Show Report: International Hardware Fair 2010

The world's largest tool show convenes in Cologne, Germany.


Cologne, Germany is the center of the hand tool universe.

As tool shows go, this is the Mac-daddy of them all. Although the Cologne International Hardware Fair is not physically as large as it was 10 years ago, its position as the world’s premier venue for the international tool industry remains unchallenged.  

The 2010 edition of the Hardware Fair, which ran from February 28 to March 3, drew an audited 56,500 trade visitors from 124 countries. Of these visitors, 59 percent came from outside of Germany. For comparison, the 2008 show drew 63,000. They came to see the offerings of 2,686 suppliers from 52 countries.

As in prior years, the four-day show is segmented into five categories; Tools, Industrial Supply, Fastening & Fittings, Locks & Fittings and Home Improvement. Tools are far-and-away the largest category, with more than 2,000 exhibiting companies. Industrial Supply came in a distant second with 300 companies, followed by approximately 150 companies in Fasteners.

Any large trade show requires a plan of attack, but that is doubly true for one this size. Fortunately, the show promoters offered online exhibitor directories, appointment setting functions and other resources in advance of the show to help attendees see all the key exhibitors in their areas of business.

Information booths, staffed by multilingual representatives, were located near the entrances to each hall to provide further assistance. Just inside the main hall entrances, floor maps listed each exhibitor on that level. Even so, orienting yourself can be a bit daunting on the morning of the first day, even in a “smaller” show such as the 2010 event, limited as it was to “only” six two-level exhibit halls.  

Inside the halls
Professional attendees to the show soon learn that licensing agreements in Europe take some forms that are uncommon in the United States. For example, Danish cutting and power tool manufacturer, Unimerco’s booth, also displayed a slat wall of MAX rebar tying tools. When we asked about the relationship, Unimerco’s Andy Schenk told us that although the company manufactures its own TJEP line of fuel-cell-powered fastening tools, it is also the European distributor for MAX rebar tools. Simple, right? 

AE Industries of the Netherlands showcased its GOLIATH universal hand crimp tool. The Knipex booth was a mob scene the entire show.

AE Industries of the Netherlands showcased its GOLIATH universal hand crimp tool.

Did you know that Knipex is the largest manufacturer of professional quality
pliers on earth? Neither did we.

This scenario, and endless variations on it, repeat themselves from booth to booth. German company “A” manufactures specific products for company “B” in the United States, but sells them under a different brand in Europe — and licenses them to still another company for sale into Asian markets under a third brand name. French company “D” produces air compressors for United States company “E” under an exclusive license, but is free to sell the same product anywhere else in the world — sometimes under Company ”E” ’s “American” brand.

In Cologne, the beer flows like the Rhine. Einhell of Germany showed some of the best-designed power tools and accessories we have seen.

If there's a bar in the booth, this must be Cologne. Beer, wine and buffets are all standard equipment for trade show booths at the International Hardware Fair. And yes, the beer really is better here, you can trust us on that.

Einhell of Germany showed some of the best-designed power tools and accessories we have seen. This modular table saw and shop vac was a showstopper.

It is a wonderfully bewildering web of global licensing and cross licensing, almost as if all the world’s brands are laid out on a board to play a commerce-based game of RISK. But then, this is Europe after all, the western world’s hub of global sourcing.   

This is precisely what draws so many people here every even-numbered year, including intrepid North American manufacturers who use the Hardware Fair to source products, components and packaging, connect with existing customers from across the world, meet and sell to new clients and study product innovation.

CK Tools (Carl Kammerling International) launched a new line of tool belts, pouches and pads. Kerstin Mehrer, Flexxi-Snake levels.

Formerly based in Wuppertal, Germany, Carl Kammerling International is now based in Great Britain. It showcased a new line of tool belts, pouches and knee pads.

Kerstin Mehrer is not only the face of the Flexxi-Snake flexible leveling tool, she is the company's promotions manager as well. She is wearing a Flexxi-Snake as a belt.

The Hardware Fair’s own research bears this out: over 80 percent of exhibitors at the Hardware Fair came from abroad to find new business partners in Cologne and to cultivate global contacts.

Klein comes home
“Why do we come here? It’s really for the international exposure,” said John McDevitt, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Klein Tools. “Distributors come here from all over the world. Being here helps us to expand and create relationships, meet existing distributors but also meet new distributors. In the last day and a half we’ve had dozens of new contacts with distributors from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world.”

John McDevitt, Klein Tools A customer tests Senco's new Fusion nail gun.

“Distributors come here from all over the world. Being here helps us to expand and create relationships, meet existing distributors but also meet new distributors.”
— John McDevitt, Klein Tools

A customer tests Senco's new Fusion nail gun. The sexy new 15- or 18-gauge finish nailer is powered by a Lithium Ion Phosphate (LiFePo4) battery that can reach an 80 perent charge in just 15 minutes.

