I have accurate memories of my first time at the Nuremberg Toy fair. It was 1977 and I had just started working for the company. Back then I was very determined to bring Clementoni on the international stage and felt that the Nuremberg fair was a big opportunity to attain this goal. So, I decided to visit the fair and study it closely to understand how we could participate. Upon returning home, I immediately applied to have a stand for the following year, aware of the fact that there was a very long waiting list. To my great surprise, my application was immediately accepted and this opened up the opportunity to make Clementoni known on the international market. I therefore fondly recall 1978, the year of Clementoni’s first participation in the Nuremberg trade fair. I remember departing on my own, like in the previous year, and also outfitting the first Clementoni stand by myself. Well, its size was very different to the one we have today: it measured roughly 3x6 metres. The first year I travelled to Nuremberg by car on my own, but there were two of us the following year. We’ve been travelling by car for over 40 years, even if there are now 50 of us. It’s like a tradition.
Recalling how the 1978 Nuremberg trade fair allowed Clementoni to tackle the international stage for the very first time still stirs my emotions.
What was the best deal you concluded or order you secured at the Spielwarenmesse?
S. C.: One astonishing memory of my first years at the Nuremberg fair, namely the late 1970s, has less to do with the competitors – all internationally renowned companies – than with the buyers, who came from the Arab countries. If we succeeded in arousing their interest in certain products, they would place very nice orders. One of the buyers from those days is Mr. Kamal Sinno a Lebanese distributor who always wore a coat on his shoulders (at that time you had to go out in the snow to pass from a hall to the other). His company, Toy Market Trading, is still our distributor for Lebanon to this day, together with his son, Wael Sinno.
Another important collaboration I started in those years was with an agent, Comagex, which is still our partner in Belgium. In 1979 – our second year at the fair – we were moved from Halle E to Halle F, next to the large stand of DEMUSA. In those days Germany was divided and all of East Germany’s toy manufacturers belonged to the DEMUSA consortium. Their stand was closed and when the East German toy manufacturers arrived at the trade fair, they stayed inside their stand the whole day. DEMUSA’s agent for Belgium was Comagex, which took advantage of our closeness to the stands to approach us. That’s how we got our first Belgian customers.
For our first fifteen years, up to the 1990s, our exports grew mostly through the contacts we met at the trade fair. I’m very pleased and immensely proud to say that we’ve grown together over the years.
Where else did you meet the buyers for presenting your products?
S. C.: In the 1970s and 1980s, Nuremberg wasn’t the only international trade fair. Each European country had its event. It was basically like a tour schedule. All the other trade fairs vied to schedule a date close to the Nuremberg fair, so that buyers could organise tours and visit them all. For this reason, we also started participating in many fairs abroad. However, due to the high costs involved and the fact all the buyers focused on Nuremberg, we decided to make this fair our reference international event. We weren’t alone in adopting this approach: in fact, nowadays only the London fair has an international stature, while the fairs in other European countries have a local dimension. Nuremberg, therefore, remains the number one fair in Europe for the great quantity of exhibitors and buyers.
When you regard Spielwarenmesse as a reflection of the toy industry, what has changed about the toy sector over the last 25 years in particular?
S. C.: Today’s toys are definitely more technological. Moreover, it is now possible to understand the strategies of other companies and the trends they seem to follow by simply observing their production range. I remember that in the late 1970s there weren’t so many exhibitors like today and I truly cannot imagine how a buyer can visit all the stands present at the trade fair.
What would you wish for Spielwarenmesse if you had a wish free?
S. C.: More hotel rooms. A long-standing and typical problem for the Nuremberg toy fair is the shortage of hotels. Nuremberg also hosts other trade fairs, but they are smaller compared to the toy fair and have fewer visitors. The city, therefore, is not able to host so many people in hotels. We also stayed at private homes during the first few years, due to the shortage of hotels. I even had a lucky coincidence when I met a Nuremberg family in Fano during the famed summer Carnival. Our chance encounter resulted in a “special” agreement: I would host them during the summer while they would host me and a couple of collaborators during the Nuremberg fair. Year after year, the number of our employees involved in the fair increased and this family was no longer able to host so many people, so we started staying in hotels. But it wasn’t easy to find place, as the current guests would reconfirm their bookings for the next year each time. I once remember booking a rather central hotel when it was still being built. Nowadays we have grown into a crowd, so we are forced to find accommodation some fifty kilometres from the trade fair venue.
Stefano Clementoni, thank you very much for sharing your reflections on Spielwarenmesse. And your wish will come true. There will be 2.000 new hotel beds in Nuremberg by 2021.
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