ISPO has been an institution in Munich since 1970. The first trade show boasted 816 exhibitors from 25 countries, presenting their products on 45,000 square meters of exhibit space. Since then the dimensions have changed quite a bit. These days, close to 2,000 exhibitors come to Munich every year, the exhibit space is now at 185,000 square meters. And ISPO enjoys a lot of loyal fans like Antti-Jussi Tiitola from Finland and Helen and Peter Webb from Great Britain, who have been there every year since the start. “Since its inception ISPO has been the world’s best and most important sporting goods trade show. If you want to be a player in the international sports business you have to be there,” says Antti-Jussi Tiitola, who booked a space for his company OAC Finland in hall A3 and will celebrate his 51st return. “The focus will be on the presentation of our touring ski Skinbased, which we produce at a special company in Finland,” he reveals.
“Since its inception ISPO has been the world’s best and most important sporting goods trade show. If you want to be a player in the international sports business you have to be there.”
It should also be of interest to Peter and Helen Webb, owners of a ski retail store in Kingston, London. Peter Webb discovered his passion for skiing in 1969 while on vacation in Seefeld, Austria. After purchasing his first pair of skis from Hagan, he wanted to know how skis are manufactured. “I wrote a letter to the company, and they invited me to the trade show in Munich,” Webb says. “I remember it was during Carnival season. When I arrived at the main train station and saw a few people dressed up as clowns dragging a wooden duck behind them, I thought, if this is what Munich is like, I’ll stay for a few nights.” There was total chaos at the entrance to the show, getting in took an entire hour. “Security went through everything with a fine-tooth comb: passport, ticket, bags. They also wanted to know exactly what you were doing at the event.”
Finally through to the exhibits, Webb was overwhelmed by the bandwidth of colors. “At the time, ski jackets in England were either made of red or blue shiny nylon. That was it.” Webb strolled through the exhibits, marveled at the selection and was asked by several exhibitors whether he wanted to sell their ski jackets in England. “After verifying some of the prices, I thought, maybe this could work. I walked around and spontaneously put together my first assortment from the companies I knew from my own gear. At the end of the day the portfolio was set for Ski-Ing Imports (GB) Limited. I admit, it wasn’t exactly clever to try to sell ski products in April, but thanks to my regular income it worked out pretty well.” Webb still held a day job at IBM until he decided to quit in 1975 and opened Europa Ski Lodge together with his wife Helen.
At the early shows the exhibitors were mostly small and medium-sized companies, recalls Antti-Jussi Tiitola, everyone knew everyone. “The booths weren’t very large, the show almost felt improvised compared to today,” Webb agrees. Many companies only dealt with pre-arranged meetings, and some booths were as “tough to get into as Ft. Knox. There were signs everywhere, prohibiting photography or even sketching, everyone was paranoid that designs could be copied.” The visitor from England did not like trade show Sundays at all. “It was hopelessly overcrowded. Every single Bavarian shop owner came to the event and brought friends and family – including a few dogs and baby strollers.”
“The booths weren’t very large, the show almost felt improvised compared to today.”
These day, some of the large companies seem to have too much of a presence, criticizes Antti-Jussi Tiitola, yet there are always smaller companies with interesting innovations to discover. The Finnish national favored the ski and outdoor exhibits during his visits to Munich. Asked about the biggest changes in ski equipment he replies: “Materials. And parallel to this the development of new winter sports such as snowboarding and snowshoeing.” He cites two personal highlights in all those ISPO years: “1984, when we introduced the new Karhu Matrix Racing Skis, which won four gold medals in Sarajevo, and in 2011, when our company won ISPO BRANDNEW with our Nordic Skates.”
Other than in years past, the Webbs are planning to walk the show hall to hall. “We will make it in 83,000 steps,” Peter says, laughing. What they really do not like anymore, is the food offered at the event. “In the old days ISPO offered traditional German cuisine and real portions. I still reminisce with longing about the delicious goulash we once enjoyed during a Sportalm fashion show, seated on red sofas in hall 16. Today the food is usually mass-produced, the restaurants look kind of sterile, and the portions are tiny.”
Antti-Jussi Tiitola and Peter and Helen Webb have not just been loyal ISPO fans for over 40 years, they have almost always stayed at the same hotels in Munich: Antti-Jussi Tiitola at the Hotel Penta, the Webbs at the Hotel Stachus.