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INDUSTRY OPINION: Time for a change?

Following the news yesterday (July 29) that Swatch Group will not return to BaselWorld in 2019, Retail Jeweller editor Ruth Faulkner considers what this might mean for the future of the once gargantuan watch and jewellery trade event.

There can’t be many people in the watch, and indeed the jewellery, worlds who won’t now be pondering the future of BaselWorld following yesterday’s news that Swatch Group is to withdraw from the 2019 edition.

This once goliath of trade shows already came in for criticism this year when it announced it was to present a “more-focused” edition of the event with a much-reduced number of exhibitors over fewer days.

Although the exact number of exhibitors which didn’t return for the 2018 show was never publicised, any visitor to this year’s event was aware of how much smaller BaselWorld was, with Hall 1.2 and 2.2 closed off completely and several big-name brands including Movado, Hermes, Guess and Rotary, to name a few, notable by their absence.

The rumour mill was also in over-drive with speculation abound about other brands which were reportedly not planning to return in 2019 with some thought to be defecting to Geneva-based watch show SIHH, like Hermes, and others simply choosing a different, non-trade show based, route to show case their new collections.

The departure of BaselWorld managing director Sylvie Ritter at the end of May, after 15 years at the helm, did little to allay these rumours and yesterday it became clear that, for some brands at least, BaselWorld was no longer the right show for them.

Swatch Group has been a huge part of BaselWorld for many years, occupying a large footprint in the show’s most-prominent Hall – 1.0 – and its decision not to return in 2019 will undoubtedly be a massive blow to show organisers, MCH Group, and not just because its departure will require a huge reshuffle of space.

Financially the Swatch Group is estimated to invest more than $50m to exhibit at the event, a not insignificant sum which is unlikely to be made up elsewhere. Moreover, the exiting of Swatch Group brands including Omega and Blancpain, is likely to trigger a domino effect which could see other big names pull away from the show for 2019.

In talking to Swiss newspaper NZZam Sonntag about Swatch Group’s reasons for withdrawing from BaselWorld, chief executive Nick Hayek, said “annual watch fairs, as they exist today, no longer make much sense”.

He was also scathing of MCH Group and its inability to adequately adapt to what he described as a “more transparent, fast-moving, and instantaneous” market.

Hayek is clearly not alone in his feelings, evidenced by those who have already voted with their feet regards BaselWorld, and many of his views are a comment, not only on the Swiss watch fair, but perhaps, trade shows in general.

Every year on the trade show circuit, events seem to be getting quieter with fewer buyers in attendance and less business being written.

One brand, which pulled away from BaselWorld this year and ran their own event for buyers and press, told me they had felt no impact of not being there and had saved a significant sum. Surely that is enough to justify their decision?

This is not to say there is not a place for trade shows. We all know it isn’t just about the business that gets written or the orders you place but, also, the networking, the learning, the trend spotting and a time away from your store giving you the chance to reflect.

However, just as the retail landscape is evolving at an alarming rate and, even the best retailers must constantly adapt to survive and stay ahead, so too should trade show organisers.

Just as it is no longer enough to simply sell products to the end consumer without giving them something extra – after all we have Amazon for that and even they go the extra mile when it comes to choice, price delivery options and convenience – it is similarly no longer enough to just open an exhibition space and expect brands to set up camp there and pay exorbitant sums of money for the privilege.

All show organisers, not just MCH Group and BaselWorld, need to take notice of Swatch Group’s decision and think very carefully about what it means for the future of the trade show as we know it.

Readers' comments (1)

  • No surprise the greed of both show organiser and Basel’s service providers was its innevitsble demise

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