BFT INTERNATIONAL: Germany’s precast industry has already experienced 55 BetonTage in the past. What where the greatest changes in the course of the years that you had the privilege of accompanying?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: I had enjoyed the honor of accompanying the BetonTage for 20 years: in 1991, still as an assistant to Prof. Hörschgen, chair of marketing at Stuttgart-Hohenheim University who, in February of 1992, presented the latest developments in strategic marketing management at the 36th Ulmer Concrete Days. Already then, the Congress looked beyond the borders of technology and showed clearly then, as always, its managerial profile – a development that had already been advanced by our predecessors, Dr. Karl and Almut Hornung.
The major changes that we ourselves helped bring about in the course of more recent years, however, involve the strong Europeanization and internationalization that since 2005 evolved through the network of the European federation umbrella BIBM. Apart from that, we have opened the BetonTage in particular since its 50th anniversary to entirely new target groups: for example, structural engineers from consulting engineering firms and architects with prominent success. And every year we of course did something new. After all, we can succeed only through permanent innovations.
Stefanie Blank: So my personal experience with BetonTage doesn’t go back quite so far. Including the years I studied at the College of Advanced Vocational Studies, Berufsakademie Stuttgart (today: Baden-Württemberg University of Cooperative Education), it has now been nearly nine years. Last year I took over the organizational management from my predecessor of many years, Anja Muschelknautz. One of the most positive changes that I have experienced during this time is the development of the overall number of visitors attending, which during the most recent years has increased by more than one third. This increase was accompanied by greater demands placed on the organization and on implementation of the event. We try to attend to our participants and exhibitors competently, including online services, but particularly in personal contacts, even in this multimedia age.
BFT INTERNATIONAL : How did the idea of “partner countries” evolve that you have been pursuing for two years, and what are the objectives that you hope to achieve with this?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: Through European exchange since 2005, more and more colleagues from our industry from Europe have shown an interest in Germany’s largest congress for the precast concrete industry and have wanted to take part. For this reason, we introduced simultaneous interpretation into English. That, of course, well matched the bilingualism of BFT, as our media partner.
Partner countries are, first of all, given the chance to present their market and the structure of their industry. Secondly, it is becoming increasingly important in particular for the businesses in our industry to get to know neighboring markets better, including their particularities and opportunities – especially since Germany, over the medium term, offers no sufficient growth potential for the industry. Small to medium-sized businesses in particular sometimes have a problem of “getting out.” In this regard, we want to provide a little “development aid.” And then there are, of course, the participants from abroad, most of them appreciate how Germany, with its typical German virtues, masters a rather unique event. Many of them have become regular visitors.
Stefanie Blank: The principle of the host country is one of our latest changes with which we still more intensively want to establish the Europeanization Dr. Lotz mentioned. With the support of a host country we have the opportunity to create a new platform for mutual exchange every year – to look beyond the borders of our industry and to learn from each other.
BFT INTERNATIONAL : The suppliers of our industry know that those who want to have an exhibition stand in Neu-Ulm must register in good time. The coveted stands are all too quickly booked. How do you handle this flood of inquiries?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: In general, nearly all stands are already reserved by the end of August, but most of them know that, and around 80% of the exhibitors have been regulars for decades. Eventually each time, there are usually about ten that we cannot accommodate, and we have to tell them how sorry we are and promise a space the following year. However, because we are the most concentrated exhibition of this kind and are focused purely on suppliers to our industry, the waiting list is not endless and there is always a real chance to get in. With our sponsoring packages, moreover, we’ll offer the participants the opportunity, beginning this year, of presenting their products and services more effectively and even more prominently.
Stefanie Blank: I try not to give up hope for an expansion to the Edwin Scharff House that has been planned for years [laughing]. No, seriously, the exhibition has definitely reached the capacity limits of the event venue – even if last year we succeeded in achieving what was thought to be the impossible by finding the one or other additional exhibition slot. We process the registrations consistently strictly on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is the only way to ensure equal treatment of all exhibitors – to us, the organizer, an important aspect.
BFT INTERNATIONAL : The BetonTage, for some years now, has also been serving architectural clients. How is this architect’s podium received? What kind of feedback are you getting from this every year?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: The number of participants varies between 200 and 400, depending, among other things, on whether we succeed in engaging a genuine star architect as a crowd puller. The architects accept the podium as an annual information event about successful project examples well. To us, the link to structural design is also always important, because a bit of technical input has so far never hurt any. We are also pleased about the fantastic collaboration with Burkhard Fröhlich from DBZ and Ulrich Nolting from Beton Marketing Süd, who also personally engage themselves as co-sponsors and organizers and, I would think, also identify with our efforts.
