Blog: Leonie BarrieIMB 2009 opens its doors

Leonie Barrie | 21 April 2009

The IMB trade show for apparel production and textile processing equipment has faced many adversities over the years. But the question being asked by everyone here in Cologne is how is it weathering the storm in 2009? 

Set up 35 years ago to cater for the then burgeoning European garment industry, the show has had to overcome a number of hurdles – including the migration of production to low-cost countries overseas, competition from regional trade shows, the lifting of quotas in 2005, economic fluctuations, and even the SARS epidemic in 2003 which kept out some Chinese exhibitors and visitors based in infected areas.

And of course the technology development cycle has accelerated too. The traditional three-year roll-out of new innovations at a trade show no longer applies; in today’s industry the focus is on a continual stream of small changes rather than fewer large ones.

But despite this year’s event taking place in the worst recession since the Second World War, the organisers are, not surprisingly, putting on a brave face.

Yes exhibitor numbers at the event, which opened its doors today, are down to around 500 from 600 last time, and the aisles and stands are noticeably quieter than before. There are even hotel rooms to be had (practically unheard of in previous years).

And there are some noticeable gaps on the exhibition floor after some major companies pulled out – most notably Gerber Technology which has traditionally taken one of the largest stands at the show but now says it has chosen to focus its budget on its existing customers rather trying to attract new ones.

The internet has a part to play too, with one no-show telling just-style before the event that trade shows are less and less important now. “The internet’s taking over. We get enquiries every day from the internet, and previously people didn’t do that, they looked at magazine adverts and went to shows.”

Despite all this, the event is still seen the world’s largest and most important showcase for apparel production tools.

On the positive side, it has also been pointed out that a large number of companies (some estimates say as many as 25%) have taken stands here for the first time, and all the companies we’ve visited so far have new stories to tell.

No doubt this has been helped by widening the show’s remit outside its traditional apparel boundaries to include technical textiles as well as the automotive and home furnishings sectors.

But there also seems to be a view – perhaps not a surprising one given that companies here are trying to sell software and equipment – that now is the time for companies to invest in new technologies.

Not only to improve performance now, but to help them 'get ahead' after the current crisis comes to an end.

“There is much pain in the industry at the moment,” one exhibitor told just-style, adding: “But we’re busier than we’ve ever been because many companies simply can’t cope.”

While another said: “Now is the time the smart money invests in software. Many companies were previously too busy, and now is the first time they’re able to take a breath, to invest and prepare for the uptick.”

“Companies are making an investment this year to go ahead in 2010 and beyond,” said another exhibitor. “Our business pipeline is growing very fast – particularly in Europe.”  

An optimistic outlook perhaps – but one that is much needed in the industry just now.


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