I was recently invited by Europe’s biggest pond products manufacturer, OASE, to attend training on their new products and to be their guest at the world’s biggest home show – the Spoga/GAFA (International Trade Fair for Sport, Camping and Garden Lifestyle/International Garden Trade Fair). I left from Los Angeles on a Thursday afternoon and arrived in Cologne, Germany on Friday. There’s a nine-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Germany, however, any tiredness I felt soon vanished, as the adrenaline started to kick in from being in Europe. This was my first trip to Germany and everyone told me to visit the Cologne Cathedral, which I did the day after I got there.
Since the hotel was so close to the airport, I took a taxi and arrived in about 20 minutes. Upon checking in, I stopped by the hotel restaurant and saw America’s OASE Rep Frayne McAtee and the Canadian Rep Rob Mackay. We sat to discuss what to expect from the GAFA show. We also discussed the changing pond climate in the United States. We decided to explore the area, as there were many fine restaurants and German breweries along the Rhine River. One is hard pressed to not gasp for breath as you first catch sight of the amazing stature of the Cathedral. It took some 600 years to complete and is rich with history and treasures.
We had dinner on the riverfront and continued our discussion of European pond building vs. US pond building and there are definitely BIG differences. One BIG difference is that the European pond builder puts energy conservation at the top of the priority list. It seems that the whole European culture looks at energy conservation as a way of life. If you’ve ever watched a movie filmed in Europe, such as the current James Bond movie, you will notice the overall size of European cars. They are built to conserve fuel and energy. They take this same approach to pond building.
The next day, I met up with the Editor of Water Garden News, Brian Hutchins and our friend Steve, a distributor out of Kansas City to go out to dinner. We again ended up on the Rhine riverfront and enjoyed a great German dinner. We got back to the hotel a little after midnight, in preparation for the start of the big GAFA show, which was set to begin the following day.
Sunday morning saw a North American force of about 15 distributors, contractors and OASE reps board the prearranged bus to take us to the famed GAFA show. Did I mention that GAFA is the world’s largest home show? In a good economy, it boasts over 100,000 attendees and will take you days to cover. It has booths related to water gardening, general gardening, patio furnishings, horse riding apparel, play equipment, soils and fertilizers, plant nurseries and way more!
Upon arriving, I headed straight for the water garden area. This segment of the show was about as big as the whole Landscape Industry Show which is hosted by the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) each February. Water gardening is really big in Europe! The average booth was about 10´ x 10´. The OASE booth was right at the entry and was an incredible (approx) 150´ x 150´. I had never seen such a large booth. In fact, OASE had the largest booth in the water gardening area.
One very interesting difference between American Shows I have seen and the GAFA is that the large GAFA booths had table, chairs and sofas and some even hosted full bar for current and potential clients! These bars included not only drinks, but also desserts, the BEST German chocolate you’ve ever tasted and entertainment. It’s easy to see why the GAFA is only every other year, as much effort is made to make this a world-class event.
The GAFA has a “Best Innovation in New Products” booth. And the winner (judged by an independent panel) was OASE’s new “FiltoMatic CWS” water garden filter. I feel this is going to play an important role in the American pond world, once it becomes available in the US, which is sometime later this year. This innovation winner actually cleans itself…Automatically! Congratulations to OASE and their team of engineers!
OASE sponsors a huge company buffet dinner and literally took over the restaurant! I estimate there were over 500 guests. I truly enjoyed meeting reps from all over the world including Bahrain, China, Estonia, and over 30 other countries! After the food, dancing, German beer and camaraderie, we returned to the hotel.
The next day I attended a presentation on OASE’s FiltoMatic CWS Box and several other new products for 2009. The FiltoMatic CWS not only cleans your pond, it actually cleans itself out, which would be like having a vacuum cleaner automatically vacuum the house, then it steps outside to empty itself out in your trash can. I am still amazed, but after careful scrutiny, it all makes sense and I can’t believe someone didn’t think of this sooner. To make it easier to remember, it has been nicknamed the “Magic Box.”
Tuesday morning, we went back to the GAFA show and walked the floor till we could walk no more. The next day (my last full day), I was able to network with other pond professionals and bring them up to speed with what is going on in the US market. They were excited to hear about the industry coalition, which is being spearheaded by the IPPCA and the IA, to bring some sense to the “Water Sense” program.
My conversations with the European pond building community has helped me to see the importance of what the Europeans have to offer in the way of technology. I leaned a lot and it was a really great trip.