National Lampoon’s European Trade Show

National Lampoon’s European Trade ShowThe news from this year’s ISPO Trade Show in Munich, Germany.

Scooter fever has hit Europe with a vengeance¿a reality American snowboard-manufacturers tried to ignore at the risk of getting mowed down by one while walking the trade-show aisles. But despite the abundance of alternative forms of transportation, it was business as usual at this winter’s 54th International Tradeshow For Sports Equipment And Fashion (ISPO) held in Munich, Germany February 4¿7. There were some interesting new technological innovations, and a few old companies spawning new, more image-conscious brands, but the hype was in a lot of the same places.

“We carry Burton, Nitro, and K2 in our shop,” says Christian Bosch from Sport Hapfelmeier in Welheim, Germany. When asked if he’d be picking up any hot new brands this year, he reflected the view of a lot of retailers who just want to stay safe: “I’ve definitely seen some interesting things at the show, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up anything new in the shop this year.”

Nitro continues to be strong on the European market and a “safe” brand for European retailers, especially in the German-speaking countries where the brand originated. The new Nitro line included completely redesigned boots and bindings, and a new ultralight board model dubbed the Supernatural. The graphics throughout the line had a noticeably dark theme featuring war machines and skulls and crossbones. “We realize not everyone will be into the gloom and doom,” says Promotions Director Seth Neary of the graphics, “but it’s definitely what the team wanted.”

Although an undisclosed industry bandit let loose several stink bombs in front of the Burton booth, people dismissed the smell as body odor (this is Europe, after all). And despite the fact most of the new line was hidden in closets throughout the booth instead of on display, the area was crowded as usual. I guess the people at Burton figure retailers want to see the product bad enough to ask, and they’re probably right.

Burton debued a Dukes Of Hazard-inspired binding named The General, complete with stars and bars and the racecar-number 01 on the inner highback. But one can’t help wondering if the excitement was lost on the Euros, who probably didn’t have the intimate childhood relationship with Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke that the average American growing up in the 80s did. The company unveiled three pro models for new teamriders Jussi Oksanen, Michi Albin, and Nicola Thost (all European) to balance out the Yankee pride generated by The General binding.

As one of the first trade shows of the winter season, ISPO has always been a venue for manufacturers to size up their competition. Even though security was tight in some areas (you couldn’t get into the Adidas booth and some others without a press pass), industry people were definitely seen casting sideways glances at competitors’ booths. Technological board innovations at the show included revamped slider insert systems from Head (Blax’s system from last year), Rev, and Forum; and a dual-construction board from Nidecker with sidewall under the feet, and cap construction in the middle and on the tip and tail, to name a few.

The new lines from both Volkl and Palmer also featured under-binding elevator plates. Palmer’s Power Link System is designed to increase leverage over the board’s edge for more edge control, and the elevation provided by the interface supposedly prevents heel and toe drag for riders with bigger feet. The Volkl V-Flex is designed to dampen and elevate, and looks very similar to the Power Link System with a likewise origin in boardercross racing. Although I didn’t talk to people from any shops that were carrying this new technology next year, the European focus on carving technology makes it a promising market for the elevator plates. Retailers are most likely playing it safe and waiting a season for a reaction from the market.

Many Ammerican manufacturers were also assessing the results of their hard work (or lack thereof) in breaking in on the vastly different, more technically oriented European market. Image-driven brands like Forum, Ride, and Thirty-Two are still struggling a little in the European-retail community, while technically oriented brands like Rossignol and Northwave/Drake are more of a safe bet for shops (of course it helps that these brands originated in Europe, too.) “Europeans are drawn to the technical brands because image-driven brands are too expensive and don’t guarantee a good product,” says Jean-Charles Marchionni, marketing manager for Emery boots and bindings and lifelong Frenchman.

But Marchionni acknowledges people still care about image in the European market, and with the help of Product Manager Magali Avignon, he’s worked hard to modernize the old-time hard-boot image of Emery, a company that has been working for a couple of years under the Rossignol-group umbrella, to produce bindings and SIS-boot interfaces for other Rossignol brands. “We wanted to connect the factory feeling¿which is such a huge part of Emery¿with the modern culture and style of snowboarding,” says Avignon, who worked hard on an impressively modern-looking booth, as well as giving the new Emery line a clean look to back up the brand’s technological innovations.

With Sims Snowboards’ new staff and marketing-driven focus, it was anybody’s guess as to how the hype would fare in the much less image-oriented European market. But according to Vice President Of Sales Todd Liotine, it’s only getting better for Sims: “We’ve had a lot of interest from distributors in small European countries that was never there before.”

“The show’s actually been phenomenal for us,” says 686 Enterprises’ Sales Director Jono Zacharias about bringing the U.S. brand across the Atlantic. “The company’s still pretty small in Europe right now because we wanted to wait until the budget was there. Now we’re ready to do it right.” Zacharias and the rest of the 686 team spent a few days before the show traveling around central Europe visiting shops and were confident of the brand’s huge potential there.

One thing’s for sure: seeing so many familiar Yankee faces at ISPO is encouraging for the future expansion of U.S. manufacturers overseas. Despite the fact the European market embraces less image-oriented brands, perhaps because of its long-standing support of the carving and racing industry, or maybe because there’s no European J.P. Walker, there’s no doubt U.S. brands are beginning to learn how to market and build a retail future in Europe.¿Jennifer M. Sherowski