Interview: Vinexpo CEO Guillaume Deglise9th May, 2014 by Patrick Schmitt
New Vinexpo CEO Guillaume Deglise tells Patrick Schmitt why he’s making major changes to the show organiser’s exhibitions in Hong Kong and Bordeaux
LET’S FACE it, among the trade’s annual wine fairs, Vinexpo stands apart. With 15 minutes required to walk the length of its main hall, the show is immense, while, unusually for such a massive event, it also manages to maintain an air of glamour – something that can’t be said of its competitors, except perhaps for the TWFA’s fair in Cannes. That touch of glitz stems in part from Vinexpo’s location: it takes place by a lake lined with marquees, while it’s situated between Bordeaux’s eighteenth century city centre and the first growths of the Medoc. High-profile visitors and exhibitors add to this atmosphere, and one can often hear the buzz of blades as famous châteaux owners are ferried to and from the show by helicopter. But, for all Vinexpo’s style, is it a lucrative and efficient place to do business? Could this vast fair better serve its exhibitors and visitors? And how is it responding to its competitors?
The charmingly persuasive former Vinexpo CEO Robert Beynat has fielded such questions with ease over the years. Citing the fair’s combination of scale and prestige, as well as pioneering moves into Asia, he stressed that Vinexpo is unparalleled. But in September last year, Beynat announced his retirement and the decision to hand over the management of the fair to Guillaume Deglise, a 39 year-old with a successful background in international Champagne sales, doubtless fuelled by his impressive linguistic ability: he’s fluent in French, English, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese. His arrival has heralded a change of direction for Vinexpo – at least outwardly. In contrast to his predecessor, Deglise is a little more willing to openly admit that Vinexpo could improve its services to the trade. And, as a result, he says that Bordeaux 2015 will be “a place of great changes.”
AN EXHIBITOR’S PERSPECTIVE
Following a lunch meeting with Deglise in Bordeaux and a further discussion with him in London, it’s clear his new approach to the management of Vinexpo stems from two factors. Firstly, it’s due to Deglise’s background. He has seen the show from the other side, as it were: since 1998 he has worked firstly at Bollinger and then Laurent-Perrier, both roles which have required him to attend Vinexpo as a customer of the show organiser. As he says, “As an exhibitor I understand their desires.” Consequently, he has personal experience of past problems with the fair, particularly congestion on the roads. “I too have waited on the rocade [Bordeaux ring road] for two hours,” he says.
Furthermore, his attachment to the fair extends beyond his business dealings – Deglise actually met his wife at Vinexpo, a Spaniard who used to work for Torres. Hence he jokes, “You can do any kind of business there.”
Secondly, it’s because of some research. On his arrival in Bordeaux to take up the role, Deglise conducted a global survey of Vinexpo exhibitors. “I wanted to understand the feelings of our customers about the last Bordeaux exhibition,” he recalls. This showed that 75% of exhibitors were “very satisfied” with Vinexpo. But, as Deglise points out, that leaves 25% who he says, “we are keen to understand”. Further investigation of this latter portion has highlighted a range of exhibitor concerns, but the most common were “logistical problems, issues with access to the show, and criticisms about the quality of the food”.
All of these Deglise is dedicated to improving. For instance, for next year’s fair, Deglise assures us that Bordeaux’s new tram will run right from the city centre to the exhibition hall, allowing visitors and exhibitors to avoid the traffic; while he says, “we are working on the quality of the food, and it will have a better place in the next edition.” He also says that Vinexpo wants “to emphasise the role of food and wine pairing, which is not something we have done much on in the past, because there is more interest in food and wine paring now.” He then says, “There is an idea to dedicate a space to running tastings of wine and food together with great chefs of the world cooking for us – they should come to Vinexpo, they are part of our business.”
In essence, he says of next year’s exhibition, “We should put everything in place that can be improved in Bordeaux and there are so many things that can be done to make Vinexpo Bordeaux a new and great experience.” Continuing he says, “We are preparing a totally difference experience in Bordeaux based on the feedback and trends of the market… and we definitely want to secure the show as the leading international wine and spirits fair in the world.”
But that’s next year. More immediate is Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, which takes place in Hong Kong in late May. And this fair will also bear Deglise’s stamp. In particular, he wants to use it as a test bed for increasing the spirits focus of Vinexpo exhibitions. Although spirits currently make up 15% of exhibitors at the Hong Kong and Bordeaux shows, Deglise wants to increase that number to capitalise on the fast growth in this drinks category, above all in Asia. Consequently this May’s Vinexpo in Hong Kong will feature a dedicated spirits zone comprising a mix of tastings, cocktail demonstrations and new products placed centrally on Level 3 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. “We want to create new things and one of these things is a new space dedicated to spirits, because we believe that the market for spirits is growing very fast in Asia, and Asia- Pacific is already the largest consumer of spirits in the world.” Indeed, IWSR data released by Vinexpo shows that the Asia- Pacific region accounted for almost 63% of the total spirits drunk worldwide in 2012, with white spirit baijiu alone representing 38% of global spirits consumption.
