Writing on what we saw at this year’s Prolight + Sound Guangzhou is no easy task. The “China issue” is one that has been a hot topic in our industry for years, and is to be counted amongst the most popular discussion topics between industry professionals, though often information in this market comes from “hearsay” and not always reliable sources. With this comes the risk of falling into the classic rumour mills that are always whirring away. Whilst at the show, we eagerly listened to the opinions and considerations of those who have visited events in the Chinese market for years, and those who really know the dynamics of this market. We were so grateful to have the possibility to get first hand experience of this most recent PL+S Guangzhou show.
So, first things first. To correctly frame the issue, we tried to free our minds from any preconceptions and misconceptions, looking to objectively analyse the facts, people and technologies. Any reflections and comments about this market have to be placed in close correlation to what is an important finding, with huge impact: Numbers!
By pure statistics alone, “Cantonese province” (in reality called Guangdong, of which Guangzhou is the capital that covers most of the southern coast of mainland China) has more than 130 million inhabitants, whilst the whole of China’s population amounts to roughly 1.5 billion.
It seems obvious then, that with numbers like this, that any business, including the audio and professional lighting sectors, are of course going to have massive amounts of interest in this market. Moreover, the economic growth of recent years has brought with it a number of changes, not least the search for a more occidental lifestyle, which also involves forms of entertainment related to our specific area of work, such as concerts, shows, events, and installations in general.
The trip was definitely interesting, both from the point of view of work, and of course, from the perspective of “culture.” The exhibition, which attracted a large number of companies, has given us the opportunity to meet new people, explore new dimensions of the industry, and has allowed us to lay the foundations for some future projects. After all, isn’t that what a trade fair should be all about?
Official data from the organisers has told us that the numbers of visitors were calculated at: 68,441 visitors (63,785 in 2015, with an increase of 7.3%) and 1,231 exhibiting companies from 25 countries (1,186 in 2015 with a 4% increase).
To have some basis for comparison, consider that the Frankfurt PL + S, along with the MusikMesse, recorded in 2015 the total number of visitors to be 108,000, and a leading trade fair in the field of light, LDI Show in Las Vegas, in 2015 reached almost 100,000 visitors. However, it is important to bear in mind, that in the exhibition hall immediately besides PL+S Guanzhou, another trade fair focused on professional entertainment called GET2016 was taking place which, at least to the eye, has similar numbers, or maybe a little less than the better known and more promoted PL + S Guangzhou .
Access to and navigation of the enormous fairground pavilions was simple. The staff, always very attentive and diligent, had been able efficiently organise the flow of people who, by nature, appeared composed and polite. Yes, some improvement could be made to the installation of the booths, which were not always neat and with a a due amount of attention to detail, but these are only minor details. With a little more focus on cable management, and the finer details of the displays, the show displays real potential to be in serious competition with it’s western counterparts.
At the fair, the use of English language is not always common, and this did arise to be an obstacle on a few occasions. Of course, we often found very prepared representatives, with a relevant university education, who were able to argue convincingly and in an effective manner the benefits of their products, and marketing managers adept at effectively promoting their company. But this is not the case across the board, with image and communication not seeming to be of great importance to everyone, a difference that we recorded to be quite noticeable in comparison to the better presented Western companies. But the more structured companies are gearing up with determination and well-defined objectives. There was a good presence of the big international brands, a clear sign that this market searches for and needs the top product ranges, and is ready to understand and appreciate the objective quality of these.
A big applause goes to the organizing team, the same who kindly welcomed us and who has supported us in an exemplary and friendly manner throughout our stay at PL + S Guangzhou. This team is made up of a group of competent young ladies, mostly from neighbouring Hong Kong, who were responsive and practical throughout.
Speaking about the products brings even more difficulty . It’s an arduous task to do a complete selection, highlighting something interesting and original amongst the multitude of brands and companies we’ve seen. What’s more, unfortunately patents and copyrights are not always respected, due to a regulation – which should exist on an international level – that is incomplete or even absent here.
Among the stands you can find simply everything! Strange moving lights with unlikely LED arrays, speakers from very familiarly shaped to the blatantly copied, and companies that boast in a sometimes noisy way components of European quality (often Italian). But there are also LED fixtures capable of competing with many products in the European and Western markets, and well-designed and good-sounding audio systems. This is not surprising, considering that now there are the means and the knowledge base available to also produce at high levels here, thanks to the know-how often imported from European engineers and designers, and especially through the use of Western and quality components.
In addition to the quality issue, which certainly deserves a deeper analysis, it often seems clear that Eastern companies have a different approach to business, much more focused on “producing”, even obsessively, and could therefore be less likely to take care of after-sale support, viewed more as a “waste of time” than anything else. Certainly it is not the rule, but we can definitely detect a trend.
In conclusion, what we think is missing to the products is the attention to detail: a poorly optimised rigging system, an imperfect assembly and many other small aspects that can have a significant effect upon a professional who has to choose one product over another.
Let me be clear, in this forest of manufacturers there are companies that work very well, who are able to distinguish themselves thanks to an image, an organized marketing department and, of course, important investments. Companies such as these are already a leader at home, capable within a few years of reaching a prestigious position in the industry.
Despite this, there are still a high number of companies with “rougher” strategies and still highly working within the cult of “copying”, who are less inclined to initiate innovation, but moved by the sole desire of selling at any price, even bypassing and working in contravention of the most basic rules of the market. This is a real and tangible problem for everyone: for those who are copied, for obvious reasons, but also for all those companies that in China, as has been said, who do work with seriousness and tenacity in order to legitimise their position in the global market. These are the products which deserve our attention, and the ones we must focus on developing into our ever-growing industry.
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