“The high-precision industry will overcome this crisis”

Interview of Alexandre Catton, EPHJ Director

The 2020 EPHJ Show was initially postponed until September and then cancelled altogether due to the COVID-19 crisis. What has that been like for you?
It has been a very difficult time because I felt so bad for our exhibitors who were relying on EPHJ to get their business back on track and re-establish face-to-face contact with their customers and prospects. They had to resign themselves, with a heavy heart, to the fact that this wasn’t going to happen, and look forward instead to the 2021 show.

Yet you did everything you possibly could to ensure that the 2020 show went ahead…
Yes, we fought to the end, despite the prevailing doom and gloom and the public health restrictions in place. We wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with our industries and do something to help them, even if that meant taking financial risks. Over half of our exhibitors wanted the show to go ahead because nothing beats direct customer contact when it comes to doing business. As every year, many were waiting for the show in order to unveil their latest innovations, but the pandemic and the public health rules meant that this wasn’t possible.

Did you reimburse the exhibitors who confirmed their registration for 2020?
Yes, of course. Companies registered for the September 2020 show could choose either to have their registration fee reimbursed or to carry it forward to 2021. The vast majority went for the second option.

How did the exhibitors react?
Despite their disappointment, many thanked us for keeping the faith until the bitter end. It was something of a gamble but one worth taking. For those who’d planned to unveil new products, we agreed to publicise their innovations to our community of over 35,000 professionals. And we also promised to see them all again in Geneva in June 2021.

You also went ahead with the 2020 Exhibitors’ Grand Prix…
That was the best way for EPHJ to showcase these innovations. By sharing the best of them with all our exhibitors and visitors in this newsletter and on our social media, we’re helping to promote them to a very broad audience from the trade.

What feedback are you getting from the field and the high-precision market right now?
It’s very important not to generalise. The watchmaking and jewellery sectors, after a sharp downturn in the first wave of the pandemic, seem a little more optimistic and there are some encouraging signs for 2021 which could mean that brands are making new products or have sold some of their stock. The microtechnology and machine industries also seem to be looking up, with an upturn in the automotive sector. This is particularly true of companies involved in building hybrid or electric motors. Aeronautics remains the hardest-hit sector, whereas medtech firms are often the only ones recording growth in 2020. However, with so many talented people in its ranks, I firmly believe that the high-precision industry will overcome this crisis.

Do you think the 2021 show will be able to go ahead as normal?
No one can say for sure; there are still too many unknowns. But I remain very confident and am all too aware of how eager high-precision companies are to reconnect with their market. I really liked what the boss of one of those companies said in the press: call him old-school, he said, but he needed to see people face-to-face to do good business, adding that this was essential in a creative process. That sums up the EPHJ mindset perfectly. In our lines of business, human contact is vital.

Do you have any idea yet how many companies will take part in the 2021 show?
The figures are very encouraging, despite the current anxieties. We’ve already exceeded the number of exhibitors who were due to attend in September 2020. A quick reminder for anyone who hasn’t yet confirmed their participation: don’t miss the next EPHJ Show at Palexpo Geneva from 8 to 11 June 2021!

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