If you had told Rodolphe Lameyse at the end of Vinexpo Bordeaux in mid May 2019 that he could proudly claim to a press conference in January 2020 that he was now part responsible for steering what could be the biggest trade exhibition organiser for wine and spirits in the world then he probably would not have believed you. Vinexpo, as a trade event, was probably at its lowest ebb. But now thanks to a new joint venture with Comexposium, one of the world’s biggest exhibition companies, he can now lead his team into next month’s first Vinexpo Paris event full of renewed vigour and confidence.
February’s Vinexpo Paris will be the first time the new joint venture with Comexposium and Wine Paris will be there for the trade to see.
When Jürgen Klopp took over as manager of Liverpool in October 2015 he famously told the fans the first challenge everyone connected to the club – be it himself, the players, the ground staff, or the supporters – was to change: “We have to change from doubter to believer.”
Four years on and you just have to look at how far that message has been understood and executed. Liverpool won the Champions League for sixth time last June and are currently 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League having not lost a league game for over a year.
Now we can’t expect the turnaround to happen quite as fast or as dramatically at Vinexpo, the international wine and spirits trade show business that has more than lost its way in recent years, swept aside by the ProWein juggernaut.
But it is certainly an analogy that chief executive, Rodolphe Lameyse, could relate and aspire to when I suggested he faced a similar challenge in trying to turn around the industry’s perception towards his own business.
One things for sure he does not have the time that Klopp has had to turn things round, or a patient, fanatical fan base ready to wait and willing him on to weave his magic.
He certainly started his new career at Vinexpo with a baptism of fire, taking control of its Bordeaux show last May at arguably its darkest hour, with only one of the normal three halls filled. This highly experienced trade show operator, with many years at Reed Exhibitions under his belt, must have wondered what he had let himself in for.
Just over half a year later and the mood at this month’s Vinexpo briefing could not have been more different. It’s like he has been on an undefeated streak of games himself.
The game changer
The big game changer came last week, in what in football terms, could be described as one of the biggest deals of all time with the news that Vinexpo had agreed to sign a new joint venture with Comexposium, the world’s third largest trade fair operator. A move that, they claim, has now created the number one player in the world in running wine and spirits trade shows, with already a combined 78,000 visitors and 5,900 exhibitors from 140 countries attending their respective shows.
For as well as Vinexpo’s shows in Bordeaux, New York, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Comexposium also runs the World Bulk Wine Exhibition, Vinisud and Wine Paris where Vinexpo will be joining forces to put on a combined show for the first time in February.
It’s no wonder that Lameyse was in such a bullish mood. It’s been quite a tumultuous few months for the business as it has had to continue surrounded by mounting uncertainty and rumours about its long term future. You can see why he is so happy to get the news about the transformative Comexposium deal out in the open.
“Over the last 10 to 11 months we have come from a company that was in a corner, to one that is back in business and on the front line,” he said.
The time, he added, had come to stop making “excuses” for itself and not give any reason for a potential customer to have “compassion” or, at worse, “pity” for the state it had got itself into. “We have been through a huge turnaround, but we also know we have a lot still to do,” explained Lameyse.
He noticeably picked up on the need for a change in the “mindset” and “attitude” of the business and what it can “bring to the market and to our customers, whether they are exhibitors, buyers or trade partners”. The message is loud and clear: “We’re back in business!”
Working with Comexposium
Lameyse also conceded he had been under pressure and a time frame for the Vinexpo board to come up with a new business strategy that would make it viable in the future.
It seems his experience at Reed Exhibitions was also crucial in the Comexposium deal coming about as he had once worked at Reed with Laurent Noel, now a division director at Comexposium. It was their joint vision that could see the logic – and potential magic – in the two sides coming together to collaborate on creating what, over night, becomes the world’s biggest wine and spirits events organiser.
On paper it seems an inspired, and for Vinexpo transformative, deal. It doesn’t just take it off the life support machine, but has it jumping out of the hospital bed and rushing out into the daylight with springs on its feet.
It also shows what can be done when you bring outside business expertise into a sector that is notoriously too close to its products to see the vines from the leaves.
