It seems everyone you meet in the wine industry has an opinion about Vinexpo. And these opinions vary considerably – often down to the experience they have just had at one of the many other international wine fairs being held globally. Vinexpo has a legacy and an international footprint, however, its image over the last couple of years has taken a bit of a battering, particularly around last year’s show in Bordeaux. Which is around the time that its new chief executive, Rodolphe Lameyse, joined the business. Seven months on and he is more than ready to meet the challenge of turning around this global brand. Here he shares his new vision for Vinexpo with Richard Siddle, which is effectively going back to its roots by offering leading buyers the best quality, most effective trade exhibition for premium wine and spirits, with an experience they will look forward to going back to the following year.
Rodolphe Lameyse sets out his business plan to help get Vinexpo’s global exhibition shows back on the road with a firm commitment to Hong Kong, Paris and new revamped show for Bordeaux.
Rodolphe Lameyse could have probably chosen a better year in Vinexpo’s 38 year history to join the business. In the few months he has been chief executive he has witnessed a succession of events that were all out of his control.
First came within weeks of taking control when he had to put a brave face on arguably the most disappointing Bordeaux event Vinexpo has ever held – down by nearly two thirds in exhibitors. In October came the damaging introduction of US tariffs on French wine, just as it was ramping up promotion for its New York show in March 2020. Then there has been the escalation of violence and disruption in Hong Kong that has put a serious question market over the viability of its flagship Asia show in May 2020.
They say bad luck comes in threes so Lameyse will be hoping he can get through to the new year with no other hurdles in his way.
But there are things he can be doing to either get over or, at least, remove some of those hurdles. He was certainly in a bullish, upbeat and determined mood when The Buyer met up with in central London last Friday.
It was noticeable that this was a Vinexpo chief executive who chose to meet up not in a traditional wine venue, but at the Institute of Directors. Yes, it is on Pall Mall, but it is very much at the business end of the street.
Lameyse sees himself very much as an entrepreneur that has been brought in Vinexpo to look at the business through very different eyes. For a start he does not come from wine, but a background in running major corporate international trade events.
In fact he admits if Vinexpo had been in the control of one of the major trade show business, like Reed Exhibitions, then its flagship Bordeaux event would have been close to being shut down after the fallout of the 2019 event. But that’s clearly not the ambition of its major shareholder, the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce.
Instead the challenge for Lameyse and his team is to re-invent what Vinexpo is all about. Be it in Bordeaux, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Hong Kong or who knows where in the future. It is certainly not going to give up and sell out to the nearest bidder.
Now that Lameyse has had a few months to survey and analyse the competition across the various international wine and spirits shows, he has now got a clear vision both for what Vinexpo is not, and what it needs to do in order to grow and be successful.
The first thing to understand is that Lameyse does not see ProWein as realistic competition. It is has been built to such a size that he believes it has opened up a new gap for a trade exhibition business with the wine knowledge and skills of Vinexpo to fill and capitalise on.
He is frank enough to admit that Vinexpo’s biggest competition has been itself in recent years. So much so the only way it is going to get back on the front foot is if it understands just “how it lost its way” with the Bordeaux show, in particular. A reputation, he believes, stems largely from being seen, over a long period of time, as being stuck in an “ivory tower” looking down from Bordeaux on the rest of the world. A perception that slowly drained confidence and support for the show.
Lameyse is anxious not to place any blame on his predecessor, Guillaume Deglise, whom he praises for having put in many of the steps and changes that he is now able to capitalise on. If anything he was the “right man at the wrong time”, said Lameyse.
He sees the future of Vinexpo as building a reputation for running seriously focused, smaller premium trading and buying events. Where the focus is providing the most effective platform in which to do business, supported by quality, in-depth, expert content that together offer experienced, quality producers and buyers a new experience to trade in.
That’s what the new Vinexpo is going to be all about. Not a business that measures success by the size of the event, but how effective it was in allowing buyers and producers to do what they were there for. Do business, trade, make contacts, network and enjoy a quality wine and spirits experience.
For him the days of Vinexpo running 70,000 sq metre shows are over. The biggest he thinks it would get to would be 30,000-50,000. If you want a “Twitter-style” show, said Lameyse, and have a meeting “every 140 seconds” then don’t come to Vinexpo’s events in the future. “If you want to spend time to learn and discover then come to Vinexpo.”
He admitted it’s a delicate balance to get right, as clearly you need a volume of visitors to make it worthwhile, but “it’s hard to keep the quality high in a big show,” he said.
This new show format is what he plans to build for the first week in June 2021 when Vinexpo Bordeaux re-opens its doors not at the dreaded Congres et Expositions, but right in the heart of this famous wine city. It makes perfect sense for it to use the Chamber of Commerce’s connections to open up some of its most prestigious buildings, including the Palais de la Bourse and the Grand Théatre to re-create a very different kind of show. “All within the magic triangle of Bordeaux,” said Lameyse.
