05/07/2013 12:00 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

Please Don't Call This a Trade Show

Frankfurt might be known as the financial capital of Europe, but veterans of (many) industries know the grey city on the Main river for another destination there: Messe Frankfurt, a state-owned, privately-helped company that puts on some very impressive trade shows, including the world's largest music (April), motor (September) and books (October) shows.

Each February (and again in August), Messe Frankfurt hosts Ambiente, the world's largest (seeing a trend here?) consumer goods and indoor trade fair. This winter's show featured 42 kilometers of aisles in 27 halls. Suffice to say, it is nearly impossible for this year's 140,000 visitors to see everything, which includes pots and pans, outdoor furniture, fabric and personal accessories, and a lot of dishes and dinnerware! But regular tradeshow-goers really appreciate its production value and perks, like seemingly endless coffee (cappuccino and espresso, this being Europe), flowing Champagne (the real stuff), impressive displays, unexpected guests and special performances -- civilized and even luxurious, two terms not typically synonymous with trade shows. Perhaps that's why they prefer the term "fair."

Frankfurt has hosted trade shows since 1240, when commodities like silk and spices were, well, traded. Twenty-five years ago, Messe Frankfurt saw the potential for growth outside of Europe and today it is the largest trade show organizer in Asia, with 600 employees in China alone. Last year they put on 109 trade fairs in more than 30 locations.

At a time when European countries are figuring out how to retain their cultural identities and boast their national pride, the show is remarkably un-German (except perhaps in its impressive organization!). This year, 75 percent of the exhibitors (4,500) total) and 50 percent of the buyers who attended Ambiente were from outside of Germany. By contrast, Salone del Mobile, the Italian home design show, which runs in April in Milan, requires Italian origins to exhibit in some areas.

Another measure of ensuring the show's continued success, and value among the design cognoscenti, is Talents, which showcases the work of young and emerging designers, selected by a small jury from a large pool of applicants in a variety of categories, whose travel and expenses is completely paid for. This year, there was one Talents section for dining and another for furniture.

Nicolette Naumann, Vice President of Consumer Goods Fair, Messe Frankfurt, says "This is a show about new function, not a trend show. It's a very commercial show, with a lot of buying power." Which actually makes it right at home in Frankfurt, after all.

Please don't call this a trade show