We had an interesting interview with Joachim Schäfer, who has been the managing director of the Caravan Salon Düsseldorf for the last 12 years. Before he retired (on 1st October) we wanted to collect some interesting stories from this wise and experienced manager. We also welcome the new MD, Wolfram Diener, and look forward to meeting him in the future.
Words Antonio Mazzucchelli
Aboutcamp BtoB: You have been the engine of this salon for 12 years…
Joachim Schäfer: I have loved this industry, and I will continue to. I think it is spectacular and that there is a lot of growth still ahead for it. In particular, I think there are still a lot of possibilities and challenges for the new technology, but the challenge for the industry is also to be able to provide the customers with a range of products they can afford.
Aboutcamp BtoB: When did you start working at the Caravan Salon?
Joachim Schäfer: I started working at Düsseldorf Messe 12 years ago, and it is 10 years since I’ve had full responsibility of the Caravan Salon Event. Before that, I’d lived in the USA for 33 years. I have managed a lot of different, big international shows, from medical devices to beauty, tubing, rehabilitation and wiring. As a camper myself, I’ve always looked at the Caravan Salon almost as a hobby. I have a very high propensity as a consumer, and my professional obligations match my personal interests.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How big was the Caravan Salon when you joined the team, and what is it like now?
Joachim Schäfer: It has grown a lot, but in alignment with the development of the economy and the availability of disposable income for consumers. In the 2007-08, the financial situation was at rock bottom for the industry. In Germany and other EU countries we faced up to 80-90,000 unsold vehicles standing in parking lots, with no buyers. This oversupply was the most difficult time, but the industry dealt with it. Once the economy improved, the industry made structural and business changes, plus acquisitions, and then new brands and investors came in. The industry now tells us that it looks healthy, and while the overall sales and activities in the market places are still strong, the momentum has started slowing, and the industry could have problems again. At least, this is how the experts in our commission see it. What I find fascinating about this sector is the fact that it is still composed, for the most part, by small and mid-sized companies. It is the same in the component sector, and the big American groups would die to enter the EU market. We are going to top at sales of over 200,000 vehicles this year, so I think we have reached, in quantity and volume, levels that make this market very attractive for American suppliers and OEM companies. I think the biggest American groups and businesses are ready to supply our market. What I find charming about this industry, is the level of innovation in the product: the ones you can see showcased here, and the ones it is capable of making in the future.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Do you think it is good if big, powerful groups from America enter the market?
Joachim Schäfer: I don’t know really. It could totally change the industry, but I also don’t think we can hold this back. It’s a natural phenomenon of consolidation of the market. As I said, I mostly enjoyed working at this particular show, compared with others that I’ve been responsible for, because there are still many mid-size companies and family owned companies involved in it. But this is changing rapidly.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What was your biggest challenge at the Caravan Salon?
Joachim Schäfer: First of all, I am proud to have a superb team of capable and passionate people that has not confronted me with many difficulties. The Caravan Salon is not only a product of Messe Düsseldorf, but also the CIVD’s (Caravanning Industry Association) product, and this has been a wonderful collaboration for decades. The challenge today for the associations involved is to be able to present a technology platform that makes it easy for the attendees to find what they are looking for. We try to group certain things based on what looks logical to us, but this means new rules for our customers, which sometimes they don’t like. Over the years, I think we have carefully, selectively and successfully dealt with all this: new challenges are being able to deal with the increasing requests for new, larger spaces at the exhibition, delivering good financial results, the growth in the industry and its projections for the future. We feel a growing demand from the market to supply more space, but we can’t simply add a new hall to the show, which would ruin the structure of the show, and our customers would not be happy. We can’t do it like this. It is a real puzzle that requires a lot of interactions with customers. In this very happy moment of growth, must be able to anticipate the market and expect a moment of levelling-off. The market is not going to decline quickly but, naturally, it will level off. It depends on what the world economy conditions will be like. We must avoid gaps in the show and keep it as international as possible, and equal for larger and smaller companies. We want the Caravan Salon to continue to be an open, neutral platform for the international market. We sometimes see some German groups, even with international members, trying to take some advantage, so it takes a certain level of diplomacy to deal with this and make everybody happy.
Aboutcamp BtoB: We think that grouping the OEM producers together in halls 13 and 14 was a great idea which works well for all.
Joachim Schäfer: Yes, this has been my idea from the start: a stronger sector for component suppliers, for technology innovations, such as chassis, construction, connectivity, energy conservation, lightness, acclimatisation, sanitary. A few years ago, we started to enlarge the OEM sector in Hall 5 but it wasn’t the best location for it. Everybody claimed it to be closer to Hall 13 so, this year, we moved the liners to Hall 5 and we grouped the technology and OEM companies together in Halls 13 and 1.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What was your team’s biggest success?
Joachim Schäfer: The structure of the show, together with the big advertising campaigns by the CIVD has made the Caravan Salon grow a lot. What I like the most has been the Caravanning Centre (camping area), the P1. To me this is such a unique addition to the show. It’s like the church: whatever we preach here is believed in P1 and celebrated there. The intensity of the passion of caravanning people at P1 together with technical people also staying there, make this location the best celebration for the Caravan Salon. I usually go every night myself, to have a beer, listen for rumours, shake hands and meet people of the industry and users. I don’t think there are too many shows with 2,000 vehicles celebrating this passion.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What will you do from now on?
Joachim Schäfer: I have many projects, but first of all I will travel. My wife and I are looking forward to our time away. Next week we will go to Bretagne, in France, hopefully in a car that I will buy this evening: a Bullet T6 van. When our children were young we raised them in America and we all travelled together to many places in the USA. I play guitar and I will have the time, finally, to hire a teacher and improve my style. What I really look forward to is the luxury of being able to learn new things and having time for this.