If you go to Medica, bring your Birkenstocks.
The annual event on the fairgrounds of Dusseldorf, Germany, bills itself as the world's largest healthcare trade show. And it's tough to argue.
Filling 12 exhibit halls, this year's show will blanket about twice the space of either of North America's biggest healthcare extravaganzas-the MedTrade Exposition and Conference, and the Radiological Society of North America's annual conference. Medica is expected to draw double the number of visitors at RSNA and quadruple the attendees at MedTrade.
Chalk up the show's success to German tradition. Trade shows in Germany stem from centuries of church-sponsored open markets, says Noel Hoekstra, senior director of marketing for the North American subsidiary of Messe Dusseldorf, the company that owns the show. Messe is the German word for "market" and "mass." Dusseldorf alone is home to more than 40 international trade shows. The city on the Rhine River was designated as a heavy manufacturing center by West German leaders, who used central planning to revive the economy after World War II. Thus began its entry into healthcare technologies such as X-ray machines and magnetic resonance imaging. Dusseldorf is also home to several major pharmaceutical companies.
Medica started 30 years ago to promote the region's products, and it expanded to cover the whole healthcare buying spectrum except for dentistry. (Mercifully, Germany has a separate show for that.)
One-stop shopping for everything from helicopters to surgical supplies may seem an outdated approach given healthcare specialization. Yet attendance and demand for exhibit space have steadily risen during the 1990s. Next year, Medica will expand available exhibit space by 37%, to more than 1 million square feet.
Even U.S. companies are clamoring to participate. About 200 U.S. firms will exhibit this year, but many more are on a wait list.
Unlike U.S. trade shows, which are often adjuncts to educational conferences sponsored by specialty societies, European trade shows are held for their own sake.
"This is pure capitalism," says Rick Galloway, director of the particle technology division of Seradyn, an Indianapolis-based medical diagnostics firm and a five-year Medica veteran. "The people with the goods want to sell, and the people who come to see the show want to buy."
Medica is aiming to be a global draw for exhibitors and attendees. North American attendees numbered about 2,600 last year. As part of next year's expansion, Medica will try to attract more Americans, particularly upper-level purchasing managers at hospitals and clinics and physicians interested in the latest technology, Hoekstra says.
Medica offers a comprehensive view of advances in areas in which Europe excels, such as biotechnology. The show is a good place for U.S. consultants to gauge the needs of Europeans, Hoekstra says.
But regarding comfortable footwear, Hoekstra, who's based in Chicago, prefers a U.S. product. "I personally support the Rockport company," she says.