Beyond capitalising on such potential, Deglise also wants to instigate a further new aspect to Vinexpo fairs beginning with the Asia-Pacific exhibition. This is to host an evening event for visitors and exhibitors to thank them for their support as well as increase their opportunities for socialising and networking. While acknowledging that there is already a range of events taking place during the fair, he says it’s generally the same core of guests that get invited to such soirées, leaving others without the chance to mingle with their peers in the industry. As a result Deglise explains, “We realised we should arrange an event geared towards exhibitors and visitors, and we will have one in Hong Kong and then one in Bordeaux.” Continuing he says “We don’t want some exhibitors to be left alone without the chance to continue the Vinexpo experience in the city, so I thought it was important to run an event ourselves.” He also says, “Most events at Vinexpo tend to be quite formal, but we don’t want ours to be too formal,” noting that he will probably limit the party to 500 people.
Looking back over his few months so far as CEO, Deglise admits that it’s been far from a gentle start. “I’ve already had to make lots of decisions which I didn’t think would be necessary quite so quickly.” One of these was the cancellation of Vinexpo’s first ever exhibition in Mainland China. Due to be held at the Beijing Convention Centre immediately after this May’s Hong Kong fair, similar to other Vinexpo exhibitions, the Beijing event was for wine and spirits producers from around the world, and hoped to attract 200 exhibitors. However, it was announced at a Vinexpo media briefing in Hong Kong last October that Vinexpo Beijing would not be going ahead. Speaking to db this year, Deglise stresses that the exhibition was not cancelled, but postponed. “We still believe there is a strong potential for our industry in the north of China, and it’s interesting, not only as a market, but also as a producing place – most of the winemaking regions in China are closer to Beijing than other cities.” As for the decision not to hold a fair on the Mainland this year, Deglise says his customers, the exhibitors, were worried about the timing. “There has been a slight decline in wine imports to China because of an overstocking problem and so our customers said it could be risky to come to Beijing.”
A further reason was the fact many loyal Vinexpo exhibitors had already committed to two fairs from the show organiser in 2014. Not only is Vinexpo holding the Asia-Pacific event – which is 50% bigger this year having taken a second floor of the Hong Kong Convention Centre – but also an exhibition in Japan. The latter, called Vinexpo Nippon, will take place over two days from 1-2 November in the Prince Park Tower in Tokyo.
Unlike other Vinexpo exhibitions, this fair is smaller and targeted specifically at the on-trade, with space reserved for 400 exhibitors to meet an expected 3,000 sommeliers and bar and restaurant wine buyers. Marking a move by Vinexpo into the organisation of a specialist business to business fair, Deglise says it has been engineered to take advantage of the vibrant and sophisticated restaurant sector in Tokyo. “Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than London, Paris or New York,” he records. Japan was also home to Vinexpo’s first foray into Asia with fairs in Tokyo in 2000 and 2002, before the organiser moved its major Asian event to Hong Kong, and, says Deglise, “The Japanese trade was sad when we left Tokyo and we’ve listened to them, and gone back with a different format – this will be a local, not a regional exhibition.”
But what of the North American market – as the world’s largest consumer of wine, surely that must be an attractive place for a future Vinexpo? “It is number one and we need to keep an eye on it,” says Deglise. Of course Vinexpo has a history of activity in the US, having held the Vinexpo Americas trade exhibition in New York’s Javits convention centre in October 2002, and then attempted to hold the fair organiser’s first ever consumer event in the same location in November 2012 – although this was abandoned just over three months prior, having failed to attract sufficient exhibitors.
Nevertheless, the Americas still elicit obvious interest from Deglise, and he adds that South America might also prove potentially a good place to hold an exhibition. “Markets such as Mexico and Brazil are picking up, and they are both big consumers and producers,” he says, citing the large production of spirits as well as wine.
One senses however that Deglise is more focused for the moment at least on improving Vinexpo’s flagship fair – the biennial Bordeaux exhibition. At the heart of his approach is listening to his exhibitors, because as he says, “we should place the customer at the centre of our strategy.” It’s also about bringing back a bit more of the lustre to the event. “I would like Vinexpo to be a real experience, not just an exhibition, but something much more than that… and we should be the trendsetter of the market.” Of course, should he get his plans for Vinexpo Bordeaux in place, the flagship fair will prove a hard-to-beat blueprint he can roll out into other markets.
In the meantime, Deglise sums up his aim for the fair organiser with this simple comment. “Some go to Vinexpo because they have to; we would like them to come to Vinexpo because they want to.” Reaching that level of appeal will of course be far from easy, but with Bordeaux and Hong Kong as Vinexpo locations, Deglise already has enticing cities to work with. He just needs to bring some of the buzz from these urban environments to his exhibition spaces, and ensure his host cities make the most of Vinexpo’s visitors.