CASTELLÓ. The covid-19 pandemic has blown apart all forecasts in the ceramic industry, which has not been oblivious to this episode that has disrupted the entire international fair calendar. In this context, Cevisama, the great event in the sector in Spain and the largest world event held at Feria Valencia, became - by a hair's breadth - the only great international tile show that could be held last year. Since then no other important exhibition has been held and the Spanish fair, which closed the last edition with a record number of visits, is now preparing its 2022 edition which, according to its president, Manuel Rubert, will be the most important in its almost 40 years of existence.
For now, Cevisama is preparing a virtual week from 24 to 28 May as a taster for the fair, an online meeting where they aim to bring together the entire sector to share news and innovations and where there will be no shortage of conferences, presentations and the traditional presentation of the Alfa de Oro Awards which, since the late 1970s, has been organised by the Spanish Society of Ceramics and Glass.
Today the Spanish ceramic sector has managed to overcome the onslaught of coronavirus with flying colours despite the strong impact it had on its balance sheets in the first half of 2020. Manuel Rubert is clear that this recovery has had a lot to do with the last edition of Cevisama, as an international support point for the sector and whose inertia still endures.
-What a year ... what do you think are the most outstanding aspects that have occurred in this year marked by covid and the suspension of the fair?
I have to start by saying that talking about Cevisama is talking about the ceramic industry in general, without neglecting enamels, machinery, the manufacture of accessories and bathrooms ... that everything goes hand in hand with the construction sector.
What has been shown in this time is that Spanish ceramics have shown great strength in the face of a pandemic like the one we have experienced around the world. And Cevisama, which was the last great fair that took place before this crisis broke out, practically did not start promoting the 2021 edition until well into September due to the special circumstances that we were experiencing throughout 2020.
The whole sector analysed the situation and came to the conclusion that if the beginning of 2020 started very well, was then followed by a fall and subsequently recovered, I think, Cevisama has had something to do with this positive recovery of the sector. From the point of view of a manufacturer, I also observe that customers are not visited in person except in exceptional circumstances and only If the the situation allows it, because contact has been limited to online, mainly.
"SPANISH CERAMICS HAVE DEMONSTRATED A GREAT STRENGTH AND HAVE DONE IT IN THE FACE OF A PANDEMIC WHICH HAS AFFLICTED EVERYONE. I THINK CEVISAMA HAS HELPED THESE GOOD RESULTS".
-How long do you think this situation of uncertainty will last?
Manufacturers and customers, I assure you, look forward to seeing each other again and for the sector to begin to return to a much-needed normality. As long as we are not allowed that mobility around the world, we will continue in this situation. And there is no doubt that here in Spain, with the good situation that the ceramic sector is experiencing today, in its recovery, Cevisama has had a lot to do with it, the only fair that has been held in a year and that closed with a new record number of visits, company participation and international presence.
As you know, a promotion takes a lot of work, but once done, it has to be relaunched and doing it in a scenario like this is complicated. It is true that we still have a way to go to return to the normality that we all want. And it is true that this path can still be taken with the promotions already launched in the last edition of the fair, added to by those virtual communications that I am talking about. But, obviously, this situation has to end, because no matter how well the product is offered online, it is a material that needs to be seen close up to be appreciated in its entirety, to be touched to appreciate textures, through visits to factories or fairs. In the second case, the advantage is that the visitor not only has contact with the product, but with the entire sector, which will allow them to decide at that time their promotional plans for the future.
Yes, we have lived a year without fairs; we can hold out for a while, of course, but the sector is eager to meet up, present and see the latest innovations. For now, only a few fairs can be held.
-And how do you handle this situation internally?
Cevisama continues to work intensely. In fact, we had planned to hold the fair in May after postponing it this February. In the end, we won't be able to hold it in the period that we had initially set for ourselves either. What we are going to do in May, within the framework of our fair, is a week of content, in which companies will be able to exhibit virtually all the products they consider worth showing. It can be done digitally or digitally-hybrid, with conferences… we are working on it. The Alfa Awards will be held and we will try to reinforce that week with content to show that Cevisama is still very much alive and present, as the international benchmark in the sector that it is.
-And what will this virtual fair in May consist of?
