Wieland Sulzer: I accompanied my father and his buyer to the Spielwarenmesse in Nuremberg in 1978 for the first time. Both had had regular lodgings in private households for a number of years. Private accommodation was very popular because hotel capacity was relatively scarce. Even back then, hotel charges soared during trade fairs.
I still have vivid memories of my lodgings: I’d say the room was around 8 square metres in size. The furniture consisted of a sofa with steel springs refashioned into a bed, giving me a round sleeping surface of approx. 170cm in length. There was also a chair and small storage rack. There was no heating, even in the bathroom. It would be better to call it a washroom, really, with only a small washbasin with cold water beside the toilet. I managed to find more pleasant lodgings the next time I came for the trade fair and after that.
Can you describe your typical day at the trade fair?
W. S.: Even back then, we would meticulously plan our visit to the trade fair. We checked out every aisle in every hall to make sure we didn’t miss any sellers. Regular products were ordered and we would request samples of new products for our wholesale business.
We showed up at the trade fair at 9 on the dot every morning. Breaks were not planned in and there wasn’t any provision made for eating either. The stands were much smaller than they are today and there were very few places to sit down at them. There was so much movement to and from the trade fair. In order to avoid the worst of the jams with people leaving in the evening, we would schedule the last stand visit for shortly before 6 pm so that we could continue the conversation until approx. 7 pm "in peace".
Once the traffic had then died down, we would go in the evenings to suppliers that had not exhibited at the trade fair. We were normally wined and dined there, before getting a good look at their ranges. No day in Nuremberg during the trade fair ended before 11 pm. I only ever heard stories about the "wild trade fair parties".
With all of the people coming and going, how was the traffic handled?
W. S.: The level of traffic was pretty crazy in the late seventies and early eighties. The Engelhardt car park attendants were already on duty at the time, doing their best to get a handle on the chaos. They directed the drivers with determination and assertiveness. They were usually even successful with the drivers that did not understand the Franconian dialect thanks to the volume at which they spoke and their obviously courteous choice of words.
With all of your many discussions with exhibitors, are there any that really stick in your memory?
W. S.: I was introduced to lots of exhibitors during my first trade fair. I can still precisely remember one such encounter. At that time, the company in question had a long-standing tradition and a stellar reputation. I was introduced to an older gentleman, a tall man with white hair. In spite of his walking stick, he still held himself perfectly straight. He greeted me in an exceptionally friendly manner and immediately gave me some fatherly advice:
"Young friend, I’m 96 years old now and I still go to the office every day. Every letter sent to our company and every letter that leaves our company passes over my desk..." I only noticed somewhat later on that the junior boss of the company (who was well over 60 himself) was impassively following everything. I’m not completely sure, but I think the company was gone by my second trade fair.
As a buyer at the Spielwarenmesse, you move from stand to stand, competitor to competitor. Were there or are there any "laws of the game" in this regard?
W. S.: Horst Brandstätter from Playmobil and Ernst Bettag from Big Spielwaren were two extremely successful entrepreneurs in our industry. Both companies brought out amazingly similar plastic toy figures in the mid-seventies. There then followed many legal wranglings aimed at settling their dispute. With little success, initially. They were prepared to use almost every means at their disposal! One such "weapon" was to serve food to visitors in their respective showrooms. The two competitors even tried to outdo one another in this regard. Of course, we made the most of this as customers. As a "neutral", there was only one golden rule: absolutely avoid mentioning your visit to the other showroom.
Have you ever come across celebrities at the Spielwarenmesse?
W. S.: I was at the Pelikan stand once, when suddenly there was a surge of people, with camera crews and their entourage making it impossible to do any further work. The soft tennis game was taken out of my hand and suddenly I found myself at the edge of all of this hustle and bustle. Next I noticed Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeneß, two German soccer stars of the seventies and eighties, standing beside me. They had just called time on their playing careers at that stage. The only person anyone cared about was the player who was still playing. I don’t know who it was, I couldn’t see him with all of the fans.
Thank you for having shared with us your Spielwarenmesse experiences.