Reporter’s notebook: Eisenwarenmesse means business

Cologne, Germany — In the hallway connecting the multiple levels of show floors here at the sprawling Koelnmesse exhibition center, Manfred Maus, the famous pioneer of German home center retailing and founder of OBI, is pacing while talking on his cell phone. He later tells a reporter that home centers maybe should rethink their model.

On an escalator going up, John Herbert, the secretary of the European DIY-Retail Association, is promoting European retailing in a general way to a reporter going down. Stores on the continent are getting better, he said, but they still can learn a lot from U.S. retailers’ commitment to customer service.

And elsewhere on the show floor, Frank Blake is spotted. Not in person, but on a magazine cover, proclaiming in German: “Den Turnaround Geschafft.” Translated: “The turnaround is finished.” It’s not something that Blake or anyone else in Atlanta would say, but we’re not in Atlanta. We’re in Cologne, Germany.

This ancient city on the Rhine hosted some 53,500 trade visitors from 130 countries for the 2012 Internationale Eisenwarenmesse, or International Hardware Fair. The four-day event also attracted 2,665 suppliers from 50 countries.

Those numbers are up from 2010 but down from 2008, when the every-other-year-show co-located with a DIY-focused Practical World event. And even with an occasional language barrier, there is no shortage of notebook entries for the English-speaking reporter.

• Maus is easy to identify with his mane of white hair, especially as he gestures while speaking on his cell phone between halls. When he hangs up, he is ambushed for an interview.

On the need for a new business model: “My children and my grandchildren will buy completely different than we buy. After 40 years of a retail concept, somebody has to sit down and find out what has to be done. “

On store size: “The question is, do we need a 15,000-square-meter or 25,000-square-meter store. I think it’s just too much.”

On the shifting power of retail merchandising: “Years ago I was always impressed about retail merchandising in the U.S. Today, I feel we in Europe have more know-how in presenting the merchandise in specialty stores.”

• There were 83 companies on the show floor here promoting their products. One of them is M.K. Morse, based in Canton, Ohio, with warehouses here in Europe. “The European market puts a lot of weight on ‘Made in the USA,’ ” said Alan Peterson, general product manager. “They like to see it and they like to promote it.”

• American companies aren’t the only ones with product pride. At the DeWit booth, a Dutch manufacturer of wooden handled-garden tools and shovels, S. de Wit explained, “Germans like tools made in Holland.”

What about made-in-the-USA products? “They’re OK,” he said. “I drive a Cadillac and a Buick.”

• Also at the DeWit booth, and a handful of other booths, attendees openly smoke cigarettes with no fear of rebuke or stigma. You don’t see that  at trade shows in the United States.

• The Eisenwarenmesse encourages its reputation as a showcase of product innovation. To that end, three products were celebrated at a reception during the show.

From Gedore, the Dremaster DMK 200, the adjustable tubular torque wrench with square box profile and integrated ratchet for controlled right and left tightening, has a selectable scale for torque units — in both English and metric.

From Knipex, the Twin Force power-side cutter tool uses a double joint that pushes the fulcrum closer to the cut, generating more mechanical advantage for the user.

From Rhodius, the diamond-coated triple blades of the Braintools All-in-one, cuts a groove through cement and removes the rubble, making a quick job out of laying a drain or conduit through a hard material.

• At the Arrow Fastener Co. booth, there’s a feeling that Europe is the next frontier of expansion. Roberto Izaguirre, VP international sales, told Home Channel News that international growth is one of Arrow’s priorities.

“What Americans are very good at is understanding the consumer better than the European companies,” Izaguirre said.

On display were some of the new products in the Arrow quiver, including a Forward Action stapler and products designed with the female user in mind — smaller, more user-friendly staple guns.