- Mr. Ivanov, can you say that 18 years after its establishment Inter Expo Center is the place where business partners come to meet?
- Since 2011, when the Inter Expo Center complex was opened, then having two halls only, until now, as it stands today, we have all the time tried to offer Bulgarian businesses the right platform and what they need in order to successfully promote their products and services. The fact that in recent years we have active occupancy rate, where even last year there was not a single month without an event, points to a confidence building relationship with Bulgarian businesses. We are also working actively to further build on this confidence.
- Do you provide a solution for each of your customers and do you meet the specific requirements of the businesses when they want to promote their products?
-I believe to a great extent we do. There are many events and requirements - traditional exhibitions specialized within a sector, then congresses and seminars, and finally many corporate events for just one company, as well as many musical and entertainment events.
The requirements of each sector and each client as a form of expression are different. At the exhibition center, we provide a range of services required for successful participation, both through our employees and departments, as well as through external subcontractors. The services are related to stand construction, logistics or catering at conferences, sound engineering.
I think that a big plus for our clients is that we have a ready-made solution for the realization of their event or their participation in the exhibition. But we do not oblige them to work with us only, they can use their established relationships with suppliers and partners in these areas.
Since the establishment of Inter Expo, the halls of the complex have been built to provide maximum flexibility in the concept of an event. For example, the lack of support columns in the halls offers exhibitors the chance to develop their imagination by making maximum use of the area.
- What is the most unconventional requirement that you had to satisfy?
-There are plenty of such various cases, and sometimes we have to take a deep breath before responding when we hear some most unusual idea. My policy for this has always been to say no, but to seek solutions and to offer an alternative. Of course, there are some things that are technically or physically impossible with respect to the specifics of the building. Various examples - from the intentions to bring fireworks inside the hall, through logistical challenges, such as getting in an 18-ton machine, for example, to the wish of our client to have a live camel at the stand.
- What are the traditional exhibitions that create the image of Bulgarian industry?
- Our exhibition portfolio currently covers almost all sectors of the Bulgarian economy and the exhibitions themselves reflect the condition of industry. Our longest-standing exhibition is Bulmedica / Buldental, which this year will mark its 53rd edition. It started in the late 1960s, and we can proudly say that it is not only the longest for us but also the oldest business event that is held in Sofia. Because of it we made the initial investment in the complex to offer an improved base to these companies.
At the same time, Bulgarian Building Week, World of Furniture and Technomebel, Meatmania, World of Milk, Bulpek, Salon de Vin, Interfood and Drink and Sihre, Sofia Motor Show are among the biggest exhibitions, but we also have" Nasluka - hunting, fishing and sports ", as well as others related to people’s hobbies.
- Which are the sectors most successfully covered by specialized exhibitions and congress events that you have organized in recent years?
- The status of an exhibition corresponds to the situation in a given sector. The six exhibitions related to food industry are among the most successful at present, as well as exhibitions for furniture and furniture industry, machine building, mechatronics.
The last three years registered an extremely dynamic development of MachTech & InnoTech Expo - our exhibition for industrial equipment, machine building, automation, mechatronics. The demonstration of industrial equipment over the last three years has grown up and has increased three times the capacity of participating companies. In terms of thematics, Buldental is the most successful exhibition
- Do you accept proposals from your clients to organize new exhibitions? What new events do you plan to include in the program of Inter Expo Center?
- The concept of a new exhibition can be generated in three different ways. One of them is to have the concept proposed by our marketing or sales department, that follows the trends in a specific industry. The second one is to have the idea coming from key customers and big companies who usually get in touch with us to discuss how it can be realized. The most common case is when the concept is the result of our team discussions with the relevant branch chamber - we are discussing the topic of the new exhibition together, taking into account the collective opinion of the companies in the sector and the trends in a particular industry. In the face of the Chamber we have a partner with whom we can very quickly clear the concept and start it up.
In October we will have exhibitions with two new topics - we are reopening the exhibition for the textile industry, and the most topical one is related to auto parts and servicing of cars and trucks. The preparation goes very well and the feedback from customers is extremely positive, so I'm very excited that the first edition will surpass our initial expectations.
- How has exhibition culture developed in recent years and were there more challenges for Inter Expo Center related to the requirements of your customers?