Stefanie Blank: For the target group architects, we also act as lobby platform. It is our aim to acquaint the architects with the unbelievable versatility of concrete as construction material, with virtually unlimited possibilities. For this aspect, we present every year a current and impressive building made of concrete and/or precast concrete components under the motto: “It depends what you do with it!”
And, if I may add: I am particularly pleased that the target group of architects has by now become a good mixture of so-called “first timers and repeaters”, i.e., about 50 % of the architects attend the BetonTage every year for the first time, while the other half can already be regarded to be among our faithful attendees.
In addition, the entire third congress day is held under the heading ”Day of the market partners,” i.e., here we are looking for an exchange with all kinds of target groups from the precast industry. That ranges from architects to structural engineers and consulting engineers, building contractors, and extending to the public sector in building construction and civil engineering.
BFT INTERNATIONAL: What innovations can the visitors expect during the 2012 Congress?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: The 2012 Congress will especially bring many changes, and we will be able to respond to the wishes of many attendees and exhibitors. The Architecture Podium will be held entirely in the Edwin Scharff House Congress Center, and we will give a guided tour for architects in the house to architecturally affiliated exhibitors. In this way, we’ll be able to directly cross-link architects, structural engineers, and building contractors actively supported by the DBV with parallel podiums.
As requested by many participants, we’ll relocate the “Cast Stone” event supported by info-b, successful already this year, to the Congress Center (on the second day) – also an interesting additional offer for the manufacturers of landscaping products on the first day of the Congress.
Our popular podium “Technology and Law,” where damage events are evaluated under technical and legal aspects, will be distributed among the relevant technical product podiums and will accordingly be still more directly accessible to the interested participants from the respective technical fields. Entirely new is our “Practitioners Seminar” (this is still a working title) for training plant and production managers: absolutely pressing problems of day-to-day production activities will be discussed here, along with practical demonstrations at the Ferdinand von Steinbeis School, which year after year provides its exemplary input with its unique Master Training Program – doubtless a jewel of our industry. This is to take place on the first day of the Congress, together with the opportunity to take a look at the exhibition, beginning at 4:00 p.m.
Stefanie Blank: There is really nothing much more to add, except that participants next year can also look forward to our new Internet Lounge. In the so-called Club Room we’ll set up freely accessible computer terminals that participants can use, for example, to check their mails.
And, last but not least, we as organizers are very glad that a successor has been found for the former Mövenpick Hotel, right on time on 01 April of this year. Currently, the entire building is undergoing comprehensive renovation. The new lessee operates from the same address as “Parkhotel Neu-Ulm.” In this way, also the 56th BetonTage can take place in the usual manner.
BFT INTERNATIONAL : Your keynote addresses never fail to make you particularly well-known. Year after year you succeed in engaging numerous well-known – and sometimes controversial speakers to address the participants on the first day of the congress. Which economic luminary can we hope for in February 2012?
Stefanie Blank: Next year, we’ll probably even be able to present two top speakers: First of all, Professor Dr. Peter Bofinger, an economic expert, primarily known as a critical mind in the German Council of Economic Experts and who, in his function as one of the German “wise men” will closely examine the current economic developments both in Germany and worldwide. He has even agreed to participate in the subsequent press conference.
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: Professor Dr. Werner Sobek, Germany’s “sustainability guru,” equally pace-setting, will present the construction perspectives under the aspect of future-oriented, sustainable building. This is a contact, by the way, that was revived through an on-going European research project of our trade association with European colleague associations in Austria and Norway, with overall direction by ILEK, his institute.
BFT INTERNATIONAL: The innovation prize “Structural Concrete Components” has now been awarded for over ten years. This year, you have begun to establish this coveted prize of the supplier industry as a brand. Can you give us a brief retrospective and tell us about the more recent development of the number of applicants? And about the significance that this prize has by now gained among those distinguished, when their innovations are introduced to the market?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: After ten years, I believe, one can already speak of a certain tradition. The mostly medium-sized manufacturers of structural precast concrete products are, due to the limitation of their own resources for research and development, rather heavily dependent on the innovative strength of their industrial partners. This can take the form of excellent research into concrete technology from among the companies of the cement industry – or of the supplier industry that – always with new ideas for process optimization in machine building and also with new services – is one of the major innovation locomotives for precast construction.