An event that Lameyse even hesitates to call a traditional trade exhibition, preferring to label it as part exposition, part wine fashion show. “Vinexpo Bordeaux as we used to know it is over,” he stressed.
Instead of up to 1,000 exhibitors, this new format event will only have 200 producers taking part, with a strong focus on attracting leading international names. Giving buyers the space and time to have serious conversations and take part in high level symposiums, masterclasses and conferences.
“Having top quality content is really important for us. Not just a calendar of events for the sake of it,” he said.
Lameyse said the idea of running Vinexpo in and around the Bordeaux en primeurs was looked at, but was quickly dismissed as it would have not been possible to have the two events running alongside each other.
All eyes on Paris
By the time June 2021 comes around Lameyse would have been in his role for just over two years and we can have expected plenty of changes to have happened between now and then. In fact he argues there won’t be a more dynamic, and fast moving exhibition company in the wine business.
The most immediate challenge comes in February and the inaugural Vinexpo Paris event it is holding alongside and in partnership with Wine Paris. It’s clear Lameyse has high hopes for what Vinexpo can achieve in Paris, and how it is already being talked about as its main flagship event in Europe.
The decision to partner up with Wine Paris was one he claimed he made himself, and was the only practical solution to get out of the impossible situation of hosting a separate Vinexpo only event a month earlier, which had been the original plan. “It would have been counter productive,” said Lameyse, before adding it would have been a “huge mistake”. “We have been able to fix it for the benefit of everyone,” he added.
Whether this is the start of an on-going relationship between the two exhibitions remains to be seen with 2020 being seen as very much a trial to assess what would be best for the future. “We are all happy and there is an opportunity to deepen the relationship if it works well. Let’s see what happens,” he said.
Wine Paris after all is owned by Comexposium, one of the biggest trade show organisers in the world, across multiple sectors, and has its own ambitious plans to grow its event.
Lameyse, however, is quick to water down any speculation that this could be the start of some sort of takeover of Vinexpo by Comexposium. That is not on Vinexpo’s agenda, he stressed.
Two separate shows
What we can expect in Paris is two very distinct shows. With Wine Paris representing most of the regions of France, whilst Vinexpo will be hosting and promoting the international stands and standalone, dedicated spirits area.
Of the 24,000 sq m around 60% of the space will be for Wine Paris and 40% for Vinexpo. Within that 25% of the exhibitors will be international and if it proves successful, then Lameyse would like to see more New World producers taking part. It might also be an opportunity for Vinexpo to re-engage with Australian and Californian producers again after they have mostly given up on the Bordeaux event.
Vinexpo Paris will also see its new approach to spirits, with a bespoke standalone spirits section, where it has already attract major players such as Moët Hennessy. It is also working with leading bars and mixologists in Paris to take the drinks on show at Vinexpo onto the back bars to enjoy in the evenings.
This new focus on spirits will really be cemented when Vinexpo plans to host its next buyers’ Explorer event in a key spirit producing country.
Lameyse also thinks there is an opportunity for it to run an entirely spirits based show in the near future. “When we get a critical mass we can look to have our own spirits show,” he said.
Hong Kong commitment
Despite the huge uncertainty in the city following months of rioting and unrest, Lameyse told The Buyer that he had made the decision, on a visit to the city the week before, that its May 2020 Vinexpo Hong Kong show will go ahead.
It’s clearly not been an easy process and he admits there is still a Plan B in place to quickly re-arrange and host in Singapore if the situation in Hong Kong becomes untenable. But as conditions stand at the moment, Lameyse said he felt it was important that Vinexpo stands by the Hong Kong wine industry and commits now to host the event there.
“Vinexpo has always supported its partners around the world when they are in trouble,” he said. “It was important for us to make a decision and people wanted to know what our position was.”
He still hoped the show would attract the same level of exhibitors and buyers, but conceded there may well be a small drop due to the troubles.
As we come to near the end of 2019 it’s clear Lameyse would rather look forward than rake over the past. He said he feels like the business has had a “shot of adrenaline” in recent weeks as it looks to adapt and re-invent itself with new ideas and bringing new skills into the business, including the new dedicated spirits team.
In time he would like to bring more of an international feel to the Vinexpo team to better represent where it is doing business around the world. To do so means finding the right kind of person, said Lameyse, who can be “brave” enough to take “bold decisions” and be “resilient” enough to work in what can be a tough business running wine exhibitions.
2020 is arguably going to be the most important in Vinexpo’s near 40 year history. First comes the spotlight of the show in Paris, quickly followed by its event in New York, and then the new pressure surrounding its key Hong Kong show in May.
If Lameyse is still in as buoyant a mood after those events as he was when we met yesterday then Vinexpo will be back in much better place.