Thankfully, the part about an entire year being wasted is a slight exaggeration. Also, it only applies to business and, to be more accurate, mostly to the manufacturing industry.
To give you proper perspective to the subject matter at hand, we need to go back all the way to the 1950s, a time in history when Finland was still paying war reparations to the Soviet Union. They were dark times, but also an era that saw the nation working persistently and gaining a great deal of industrial know-how.
In 1950, the first General Trade Fair was organized in Tampere, a major Finnish city with long-lasting tradition in industrial development and host to the first electric light lit in the Nordic countries in 1882.
From then on, the trade fair would be held once every four years. As time passed, the event continued to grow, until eventually it had evolved into something so large that a proper organization had become necessary to manage it.
That is why nearly half a century ago, in 1967, Tampere Trade Fairs Ltd. was established to support this development.
What started from the managing of a single event has since grown significantly. With its wide variety of 15–20 events, Tampere Trade Fairs today attracts around 150,000 visitors annually.
As it turns out, among this selection, there is one event to rule them all…
Even in the digital era, products have to be manufactured. In Finland, the roots of technology engineering and industrial subcontracting go deep.
The Big One for the Little Ones
In the past few years, Industrial PRIME has travelled a lot and learned even more. In most cases our destination has been outside of Finland, but that does not mean Finland has nothing to offer. On the contrary.
Take the world’s tallest buildings as an example. They may be designed and built by someone else, but it is in many cases Finnish innovation and technology that will take you all the way to the top.
Another fine example is MS Harmony of the Seas, currently the largest passenger ship in the world. The Finns did not build it, but it is powered by their technology (although plenty of equally impressive cruise ships are in fact built in Finland these days). As for the automotive industry, tens of thousands of cutting-edge ”German” cars are built and assembled in Finland every year.
Our point, in case you missed it, is that companies and people who are able to deliver such quality are gathering in Tampere each year come September. The big event in question is the international Subcontracting Trade Fair.
Subcontracting was organized for the first time in 1988. It all began from an idea to create a trade fair targeted at smaller industrial companies rather than the big players. Keeping their needs in mind, an idea began to unfold for an event where the threshold for participating would be low enough and the setting such that the big exhibitors would not be able to steal the show.
According to Mr Hannu Vähätalo, Tampere Trade Fairs CEO since 2001, the first event turned out to be an enormous success.
“It took the organizers completely by surprise,” he recalls. “It attracted roughly 200 exhibitors and as many as 10,000 visitors. It was way beyond what they had anticipated.”
The basic idea of Subcontracting has not changed over the years, nor has the significance of the event. In 2015, the trade fair attracted nearly 17,000 visitors, while the number of exhibitors was close to a thousand.
For its organizer, it has grown into the most important event of the year. What once used to be managed by a project manager aided by an assistant now requires a project team of more than ten people working practically the year round.
Three Days of Prosperity
Needless to say, the economic effect of Subcontracting is not limited to its organizer: during those three days in September, the entire city of Tampere becomes alive.
Organizing the trade fair itself keeps approximately 500 people busy, but thanks to the thousands of people flocking into the city, numerous other businesses get to thrive as well.
“We always hear it from the local hotels, restaurants, and taxi companies that this is without exception their best week of the year,” Vähätalo points out. “The revenue raked in by the city can be five to ten times as much as what we earn with the event itself.”
Tampere is not only strong in tradition, it is also thriving in many ways as we speak. More and more Finns are choosing to settle in the city. In August, a notable newspaper even said that Tampere is now growing like Dubai. It might sound like an amusing comparison, but in a way it is true, as the skyline and landscape of the city are being shaped with man-made islands and sky-high buildings.
Tampere was founded between two lakes linked by the Tammerkoski rapids, which runs through the city. In the picture you can see the Metsä Board Tako board mill, one of the few urban manufacturing plants remaining in Europe. It was established in 1865 as a groundwood mill, and today it produces the finest cardboard products in the world. During the past 150 years, the mill and the city have grown as one, and the mill has served as a reminder of the city’s industrial heritage for generations ever since.
If it is the city of Tampere that has traditionally benefited from Subcontracting, it now looks like the city is beginning to repay its debt. For years, the events organized by Tampere Trade Fairs have been suffering due to the city’s limited capacity for attending visitors. Now it looks like all this is about to change.
Considering the importance of Subcontracting, we are not surprised to hear that plenty of time and effort is devoted to planning the event each year. Once the doors are closed after Day 3 and the dust is only planning to start settling, the preparations for the next year’s event are already in full swing.
And the preparations are made properly – very much so. Mr Vähätalo tells us that he will never lose his sleep over Day 1 or the subsequent days. That is how much he trusts the professional grip of his team.
Quality over Quantity
Industrial PRIME has been curious to find out how is it possible to constantly keep developing an event such as Subcontracting. Obviously, it is crucial to stay up-to-date on all the current trends moulding various industries. But what else does it take?
According to Mr Vähätalo, the event is likely to maintain its core in the years to come as well. Subcontracting is and always will be a meeting place for buyers and sellers, the majority of its visitors being purchasing managers, other members of management, as well as people involved in R&D.
“This very basic need will never change. That’s why Subcontracting is so important to so many people.”
In fact the event is so important that three days of actual, physical trade fair in a year may no longer be enough. That is why Tampere Trade Fairs is planning to make Subcontracting virtual as well, thus extending its lifespan and making it into a year-round event.
“Our customers could have a virtual exhibition stand that is an exact replica of the one they had in the physical trade fair,” Vähätalo explains. “That would give them the opportunity to be present and communicate with their customers constantly.”
Our final question is related to the international nature of Subcontracting. Currently, non-Finnish companies comprise roughly one tenth of the exhibitors, while the share of international visitors is slightly smaller. Is there a plan to make the event more international and try to attract more visitors from around the globe?
Vähätalo says that they do place emphasis on this aspect of Subcontracting, but more is not the operative word here. Instead, it is the quality of the visitors and exhibitors that matters, rather than the quantity.
“Instead of trying to attract visitors from all over the world at once, we prefer to place our focus on individual, potential target groups and regions. We are on a constant lookout for interesting regions, trying to find local trade fair organizers and form mutually beneficial partnerships with them.”
At the time of our interview, Mr Vähätalo is actually getting ready for a trip to Tatarstan, a federal republic of the Russian Federation.
“It is an interesting, growing region with plenty of industrial activity and new industrial zones in the plans,” he explains. “They are interested in buying technology from countries like Finland. That is what we want to do: find something interesting and then try to make them interested in us.”
Considering the vast amounts of outstanding Finnish skill and quality squeezing into the Tampere Exhibition and Sports Centre between 27 and 29 September, it should not be too hard to convince them.
Perhaps you would even like to join in yourself!
Text and images by Industrial PRIME
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