- If we have to follow the exhibition culture, we have to go back many years ago, but the observations show that the companies make more and more informed choices. While the businesses attended the 1990s exhibitions and expected that the state should provide contracts for them, now the companies are in charge of this initiative, they are responsible for their own success.
The exhibition culture includes the overall planning of a company, setting of objectives and of a strategy of participation. It is extremely important that the communication for the participation should go through our channels, but the company itself must be active, invite partners and plan accompanying events and attractions. An approach like "I take exhibition space and I will be flooded with requests" is no longer valid. With such companies, we behave honestly, and we advise them to consider if it is clever at all for them to get involved.
The companies themselves are also increasingly demanding from us because they see and appreciate the good practices of their partners at the exhibition. We do our best to cooperate with them in this field in order they get the best out of their participation.
- What are the reasons for Bulgarian entrepreneurs to take part in the exhibitions? Do you get any feedback after the exhibition event is over?
- After each exhibition, we conduct surveys and interviews among exhibitors, because the events are not alike in all respects. Just as one sector goes up, so does the respective exhibition, which should even exceed the development of the sector. It is extremely important to know what the trends are to integrate them in the conception of the future development of the exhibition where the companies present their new products. The exhibition is a place to present innovation, where companies invite their distributors and partners to introduce them to the features of the new product while meeting new, potential customers.
The exhibition is the place where you can understand how you are positioned against your competitive rivals in terms of products, price and quality. Here you can also achieve a wider representation of the sector and, together with the Branch Chamber, the problems of the respective sector are often discussed at round tables. For example, at the exhibition of the furniture industry, there were discussions on timber industry when there was a problem with timber, and in the case of tourism - the qualification of the personnel. Each sector has its own specific problems and they are put on the agenda of the exhibition and the accompanying program.
We are working actively to have foreign companies coming to Bulgarian exhibitions, as at the same time we are supposed to visit similar exhibitions abroad. Our goal is to provoke companies that are not yet in Bulgaria to come to our country and do business. At this stage, we are the ambassadors of Bulgarian business.
In order to recruit foreign companies for our exhibitions, we visit fairs in Germany, Italy, Spain where we invite companies having a profile relevant for our exhibition. Those coming to Bulgaria afterwards will pursue several goals - they are looking for a distributor or partner because sometimes they know nothing about our country. After a while, depending on contacts and developments, some of the foreign companies set up subsidiaries and take over the distribution themselves.
-However, they visit you first?
-In most of the cases we are the starting point. In the third phase, some companies decide to export all or part of their production to Bulgaria, sometimes quite quickly, but sometimes it may take years. There are cases in which some of these companies are not our clients but they work in Bulgaria, so we provide a platform for attracting foreign investment.
In recent years, we have a program with which we bring foreign visitors who sign contracts with Bulgarian producers. We do focused targeting of people with such a profile on the individual topics, and cover some of their travel costs. We also organize meetings with companies according to the profile of the demanded products for export from Bulgaria to foreign countries.
All this is also facilitated by the excellent infrastructure in the area. It has developed extremely dynamically in recent years, with access to the metro station and a direct connection with Sofia Airport, which is extremely convenient for foreign guests, exhibitors and visitors.
- Isn’t that to some extent beyond the purpose of business of Inter Expo Center?
- Successful business requires additional efforts on our part. We specially apply programs such as B2C Matchmaking or Hosted buyers program, when the visit of some businessmen is covered by the organizers - a practice applied by many other organizers around the world.
- What are your ambitions for the future development of Inter Expo Center?
- The future of Inter Expo Center as a building, a venue and a platform for doing business is related to the investment program we have developed in recent years. We will improve the quality of our existing facilities, because it has been overused in these years. Customer requirements are increasing, so we are investing more and more in the modernization of both the exhibition and congress halls as well as the common areas.
We plan to expand Inter Expo Center complex with another hall, which will be the final phase of the construction. It will be part of the exhibition complex, which now has six exhibition halls, one of which will double its capacity.
Last year, for the autumn food industry exhibition we had requests from companies for more than 800 square meters of exhibition area, which we were unable to provide. At the motor show and the furniture exhibition we also work at full capacity. From the beginning of February until the beginning of May, we do not have a free exhibition hall even for a day. Demand for organizing events is great and we need to expand.
Our further investments will include improving the quality of the facilities and the services we offer.