What’s your job, Mrs Holthaus?
Every employee of DECHEMA Exhibitions knows the question "what do you actually do when there is no trade show?” Ulrike Holthaus, Technical Director of ACHEMA, answers.
I have been the technical manager since 1995, before that I allocated stands and before that I was involved in the catalogue production. My current job is the most fun of all.
We are not only active in Frankfurt, but also in China. For us, therefore, ACHEMA is followed by AchemAsia, which takes place the following year. While AchemAsia is still running, we are already preparing the conditions of participation and the technical guidelines for the next ACHEMA. From afar, those documents always look the same, but it is not just a matter of copy and paste. We have to work through them diligently and check whether any legal regulations have changed in the last three years.
Now, the year before ACHEMA, my team and I are busy setting up the ordering portal and selecting service providers, such as stand construction companies. Exhibitors who don't want to take care of stand construction themselves can book it with us. The service provider then builds the stand and when the exhibitor arrives at the venue, the final stand is already there.
There is always a certain day when ACHEMA really takes off, but you don't know in advance which one it will be. Usually it is sometime in March of the ACHEMA year, and it hits you like a tidal wave. A wave of calls, of e-mails, of emotions, of everything. Orders come flooding in and heaps of stand plans need to be approved. At that point, ACHEMA is omnipresent, it feels like being immersed in an ACHEMA swimming pool. It's chop-chop from then on. You have to be able to make decisions quickly, otherwise you can't do this job. It’s all about not going crazy. During this time in particular, I often think I have the greatest job in the world.
We take over the exhibition grounds twelve days before ACHEMA opens. First thing, we check all the halls and find out about any existing damage. Just as you do when you take over an apartment as a private person: are the walls stained, holes in the floor or glass doors broken? Then we discuss with the venue owner, Messe Frankfurt, what needs to be repaired before the show.
Exhibitors have seven days to set up their booths. Two days before the doors open, the fairgrounds are packed, there’s a hustle and bustle of unpacking boxes, construction work and decorating. On the last day, the biggest task is to have thousands of boxes removed from the halls on time so that the aisle carpet fitting can start. Many people's nerves are shattered by that time. Conflicts can sometimes arise between stand neighbors when someone feels treated unfairly or one has actually built beyond the edge of the other’s stand. It is my job to settle these disputes and I know what exhibitors say about me: "When she comes, there's trouble ahead." But I can live with that.
When ACHEMA starts, I am also responsible for safety. At the daily morning briefing with Messe Frankfurt, the fire brigade, the police and technical services, we discuss safety-relevant issues of all kinds, even the weather. If it is hot and humid, the air conditioning systems are running on maximum, and in heavy rain, supply ducts have even been under water.
On the evening of ACHEMA Monday, I can take a breath for the first time. When "Meet your friends" has begun, I know that the set-up went well as did the opening ceremony and it leaves me with a strong energy boost - so far I have danced at every exhibitor evening.
During ACHEMA, my daily business is to take care of some events taking place in addition to the trade show and the congress programme. The jobs range from checking whether a flower arrangement is in the right place to conjuring up 50 more chairs and I am always on my feet. On an average day at the show, I clock over 20,000 steps on my pedometer. Shoes that are as comfortable as sneakers but don't look like them are essential for me. I admire women walking around the fairgrounds in high heels.
ACHEMA Thursday is dominated by inquiries about dismantling on Friday. The usual scenario is: "My train is running, my plane is flying and I just want to get off the fairgrounds as quickly as possible, how can I manage that?” Friday is all about keeping the exhibitors calm and ending ACHEMA in a civilized manner. When the aisles carpets are going to be removed, it is important that there are no crates standing around obstructing the workers. As soon as the carpets have been picked up, cars and vans are allowed on the site for dismantling. I always watch the convoy of vehicles entering the fairgrounds. On the one hand, because it is a real spectacle how this infinitely long queue of vehicles rolls in, on the other hand, because I need to know whether everything is working smoothly.
On Friday night I leave around 10 o'clock. At two o’clock next morning "empties night" begins and an army of forklifts swarms out to deliver the stored packing crates from the storage rooms to the stands.
Dismantling lasts until Wednesday after the fair. On Wednesday afternoon, the construction supervisors and I will check whether everything has gone from the halls and no stand was forgotten. When we leave the fairgrounds and everything has gone well in terms of safety without any serious accidents, ACHEMA is over for me and I can breathe a sigh of relief.
I go on holiday when invoices have been settled with the service providers and the venue owner, usually four to six weeks after the event. My favourite place is Southern Crete, where there are no stimuli at all and the most pressing task is to count how many ants there are scuttling under the breakfast table.
Written by Marlene Etschmann.