The number of applicants fluctuates annually and ranges between 10 and 25 applications, though the number of applicants has lately rather stabilized. For those distinguished, it is an absolutely “marketable” prize, attested to by the proud information to that effect in the marketing of the award winners. Another reason is the jury, composed as it is of members from a wide range of industries who, drawing on their practical knowledge, examine the meaningfulness of the innovations and, in this way, increases the value of the innovation prize.
Stefanie Blank Here I would also like to thank BFT INTERNATIONAL: for the mutual solicitation of entries for the Innovation Prize and for our successful partnership and collaboration. But thanks also to our jury that devotes itself to the entries every year before Christmas and examines and evaluates them. The fact that the Innovation Prize has been so well received by the supplier industry pleases us as organizers. But I also think that the signal, regarding the innovative ability and performance of the entire industry, consists of setting new patterns. I hope that we can count on many submissions of innovations next year as well, and can in this way jointly advance our industry.
BFT INTERNATIONAL : All of what you achieve during the BetonTage is, in the final analysis, excellent lobbying work for precast parts. But what support do you hope to get from our industry itself so that precast parts can be sold competitively – but not below value?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: By organizing this event we are, of course, assuming a great responsibility for our sector. If this were not the case, it would have to be invented. In this way we can demonstrate how competitive the German manufacturers and their suppliers are on the German and European levels. Our event organizer, FBF Betondienst – “Organization for Information, Advertising, Quality Assurance, and Standardization,” as it is called with its full name – is surely the right instrument for ensuring our industry the appropriate influence throughout Germany and Europe and for presenting the efficiency of our industry to all relevant market partners in the future as well.
The innovations that our industry discusses every year anew at BetonTage offer in our view many opportunities to position sustainable products on the market. The price structure is, of course, something for the companies themselves to decide – and they likewise need courage to demand reasonably and sensibly realistic prices for high-value products.
BFT INTERNATIONAL : If you could look into the future a few years: Where should your meeting place for our industry be, say, in five years from now? What standing should it have reached in the industry by then? What is your personal wish for the BetonTage?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: As happy as we are about the positive development, we want to stay safely rooted to the ground. The BetonTage must always develop organically – that is to say, from the inside. They are also closely linked to the Congress venue. All of this taken together makes it the unrivalled brand it is, nothing less than a unique selling proposition, as marketing people say. In five years from now it should simply be a place where German and European developments in technology, standardization, and also in market-relevant and legal questions are presented and discussed. At that time, we will surely be a bit more Europe-oriented, without neglecting the key German market. I personally wish that this flagship of the concrete and precast concrete industry can also contribute to demonstrating the solidarity of the industry and will assert itself to the outside with the appropriate self-confidence.
Stefanie Blank: I personally wish that we will be able to succeed also in the coming years to further broaden the scope of the BetonTage as a meeting place of our industry, despite all of the challenges in the politico-economic environment, and to anchor them yet more firmly as an integral part of the appointment calendar of the industry. For the future of the BetonTage, as well as for the entire industry, I wish for a continuing wealth of ideas so that we can always announce and present something new.
And that the extension to the Edwin Scharff House, now more than overdue would be realized: that would offer us the possibility to create a relaxed spatial situation for our exhibitors and participants – that is my concrete wish. After that, we could of course also think about further broadening the scope of the event in the future.
BFT INTERNATIONAL: BFT INTERNATIONAL has the privilege, also in 2012, of accompanying you as a media partner. How do you assess the partnership over the last years, and what do you wish from your media partner – i.e., us – for the future?
Dr. Ulrich Lotz: We have consciously and purposely oriented our collaboration to a longer-term basis. Much trust has grown that is again and again confirmed. Part of this is also the neutral communication over and beyond association-political vanities, since industrial lobbying needs platforms and the BetonTage will offer the appropriate platform in future to all those who actively support the industry. We need everyone for this. For BFT it is also an option to stay with all of us at the same table. When all of us benefit, it will also be fun.
Stefanie Blank: I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire BFT team for the highly collegial collaboration that has grown during the past years, our unfailingly constructive exchange, and the often unconventional support. For the next year I wish and hope for further strengthening of our partnership and for continuation in jointly implementing many new ideas and projects.
This interview was conducted by chief editor Andrea Janzen.