Tools trump Tariffs at Trade Fair

BY Ken Clark

Cologne, Germany — At hotel televisions surrounding the International Hardware Fair, broadcasters on programs such as Bloomberg Europe and CNBC were beating the drum of pending trade disputes fueled by Brexit and the more recent and sensational plans for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.

But inside the fair, the talk was all tools, and all business.

A reporter’s inquiries about tariffs and trade wars were met overwhelmingly with polite nods to the negative. “Companies are here to do business, regardless of the politics around the world,” said Mette Petersen, president and managing director of Koelnmesse North America.

And so they came. Business-minded delegates from around the world encountered more than 1.5 million sq. ft. of convention space at the sprawling Koelnmesse Convention Center here in Cologne. Visitors from around the world were greeted by oversized promotional banners from (to name a few) Olfa, Pferd and Gedore — European giants of, respectively, cutting tools, power tools and a thousand miscellaneous workshop products.

It was business as usual at the USA Pavilion, an area with a high-concentration of U.S. companies promoting their products to international markets. Among them: General Pipe Cleaners spelled out the durability of its drain cleaning equipment. And around the corner, manufacturer Dripless Inc. displayed its patented dripless caulk guns. (You know how the caulk keeps coming out of some tubes, even after you’ve stopped squeezing the trigger? These guns are built to prevent that.)

Around the show floor, the innovations and product news were too much to track by any one visitor, or team of visitors. But a good sense of the forward-looking nature of Eisenwarenmesse, as it’s called in Germany, was on display in its seminars and presentations.

For instance, the 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Exhibit stepped up the size and sophistication of its demonstration “print outs.” These included automotive spare parts to high-performance bicycles. Also, the trade fair’s new Start-up village allowed creative companies to share digital ideas, solutions and processes, all curated by trend scout Richard van Hooijdonk and in cooperation with the European Federation of DIY Manufacturers.

Sophisticated 3D printing was on display in Cologne.

And even more futuristic was the presentation “VR: Beyond the Wow! How this technology know from computer games, can be used meaningfully for the industry today.” (One way: manufacturers can track human processes on the assembly line safely and cost effectively.)

The show also allowed various trade associations to sell the benefits of their country. China, Taiwan, India and Italy maintained strong presences. Of course, “Made in Germany” was a common slogan seen around the multiple halls. And at a presentation on hardware opportunities in International markets, Michele Tacchini, president of the Italian Hardware Association (Assofermet), described his country as a “first in fashion, first in design,” as he described a new wave of optimism among the country’s youth.

At the India-based Raging Rhino hand tools booth, a representative did in fact seem interested in the brewing tariff controversy, but mostly from a standpoint of its impact on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Asked about tariffs, a representative of a U.S. exporter who manned a busy booth on the show floor said: “One person brought it up.”

The Italian contingent also included Paolo Bulgarini. A business development executive for Arexons, maker of lubricants. Bulgarini was among those politely dismissing concerns over international trade discord. He was much more focused on promoting the relative benefits of his company’s lubricants, which he says stack up better than those of any big-name brand out there.

Pride in product combined with pride in country all over the show floor of Eisenwarenmesse, which winds down March 7.


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