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German trade fair giant enters region

Messe Frankfurt, the world’s third largest exhibition organiser by number of shows, merges with Dubai-based EPOC.

A major new player has entered the region’s trade fair market following Messe Frankfurt’s merger with Dubai-based EPOC to form EPOC Messe Frankfurt. The new company aims to use its German parent’s formidable resources to develop EPOC’s existing UAE business and expand into other parts of the Middle East.

“The brief in the short term is buy more shows in Dubai, build the shows we’ve already got in Dubai and launch new shows where there are gaps,” explains Geoff Dickinson, managing partner at EPOC Messe Frankfurt. “Once we’ve done that, we can start to look at what we can do in the rest of the region.”

Messe Frankfurt claims to be the world’s third largest trade fair company in terms of the number of shows it organises, but Dickinson believes that the company is probably the largest in terms of the floor space it leases. Messe Frankfurt’s revenues in 2001 were Euro 318 million and profit was Euro 28 million (Euro 1 = US $0.97.)

The company’s merger with EPOC is the latest in a series of overseas forays. Its strategy is to invest in a partner in each geography whose fairs and exhibitions are established, but have the potential to grow. That partner is then able to use the financial resources of EPOC Messe Frankfurt to develop its existing events, acquire exhibitions from competitors and branch out into other areas.

Existing trade fairs that will be managed by EPOC Messe Frankfurt include Hardware and Tools, Houseware and Hometech, Materials Handling and Distribution, Toy Fair, Autotech and GardenX. Dickinson is particularly excited about the potential to develop Autotech, which is to be rebranded as Automechanika after the German show of the same name.

“If you sell car parts or garage equipment, that is the show everyone in the world goes to,” he says. “We’re going to turn Autotech into Automechanika Middle East. That, we hope, will become a multi-hall show within a short number of years.”

As the same time that the company develops its existing portfolio, it will be on the lookout to acquire other trade fairs and start new ones where gaps in the market exist. “We’ve got five or six shows that we’re very happy with that we can build up with the resources of Messe Frankfurt. But we’ll also acquire stuff and there are a number of organisers here that may be feeling they’d like to sell up,” Dickinson says.

The ability to start new trade fairs is limited in Dubai by a policy known as ‘Profile Protection’ that keeps the number of competing fairs at a minimum. On balance, Dickinson says he agrees with the policy because it avoids what he describes as the, “over proliferation of shows,” something that has certainly hurt the industry globally.

“I think mass exhibitions are dying in countries like the UK where you’ve got so many venues and no government policy,” says Dickinson. “In the end, you get complete over proliferation of shows… [and] they all end up failing.”

However, the existence of Profile Protection reinforces the need to look at markets outside the UAE. Egypt and KSA are obvious markets to target, but Dickinson also fancies Libya and Iran, countries that are at differing stages of coming in from the political wilderness but have considerable oil resources and a need for industrial machinery.

Because Messe Frankfurt is a German company, it is free to deal with Iran and the improvement in relations between Britain, a German EU partner, and Libya make it increasingly easy to deal with that country. “If Europe is positive towards a country, we will be likewise,” says Dickinson.

He says that there is no fixed limit on what Messe Frankfurt is prepared to commit to the regional market. Terms of the merger agreement were not disclosed, but Dickinson did reveal that it was structured in such a way as to keep key EPOC management members on board at the new company.

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