Visitors at the entrance to the International Furniture Exhibition
© Adriano Castelli
New fair scenarios for new visitorsEffective communication, economic dynamism and production innovation
The study of the flows of visitors and exhibitors, who are the success of a fair, has been analysed by economic and social historians. This research enabled the interpretation of the economic dynamics and soon highlighted that it was only when banks and stock exchanges were set up (in the 17th century) that a part of the debit and credit transactions were taken from fairs, and these consolidated their international function in trade enjoying a relaunch due to the development of the new means of transport (railway and steam navigation) and communication (telegraph and telephone). This was the first great transformation of the nature of the fairs, which gradually became “movements of men, ideas and goods”.
Fairs have always been organised close to leading production centres and associations able to represent the identity but, relatively recently, they have also become tools of knowledge, innovation and industrial development. Today, not only commercial staff (exhibiting companies and buyers) but also journalists, researchers and businesspeople pay attention to professional fairs who find opportunities for further analysis and knowledge of the sector in them. Globalisation then extended international trade and created new fair centres, redrawing their geographical distribution. Today, Europe still has the largest fair offer, strengthened by the historical tradition of its merchant cities and so today, in the age of the web, the fair is still an incredible time for the exchange of contacts, knowledge and sensations, a physical place to go to do business and to learn.
In a scenario that sees the trends of the fair sector confirm an overall, continuously improving picture (AEFI data for January-March 2017), fairs are no longer a generic promotional tool but respond to clear aims for communication and relations with the market. The importance of the fair has thus shifted towards another axis – effective communication. Attendance at fairs gives companies the chance to communicate with potential buyers in the stage when they are actively involved in the search for information and purchasing, i.e. when their attention is at its height. This is why it is essential to be able to know which fairs to take part in, those able to represent very large trade areas and attract large numbers of interested visitors.
Thus the role of the location becomes crucial because every specific location means a certain size and consistency of the catchment area defined by the market of existing demand in the area, the representativeness of the offer from local companies, accessibility of the area, the competition from other fair offers in the same catchment area. These are all factors relating to identical factors in neighbouring areas, however, accessibility is a higher parameter, able to determine the convenience of creating fairs in different locations from those centred on the demand and supply markets. Thus, for example, many international fashion fairs have moved from Florence, the city at the centre of the offer areas, to Milan and from Milan to Paris, respectively at the centre of the main European demand markets and European and non-European accessibility.
This is how a new geography of the movements of fair flows, whether they are exhibitors, visitors or staff, started. The fairs for each goods sector are supported in a different way by the resources of the area. Thus there are fairs able to satisfy local demand, thus called imports, able to promote the productions of other areas (also abroad) in local markets. A practical example in the national fair panorama comes from the Milanese Artigiano in Fiera, in which Fiera Milano is turned into the showcase for handcrafted products from all over the world for 10 days, exhibited to satisfy the needs of a public that is mainly Milanese (or at the most, from northern Italy).
On the other hand, there are the fairs offering local (or national) products, also called exports, typically exhibitors from the local area and visitors from other areas (other regions but also other countries). This is what led to the origin of the International Furniture Fair in Milan, which started in the area particularly because of the number of local companies in the sector which, meeting in a fair, were able to attract the whole world of design, leading to the growth of the event to the point where, today, it is the most important international appointment, with a large foreign component of exhibitors and visitors.
Then there are the fairs on international trade, able to move large flows of visitors and exhibitors; these are fairs where both visitors and exhibitors are mainly from areas outside that where the event is held and so with no apparent connection with the region. For example, the large specialist events, typically business to business. These are often the virtuous evolution of local fairs (e.g. see above on the development of the International Furniture Fair) and it is the typical case of most of the large German fairs. Lastly, on a much smaller scale, there are also the fairs on local trade (where the visitors and exhibitors mainly come from the area or the immediate surroundings) able to move a notable flow of visitors and exhibitors. The many local fairs which mainly function as distribution markets are an example of these.
To conclude, as we’ve seen, the fair allows companies to use many means of promotion otherwise difficult to use in other sales situations. The fair is, therefore, often increasingly qualified as a means of selling rather than pure communication because of the speed with which the results can appear. The presentation of the product and the demonstration of its features are much more effective than other means of promotion and allow direct communication with intermediaries and also the possibility of finding new contacts and check the chance of absorption of the product before the definitive launch in the market. In addition, these situations offer important occasions for the collection of information on the market, the competition, the prices applied, the materials used and the distribution channels adopted.
The economic, political and social transformation that is investing advanced metropolitan societies has been a feature of this process that has a radical influence on the physical and social morphology of the fair system. The fair industry is a sector expanding amply and is a privileged place where economic dynamism and production innovation are introduced to an international public. The growing demand for space shown by the fairs sector, the need for a dense network of supply chain services and a transport system that is at least regional justifies the inclusion of operations in extensive redevelopment projects that act more generally on the settlement, residential and commercial fabric of the neighbouring areas.
The story of new fairs in Lisbon, London and Milan shows the particular strategies adopted by local governments to deal with the growing demand for fairs. For example, the International Fair of Lisbon can be considered the motor of a redevelopment project of an industrial area while the British case represents the foundation of a fair space to be included in a much larger project of regeneration of the area of the old commercial port of London. Lastly, the site of the Milanese fair area is at the origin of the construction of a strategic view of polycentric development of the metropolitan area that brings with it not only various flows of visitors but also, and above all, new tourist flows.