A Global Reach: How ispo Offers Something For Everyone

With a scruffy, grinning demeanor and Irish brogue, Mick Wallace looks more like a character out of Braveheart than the action-sports market’s go-to person for the largest sporting-goods trade show in the world.

But perhaps that’s the point. The ispo show cuts a huge swath across the vast convention center in Munich, Germany, and its exhibitors offer an equally generous assortment of sporting-goods — everything from table-tennis supplies to camping gear. But it’s remained relevant to the myriad sports it serves by segmenting like-minded activities into various communities.

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As the board_ispo community manager, Wallace has seen firsthand the significant changes of the European action-sports market — including the recent shiftings and shaftings among the boardsports trade shows.

We caught up with Wallace for his view of the market and ispo’s increasingly prominent role in it.

How will the launch of ASR Europe and the demise of Glissexpo affect ispo’s strategy regarding the action-sports marketplace?

Mick Wallace: I think it’s more of a case of the European marketplace itself having undergone a significant period of change — with the relevant trade shows having to put as many trained fingers on the pulse as possible.

Europe is vast, and the cultural, geographical, sociopolitical, and economic borders have meant that the international embracing of action sports has lead to very different interpretations from one country to the next.

This means that our role as trade-show leader in Europe is to continue to cooperatively introduce the culture to visiting countries — particularly the so-called developing countries east of the German border — in a way that both platforms the global action-sports culture and integrates that country’s own interpretation.

It’s inclusive, not exclusive. We make the action-sports lifestyle tangible — a retailer in Moscow will love the surf lifestyle, but he may have problems selling palm trees to his urban locals. We respect this, work with them, and offer them different avenues.

So at present, there’s simply too much going on across the continent for ispo to be affected by one show’s launch and another one’s demise.

When did “surf” brands first appear at ispo, and how much outreach was done to get them to attend the show?

In 1979 the first wetsuit and board brands appeared due to the efforts of our international offices in the U.S. and Australia. At that time the surf presence at ispo was hardware only. Then in the mid 80s hardware took a dive, and surf-industry clothing took hold with Op breaking the ice.

Surf brands are contributors to the show in every respect — now more than ever. Surfing and the surf lifestyle offer European retailers and their markets a “get out of urban jail quick” card, a stylish Utopian alternative. The soul element of boardsports ties in to a lifestyle, danger, music, expression, flair, even sexuality. These are all desirable traits for any retailer. But to translate the language of Hawai’i so that a Swede, a Hungarian, or a Russian retailer “gets it” is a challenge that surf companies can really explore now.

What is the current footprint of the action-sports portion of the ispo show, and how has that portion grown?

The action-sports segment at ispo has been growing steadily since the beginning, and that growth has followed a natural progression with ispo’s grouping of sports into universes three years ago, and the steady development of the board_ispo community in the past year and a half.

In winter, board_ispo completely fills three halls from a possible twelve. In summer, we downsize due to the reduction in summer product volume. This June we’ll have one 11,000-square-meter hall of exhibitor space, and six additional locations throughout Munich offering sideline events — alternative platforms for brand presentation — with music and selecteed textile styles being the focus.

Such events follow our modart03munich example and have been great for broadening media and marketing relations. Boardsports are more than sports, and our program has to reflect this in as fresh a way as possible.

What role did EuroSIMA play in the launch of ASR Europe, and did you view their endorsement of ASR Europe as a vote of no confidence for ispo?

We’ve supported EuroSIMA since their beginnings and {ispo Managing Director} Peter Knoll has fostered relationships with every member — both on a private and a professional level over the years.

The work done between ispo and EuroSIMA in the past has undoubtedly laid the foundation for the now-flourishing European market. We recognize EuroSIMA is free to conduct their dealings as they see fit. Our priority is to listen to retailers from across the continent and stay one step ahead of the game.

Is there room for a successful ispo show and a successful ASR Europe show occurring within a week of each other, or do you anticipate the market will choose one show over the other?

The retailers will always choose where to best meet their needs. Europe is a large and complex market, and the show that competently showcases all of the important elements of the action-sports mix will take its share of the market.

There’s always room for a progressive show, especially if that show takes interesting angles on the market. As far as competition goes, it helps keep ideas fresh.

Why should U.S. shops care about what happens at ispo?

The role played by Europe in the global boardsports industry is growing steadily, and U.S. retailers wanting to have a look at the bigger picture can experience that firsthand at board_ispo.

On a brand level, European countries are tying interesting ingredients into their brands — music, geography, politics, art, and even regional culture. These factors are making indigenous brands here more interesting — and marketable for a U.S. retailer wanting to pick up new brands.

The variety of European brands is overwhelming and growing rapidly. Also, it’s a great opportunity for U.S. retailers to hook up and exchange ideas and experiences with their European neighbors.

Is the fact that ispo occurs in Munich an advantage or a disadvantage to enticing “surf” exhibitors?

Pure “surf” retailers here are much less common than in the U.S. due to the geography of Europe. There’s a lot less surfable coast. Retailers here mix surf with skate, streetwear, fashion, and lifestyle products geared toward the youth market. Surf exhibitors coming to ispo can develop markets in Europe by playing to those market’s particular strengths. The lessons learned at board_ispo can also be of use to a surf exhibitor looking to strengthen any non-coastal market.

*ispo_Summer ’03 takes place June 29—July 1.