Orgatec 2014, Cologne

ORGATEC: New visitor record at the C+P booth

While the total number of visitors at Orgatec 2014 only slightly topped the level of the previous event, C+P set a new record: there were never so many documented trade show contacts as this year.

"At times there wasn't even any standing room," says a member of the trade show team. Despite or precisely because of this large number of visitors – the atmosphere at the C+P booth was again excellent this year, too. What's more, there were countless "light bulb moments" – partly because of the amazing integration of technology in elegant furniture and partitions, partly because of the entertaining and watchable video about the new conference table system Cegano Meeting – you can watch the 1 ½-minute video here!

As for the entire event, we are pleased to have acquired with Hans Ottomann a longstanding industry insider as a guest author. Here he takes stock of this year's trade show:

Orgatec 2014:

A pure feel-good atmosphere?

On five days, Orgatec, the biennial "Leading International Trade Fair for Office & Facility" in Cologne, Germany, attracted 50,000 visitors and 624 exhibitors from 41 countries to the 105,000 square meter exhibition area. This year's general theme: coziness and comfort in the office.

These numbers do not vary much from the results of the trade show two years ago – generously viewed, the event broke even again. But let there be no doubt: an office furniture supplier, be it a manufacturer or dealer, which denies the benefits of this "leading trade fair for the office world," has got something wrong. In this sense, it is regrettable for the whole industry that some leading suppliers avoided the exhibition halls again this time or for the first time: Ahrend, Bene, Kinnarps, Steelcase, Wini, etc. But it is common knowledge that all exhibition corporations know perfectly how to talk up a rather negative situation as a brilliant one. And like whenever the number of visitors is not outstanding, they always point out the famous "quality of the decision-makers." Katharina C. Hamma, general manager of the “Koelnmesse”: “All the right decision-makers and dealers attended, so Orgatec consistently measured up to the ambitious expectations." "Consistently", that sounds like "actually." In this manner, some exhibitions were hyped year after year, although they all bit the dust sooner or later – which Hermes, the god of merchants, may forbid in Cologne!

Time after time 50,000 visitors, time after time "of outstanding quality" – there is no progress. Obviously the industry has got cozily settled at a mediocre level, even though the attitude in the economy is positive, there is no slump in sight, and people in the office have never been as valuable as today.

Despite all the obvious warnings, there was a good atmosphere at Orgatec 2014, if anything accompanied by its twin sister known as calculated optimism. After all, a feel-good atmosphere was willingly spread around: neither light, nor acoustics as predicted, dominated the event. The leading theme of this leading trade fair was comfort. Especially the seating furniture suppliers played a big part here. Feel as comfortable in the office as at home, that is the unwritten New Work Order nowadays. That's the solution, the manufacturers signalized, then office workers will perform better than if they are sitting at tables that look like – well, like tables in an office. So in the future the office will be like a living room, comfy and cozy and probably without tables. Modern office nomads work with their notebook on their knees, or often only with a small iPad, while sitting or lying on the couch like the Romans of old, who also worked, ate, slept, and sometimes horsed around there. It seems grotesque: after all these more or less well-paid managers outfitted their homes in a cool, pure, elegant, white and black style using the interior design know-how they acquired during their working life, now they are even looking for the warmth in a comfy office which is lacking at home. That used to work the other way around.

So soft seating is the catchword now. Almost every manufacturer offers lounge furniture apart from the classic core competence of office furniture. The high islands of retreat for the middle zone are covered with felt, and not just them. Felt wherever you look. And mysteriously the right angles disappear in the felt, the corners are round with protruding radii, and the supporting steel skeleton of high couch rests has moved downwards. No doubt about it, this helps the felt furniture manufacturers to increase their production complexity dramatically. That is expensive, and how it is possible to make money with some felt couches in lounge areas remains to be seen. For an office consists, there's no changing that, of tables, basic office workstations with swivel chairs, pedestals, and cabinets. Tables are still the most characteristic feature of an office, and the suppliers still generate their profits from them and from cabinets. Albeit under the thumb of the New Work Order promoted by bso (Association for Office, Seating and Contract Furniture) and declared dead by the Fraunhofer IAO, their resurrection has been seen here and there (Haworth) with new material, made from recycled polyester, or sustainably produced from shredded PET bottles. That not only makes them lighter but also allows completely different colors and shapes.

Real product innovations? Apparently innovation today consists in interpreting the new office concepts. On closer examination, there still are some beautiful new products, chiefly in the areas of seating and new materials. Sedus for example displayed an attractive chair for meetings and performing brief tasks at a table – without any mechanical components; its entire mobility originates from the material. Other highlights included attractive surfaces with haptic experience, HPL (high pressure laminate) coated tops in stunning colors and "self-healing" surfaces; scratches disappear on their own thanks to a special coating (Renz). And repeatedly praised: the consistent technology integration in workstations at C+P makes it possible for everyone to attend meetings with a tablet and be immediately ready for presentations; at the same time smartphones are quickly charged by induction without cables – and the media wall is controlled with the flush-fitting controller in the tabletop. All of this topped off, unusually at furniture manufacturers, by solutions for energy-saving indoor climate control using partitions with a chilled water film running down them. Great!

One person was especially pleased: the ergonomist Prof. Dr. Dieter Lorenz from Gießen, Germany, who used Orgatec intensively to present the new vocational course Office Consulting offered by the Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences. "The feedback was good," he pointed out, "the industry finally seems to have understood that the lasting success of the companies cannot be ensured by selling at low prices." 

And perhaps they will also understand that they should allow themselves a display window, or a platform at an international level, to present a united front at least every other year. All things are Orgatec, but everything is nothing without Orgatec.

Hans Ottomann