida, is going to his second show in Cologne in search of products and service ideas. “Last time,” he says, “I found it a little hard to buy products because there are not enough people with U.S. distribution, but I definitely got a ton of ideas. I’m making money right now off some of those ideas.”

When you go to a trade show, he believes, you can certainly learn how to get the customer’s attention to a product. “It’s good to look at all that stuff—the display space is definitely good. I’d like to get a couple more distributors going and meet with them there.”

A trip to Cologne can be very therapeutic for those who believe the electronic invasion of photokina (now about 10 years old) is threatening to wipe out film altogether. Now, out of Hollywood, no less, come a pair of intrepid traditionalists, “still waving the black & white flag” to save the day, Lone Ranger style. “And very successfully, I might add,” claims Eric Joseph, senior VP, Merchandising and Product, for Freestyle Photographic Supplies, a distributor/dealer operation on Sunset Boulevard, deep in the heart of Tinsel Town. He and Patrick DelliBovi, senior VP, Sales and Marketing, attend the show to source new products, meet people they currently do business with, while hoping to find new ones, all the time, “focusing on our niche market: B&W photo film, papers, and chemicals. It’s the best place for us to meet with B&W suppliers still in the industry.”

For obvious reasons, most of their dealings are with new—or unfamiliar—names, primarily from Europe. Among them are: Kentmere from the United Kingdom, Foma (Czech Republic), and Fotokemica (Croatia). Along with distributing these products, Freestyle carries on with its retail facility and a substantial e-commerce, mail order operation.

At the other end of the spectrum, individuals such as Steve Peterson also benefit from a visit to the Fair. A professional photographer, he runs his one-man portrait studio out of his home in Bellingham, Washington, aided primarily by the use of Canon equipment. Two years ago, upon learning that the company was on the verge of upgrading its EOS 1Ds to the EOS 1Ds Mark II, he decided to take the family to the Cologne area (staying in the more dollar friendly outlying districts) for a vacation, and test run the new model, which he did subsequently buy.

Now, back to me. I, too, go to meet old and new friends from the press, as well as among the exhibitors. A Manhattan resident, the crowds may annoy me at times, but not intimidate me. There’s the gritty charm of the Old City with its brauhauses (pubs), the food, (the calories and the cholesterol), the daily, late afternoon walk back across the Rhine on the railroad bridge, gawking at the long, sleek trains bound for all sorts of exotic destinations.

One thing, though, has changed. The physical layout (including booth locations) had remained nearly intact for at least 40 years. Recently, however, a change was made. The three original halls have been sold, to be replaced with four new ones at the other end of the fairgrounds. A minor adjustment for a creature of habit, perhaps, but hopefully one that will disappear after just a few turns around the block.” Any way you look at it, it will still be photokina—well worth yet another trip!