Plus, if German companies can sell tools in the United States, then U.S. companies should be able to sell tools here, too, particularly if they have a German heritage like Klein Tools. Mathias Klein would be proud.  

“European hand tool companies are showing up in the United States, so we should be here. We don’t expect to come here and sell a lot of our pliers and screwdrivers with the local competition in Europe. For us, it’s more about meeting international distributors. We also bring product management and purchasing people here to look for ideas, products, and look at who’s out there making products. I think it’s very worthwhile.”

Painting the town Rust-Oleum
Rust-Oleum came to Cologne to introduce new products to the European market and was having a strong show.

“We’ve been having a lot of traffic in the booth. People are interested in the products that we have and specifically the categories that we offer,” said Kurt Hardy, vice president of marketing and R&D, Rust-Oleum Corporation. “We are here because a lot of what we’re offering is really new to these markets; they are solution-oriented products that buyers are finding interesting. We are bringing life to their categories.”

Kurt Hardy, Rust-Oleum. Sylwia Kubala-Sliwka, Kubala tools.

Kurt Hardy, vice president of marketing and R&D for Rust-Oleum takes a stand on the company's new Sure Grips safety step system.

Sylwia Kubala-Sliwka is vice president of Kubala, based in Ustron, Poland, which produces a broad line of masonry hand tools.

One example is Rust-Oleum’s new NR1 “green” stripper, which is being introduced at the show. The product originated in Rust-Oleum’s Belgium operation and is being launched here. The product will be launched in the United States soon, as well.

Another new item is Sure Grips, a made-to-order safety step produced by a British company that Rust-Oleum recently acquired. Sure Grips are available for six different applications from landing covers and stair treads to decking strips. It has a lifespan of more than two million foot passages, making it ideal for permanent installations in industrial environments. The product is being introduced in Europe first; a United States launch will follow.

A Little Giant
Some U.S. companies have been coming here for decades. Little Giant is among them.

“I think this is our 17th year here,” said Art Wing, president of Little Giant Ladder Systems. “We like to think we are one of a few American companies that realizes we have 300 million people in our country but there are five and one-half billion somewhere else. It’s a nice pool to reach after, so we embrace the world markets.”

A headline product this year is the new Select Step, which Little Giant is billing as the ultimate stepladder.

Art Wing, president,  Little Giant Ladders Shooting sparks in the Pferd booth.

One of Little Giant's five new product  introductions at the Cologne show was the SelectStep ladder, which features 11 innovations and 7 new patents.

With its long dominance in the United States market, one can be forgiven for thinking of Pferd as one of "America's" premier brands, but it was born just a few miles from Cologne in 1799.

“This ladder has 11 innovations and seven new patents. About 70 percent of ladders consumed in the United States are either 6- or 8-foot stepladders. This will give you all of those plus a whole lot more. We’ve put wider rungs on it and added a great platform feature to it. You could stand up here all day long. We’ve integrated the spreader bar, added wheels so you don’t have to carry it — and most of these features are patented. And it will still do what Little Giants are famous for — work on staircases.”

Another innovation is a stepladder design that ships and stores in warehouses and retail showrooms in 40 percent less space than a standard ladder.

“We’re an interesting company in that we embrace globalization: we have a factory in Shanghai, one in Beijing and a half-million square feet in Utah,” Wing adds. “We love coming to Europe; we like being in the world markets and we really enjoy being innovators.”

Stabila, a local favorite
European companies with established U.S. divisions, including Stabila, use the Cologne show as a launch point for global product introductions as well. Based in Annweiler, Germany, Stabila’s high-end measuring tools are renowned worldwide.

Jason Becker, of the company’s metro Chicago office, was introducing new model 196E electronic level.

Jason Becker, Stabila The next International Hardware Fair runs March 4-7, 2012. We'll see you there.

Stabila's Jason Becker proudly shows off the new Model 196E digital level.

The next International Hardware Fair runs March 4-7, 2012. We'll see you there.

“The 196E’s electronic module is IP65 rated for ingress protection,” he said. “This module will withstand water spray without being damaged. This level will last longer for the
concrete contractor, which makes a big difference in a premium product.”

Walking the aisles of the show, you begin to get a feel for which companies are market leaders and which are second-string players in their markets. The highest profile brands are often the busiest, although this not a hard rule. Innovators attract attention, too and one of the most exciting things about this show is that you never know what you will see in the next booth. One thing is certain, you will see things here that you won’t see back home for a year, two years or maybe never.

An embarrassment of riches
To paraphrase John McDevitt of Klein Tool, the International Hardware Fair is “very worthwhile” to say the least. If you have considered attending in the past but have not
for budgetary or other reasons, we suggest you begin making plans now for 2012. You will be glad you did. But if you do attend, be warned: wear good walking shoes!

The 2012 International Hardware Fair takes place March 4-7, 2012 in Cologne, Germany. For information on registering either as an attendee or an exhibitor, travel and lodging options, tips on visiting Germany, conducting international business and a host of other resources, visit the Web site: