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Safety first: Expoprotection 2006
Feature: 3/11/2006

Springtime may be nothing but a distant memory, but that didn't stop countless numbers of visitors flooding into Paris last week for the biennial Expoprotection/Fire exhibition - and this year they had an added incentive, as the show opened up its new Workwear section with the help of director-e.

The new section, which ran alongside the mainstays of Fire Fighting, Security and Occupational Risks, saw footwear companies, workwear suppliers and fabric manufacturers gathering alongside other companies from across the industry to show off their wares.

Making contacts
One such company was WL Gore & Associates, which had the foresight to include a bar and refreshments on its stand. Manning the bar Enlarge Image click hereand tending to interested visitors was Maëla le Borgne-Pénot, a workwear associate.

She said: "This is my first Expoprotection and I'm very impressed - I've been here every day and we've hardly had a minute to sit down. The show has been very good for contacts, which is not the case for some others. It's very complete and very promising."

These positive comments were echoed by Thierry Decroux, sales manager of fabric company Sofileta, which had attended the show to advertise its corporate and workwear fabrics.

"I have a very good impression of this show," he said. "Many of our visitors were known by our company already, but we have sourced some new customers who came to the fair, mainly from Eastern Europe, like Romania.

"We are looking for contacts all over the world, so new customers from there are always good for us. Every potential new customer is a good thing."

Being seen
For others, the focus was less on getting contacts and more on being seen. This proved to be no obstacle to Sioen, who had bought up Enlarge Image click hereboth sides of an entire aisle to create a walk-through guide to their new products.

Bart Vervaecke, sales director of Sioen's Europe Apparel Division, was one of many manning the stand that week. He explained that for Sioen, the show was more useful as a way to inform people about their new technical fleeces, jackets and other items than as a way to sell them.

"For us, we consider this to be more of a relations fair than a show where we take orders," he said. "It has never been a fair for selling items; it's more about PR and presenting new products for 2007. It's important to be seen here by other companies and by the visitors."

On the other side of the hall, Performance Global Solutions was displaying its protective and workwear fabrics to a very receptive crowd.

Perhaps too receptive, as Igor Fosseux, export manager, explained: "On some nights we've been here until seven o'clock in the evening, drinking champagne with customers. It got to the point where security asked us to leave," he laughed.

"This is the third or fourth time we've done this and it's been the best so far. It's really increased in size over the years; the previous two were much smaller, and this year it's been non-stop."

Conference calling
But the show's appeal wasn't just in its stands. A series of over 25 conferences had been arranged throughout the week in both French Enlarge Image click hereand English on topics such as nanotechnology, thermal stress, technical textiles and cut resistance.

One of the speakers was Oliver Delzenne, sales manager for Reflexite, which was at the show to promote its "Works When Wet" campaign.

Oliver said: "Thursday was very important for me because I made a presentation about how to personalise your garments with retro-reflective tapes and it was very well received. Even my direct competitor came to listen to me, so that went very well!"

He was equally enthusiastic about the show as a whole. "I've been here three times before and it just keeps growing. We have had some good comments from the customers and have seen many end users, especially people in road maintenance, so it has been a very positive show."

Others were attracted to the daily catwalk performances, which showed off the best products from some of the show's exhibitors.

Striking out
But there's a cloud for every silver lining, and in this case it was a massive train strike on the Wednesday, which saw the number of Enlarge Image click hererunning trains in Paris cut by two thirds. Many were worried that the strike would affect the show, but these fears proved unfounded.

Valerie Azimi, communications supervisor of multinational corporation 3M, which was at the show to advertise its reflective and insulation materials, was on the stand all week and was surprised by the lack of effect the strikes had.

She said: "We were worried about the strikes, especially since they happened on what is usually one of the biggest days, but it didn't seem to affect the show at all. The hall was just as busy as we had hoped."

Stuart Turnbull, national UK sales manager for Bacou-Dalloz, agreed. His company was presenting a wide range of products, including Timberland boots and outdoor clothing, on a massive stand, so having few visitors would have been disastrous. Happily this was not the case.

"The train strike did affect the travel for many," he said, "but I think people who intended to come here came here regardless - the position of the exhibition means that it's fairly easy for people coming through Charles de Gaulle Airport and the other transport hubs in France.

"The only problem is that the strike makes it harder to get from here to the bar," he joked.

Increasingly European
One of the noticeable aspects of the visiting crowd was that it was predominantly composed of French visitors - but some believed this was less of a factor than in previous years.

One such person was Carmen Engels, marketing communications representative at DuPont Personal Protection, who was on the stand to show off their protective fibres.

Enlarge Image click here"I've been coming to Expoprotection for more than 10 years and it's changed from a French and Parisian show to a more international one," she said. "It's definitely more European than it was in previous editions.

"I've also noticed that we tend to get more end users than distributors coming these days, although we like to work with both distributors and end users so it's not a problem."

Another protective company at the show was Rhodia, which was advertising its licensed Proban flame-retardant and multi-purpose-protection products. It, too, saw interest from outside France.

Gérard Lenotte, global Proban market manager, said: "Our presence at the show is mainly for the French market; however, as Proban has an international position in the market of flame retarded fabrics, we have been visited by a lot of international companies.

"This is why I have brought onto the stand commercial managers from five different countries, including Czechoslovakia and England. This helps also with the language because we've had people from Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and the USA, and also from countries like India and Pakistan."

Not all of the companies were old hands; UK footwear company JCB Workwear was making its first appearance at the Expoprotection show to display its line of functional but stylish working boots.

The company's sales and marketing manager, Patrick Duwernell, estimated that while the majority of their visitors were French, other countries were not in the minority.

"I have been to Expoprotection before and it is becoming a more and more international exhibition. We had a 50/50 allocation of visitors from countries as far as Greece, Turkey and Slovenia, and we have had a lot of people from Scandinavia. Of course, we also had some of our existing UK customers who came out here to see us."

Minor problems
But not everything was perfect. Oliver from Reflexite said: "The organisation inside the hall is fine, but every evening when you try Enlarge Image click hereleave it is a nightmare; with the traffic and the exhibitor parking it takes me an hour to get back. But everything else is great."

Bart from Sioen agreed. "The only real problem was the drive from the airport to the exhibition hall," he said, "but that's beyond their control. Also, I think a little more international importance would be good, but there's nothing that was really badly done."

However, some were more serious problems raised by Igor from Performance Global Solutions. Although his stand had proved enormously successful, his conference talks on particle-free and loopstitch fabrics were considerably less so.

"The organisation of the conferences was terrible," he said. "The conferences were on two important subjects, but nobody knew they existed - on the second conference I had one person.

"There were no announcements on the tannoy and the conferences were listed on a separate handbook from the main catalogue. It's a pity, because the rest of the show was great."

Future improvements
However, the show's organisers, Reed Exhibitions, have admitted that the show was not flawless and have promised to rectify the Enlarge Image click hereproblems in the next edition.

Beatrice Panizza, who helped to put the show together, said: "There were some problems with the show and the conferences and we understand the reasons why. We've taken the criticisms on board and will be correcting them for the next time."

However, for the most part the show went extremely well, as Beatrice pointed out: "We had a good number of representatives from each sector and all of the stands were taken up.

"Regarding the visitors, we were pleased to see that we still had a lot of people coming through the door despite the railway strike on the second day. We were afraid that people would not come to the exhibition so it was a good day

"I'm really happy - it was a good edition and the new workwear section was quite a success in terms of exhibitors."

Author: James Wilkinson
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