Crucially Lameyse says Vinexpo did not hire him for his wine expertise, but his experience of running successful international trade shows and business expertise. And as it turns out his contacts and ability to be able to reach out and “talk the talk” with like-minded trade show organisers, at Comexposium, who itself is still relatively new to wine and spirits.
It’s certainly refreshing to see a business deal of this scale being organised so quietly and discreetly behind the scenes between people who clearly know what they are doing. It should give the wine and spirits sectors a collective sense of confidence that so many of their trusted trade shows have a business of the scale of Comexposium behind the scenes pulling the strings.
Toe to toe with ProWein
That said it not going to to be a walk in the park, and its chief competitor, Messe Dusseldorf and ProWein, is hardly going to take the news sitting down. For it too has ambitious plans of its own to expand its global network across Asia and has just announced it is run its first trade show in South America in Sau Paulo, Brazil in October.
“Prowein is a global opportunity,” is how its director Bastian Mingers explained its strategy to The Buyer this week.
He said it had been clearly “closely watching” the developments between Comexposium and Vinexpo with interest and welcomes the increased competition and is ready to take it on.
“Competition is always good,” he added. “It makes you think about what you are doing and what you are going to do. But we never compare ProWein with Vienxpo but we are overseeing cautiously what they are doing. They still have to prove themselves with this joint venture. Who knows what is going to happen with it? But there are smart trade fair organisers and it will be interesting to see what they do together in Paris. But my feeling is that ProWein is the most international event with the best reputation.”
Joint venture challenge
It’s still not clear, for example, how the ins and outs of the new joint venture between Comexposium and Vinexpo is going to fully work out from a practical point of view. But Lameyse confirmed the strategy for the new business was clear: to create an events business that could offer the wine and spirits sectors shows that cover the three main production areas: bulk; standard/mainstream; and premium, super premium and luxury.
“This is a very important step for Vinexpo and also Comexposium,” said Lameyse.
It would hope, he said, to add to the existing 10 shows with new events in strategic markets. Singapore, for example, could be home for a new South East Asia Vinexpo event at some stage. Hong Kong is likely to have its own standalone Vinexpo spirits fair in the near future.
Lameyse said the direction and ambition for the new business was more important than whatever it is eventually called. “The name is not important, the fact we have a portfolio of strong brands is.”
“The business case for the joint venture is to identify the brand strengths and synergies across the different events,” he explained. It means the new group can potentially work with their customers across all areas of their business, which quit often straddles working in bulk, standard and premium, stressed Lameyse.
Whilst Vinexpo is clearly not the right profile or event for a bulk operator, the WBWE most certainly is.
The scale of the Comexposium business means Vinexpo, for example, now potentially has access to 22 of its offices around the world, with all the local support that comes with them, as well as the Wine Paris team in Paris and WBWE operating from Rome.
It will be that level of local support that will be crucial in helping it to achieve its ultimate goal to be more attractive and relevant to a wider base of wine and spirits buyers in all the key markets, he explained. “This is a fantastic opportunity to have a bigger footprint in different countries. We will be making a big investment in creating a network of buyers around the world.”
All eyes on Paris
The first test of how all this is going to work in practice will come in Paris next month with the first joint event between Wine Paris and Vinexpo. Or in reality two separate shows with different content and exhibitors running alongside each other.
Whereas Wine Paris will have a bigger focus on more independent and smaller growers with its ViniSud hall, Vinexpo will be focused more on the premium end of the market with the bigger brand names across wines and spirits with the latter having its own dedicated section, Be Spirits.
Vinexpo says its Hong Kong show in May is most definitely going ahead, despite concerns about the on-going protests in the city. Lameyse says bookings for the show were a little down on what he would have liked but still expects to have an 12,00 sq m event compared to 13,000 sq m in 2018.
But considering the pace of change that has taken place within Vinexpo over the last six months, May must seem a little further down the line.
We will also have a clearer idea by then just how this new joint venture with Comexposium is going to work. In fact now the news is out, one of its new challenges might be to manage and control expectations over how much it can achieve.
Going back to our Liverpool and Klopp analogy Lameyse said the new company was probably not ready to win the equivalent of the Champions League just yet, but the plan and the strategy is there to give it a go in the future.