The increasingly international and “connected” Ispo Munich trade show witnessed last month more than 85,000 daily passages through its turnstiles at its Feb. 5-8 edition, or about six percent more than last year's score of 81,368 visitor/days. They came from 120 countries and the largest increases were recorded from Italy, Russia, the U.K., China and the U.S. – in that order.

The number of exhibitors reached a new record with a total of 2,732 companies, three percent more than a year ago, and 89 percent came from outside Germany, up from 87 percent. At a time when other big shows like Outdoor Retailer are shifting dates and location (see the related article in this issue), the management of Messe München attributes this performance and that of its Chinese fairs (see the News Brief on Ispo Beijing) to the increasing relevance of the show for checking out trends and networking with the rest of the industry across all the categories of the sporting goods market, independently of its timing.

Messe München points to its 365-day initiative, which is meant to establish connections all year around for a variety of purposes through its online platform, which is visited each month by about 250,000 users - industry officials, observers and consumers. That's very much in tune with the direct-to-consumer and omni-channel strategies being pursued or contemplated by an increasing number of suppliers and retailers.

In this connection, it was absolutely fitting for Messe München to organize a special symposium during the Munich fair on digitalization as a growth driver. It was staged in association with Adidas, which stopped exhibiting at Ispo 16 years ago, and featured three big-name speakers: Roland Auschel, chief sales officer of Adidas; David Schneider, founder and chief executive of Zalando; and Frank Geisler, head of Ochsner Sport. Stefan Herzog, former managing director of Sport Scheck, acted as moderator for a very interesting discussion.

All the speakers insisted that online and offline should co-exist. Even a pure player like Zalando has started to engage customers through a physical presence. The internet can help brands and retailers to better address young consumers, said Auschel.

While stressing that the human element will remain unavoidable, Geisler said his chain is connecting its online and offline operations through a new e-commerce platform with a responsive design based on the input from the 1.1 million members of its loyalty program, which has come to generate 55 percent of its annual turnover of around €400 million. The leading Swiss sporting goods retailer has been testing its new omni-channel project at a store in Spreitenbach since September, resulting in 20 percent higher sell-throughs at the location. Geisler said that the internet can generate a geat deal of data that will help develop a more relevant offer for consumers.

All three speakers at the conference encouraged the audience to adopt a disruptive strategic thinking process to make the most out of the internet.

“Don't follow the rules,” said Schneider, noting that Zalando has been breaking many of them successfully like “pure online is unwanted,” “retail is territorial,” “returns are evil,” “central beats local” in logistics and “online kills offline.” Geisler said the industry needs to establish a culture of testing out new ideas and processes in all areas.

Establishing connections through the internet was very much the buzzword at the show. As reported in Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe, Intersport International Corp. is working on a multi-stage omni-channel strategy across national borders. Kim Roether, vice chairman of Intersport International and president of Intersport Germany, told us at the show that its organization – the biggest one in the world in terms of retail sales - is open for discussing partnerships of any kind with Amazon and other pure players as part of its digital transformation.

Messe München is also catering more to women, both as industry executives and as a target group of consumers, with their specificities. It organized a program of conferences on the subject and opened a Women's Lounge that allowed a large number of female industry representatives to make new contacts.