Manufacturers will be able to exhibit within the framework of this fair all those innovations that they had already prepared to present at the Cevisama international show scheduled for May. They will be able to make product presentations to remind the market that if Cevisama had taken place, those were the products that would have been on the street. It is true that the client likes to touch and compare, and that this virtual event will not be like a typical fair, but in the sector we must be aware that we have to watch over our fair, the sector's fair; and because our industry needs to advance regarding innovations that may have arisen since the last Cevisama that was held in February 2020.
"THE CUSTOMER LIKES TO HAVE DIRECT CONTACT WITH THE PRODUCT, TO BE ABLE TO TOUCH IT AND GET TO KNOW IT TO MAKE THE BEST DECISION".
-How will covid affect the international fair calendar this year?
What is going to happen?. I don't think anyone is in a position to know for sure what is going to happen. It depends on the evolution of the pandemic, on the vaccination, it depends on many things, but asking ourselves if the international fair calendar will continue this year is risky because there is great uncertainty at this time, because we have passed the third wave, but little more do we know, except that many measures are being taken all over the world, but it is difficult to control the infections and, in fact, it is not yet under control. Talking about the future is always very difficult and even more so under these circumstances.
We have time between now and 7 February 2022. I think it can be done and I am sure it will be one of the best international shows that has been held at Feria Valencia. I am convinced of it.
-How is the lack of fairs affecting ceramic consumption?
As I already mentioned, what we are experiencing today in the sector is an inertia of the previous Cevisama fair, which is still here. And that inertia has been important in the good results that this industry obtained after the first slump of the pandemic.
In the national market, which is also very important for us, we have detected a boom in home renovations throughout this last period. Why? Well, because we have realized that we have to adapt our homes to new circumstances. That has meant that consumption has been growing. Also, the closures of establishments has meant that there are businesses that are taking advantage of this moment to invest and prepare to reopen in better conditions and thus manage their relaunch, as is happening with hotels. This is happening in Spain, but is also occurring in strategic markets for us such as Europe. Because there has been no total stoppage in France, Germany, Italy ...
-And how does it affect the presentation of new products, and promotions?
The ideology of the product does not change overnight. There is an evolution, a path. In other words, let me give you an example: a few years ago everyone was talking about large format; small format were almost reviled and now we see how the latter monopolizes a good part of the sector's catalogue; yes, sharing the stage with the large, which have not stopped growing either. The world of ceramics is always alive.
All those inertias are best seen at fairs. But that transmission is not like in other sectors such as textiles or footwear, which change continuously. The evolution of ceramics, in its aesthetic concepts, has perhaps been happening too fast in recent years. Now the promotion of these products tends to last longer than it has until now. We are realizing that the less stress of presenting promotions at short intervals is coming in handy, because we are selling more without having to stress the sector to launch products at each of the fairs. That is, we are bringing out a lot of products but with longer promotions, and sales continue to grow. Which is positive.
-To what extent will the pandemic change concepts and content at the next Cevisama fair scheduled for the week of 7-11 February 2022? Will more value be given to aspects that have something to do with product safety and health, new sources of energy, the environment ...?
It is proven that the issue of sanitation, health ... has always been very much apparent throughout the sector. In flooring and covering, there is no doubt that the ceramic product is one of the best in the market. The products generally have antibacterial properties, as scientific studies have shown. So that says a lot at a time when it has become clear how important health issues are. Ceramics have no rival in this and, of course, at fairs these connotations regarding the health aspects of a product like this will become more visible. In this point I think that marketing will have a greater weight, allowing us to see all these advantages.
"WE HAVE ALWAYS ASKED THE CITY OF VALENCIA TO BE MORE INVOLVED IN THIS FAIR THAT CONTRIBUTES SO MUCH TO THE LOCAL ECONOMY."
In energy issue we are all very committed and working in a meaningful way both the Administrations, Ascer (the Spanish Ceramics Association) and companies. We are in a process of transformation in which almost everything is yet to be written and, of course, at Cevisama we have to show support, by valuing the great effort of an industry that is at the forefront of this field.
-You have worked hard to get Valencia to become more involved in promoting a fair that in just a few days brings together more than one hundred thousand people from all over the world in this city ... Has there been any progress?
It is true. We have always asked for greater involvement from the city. For this, there have been numerous meetings and I must admit that the atmosphere has always been very positive, but the results have not gone as we would have liked. What is clear is that in other cities in the world where a fair of these characteristics is held, these large cities bend over backwards, but we, in truth, have not found this here, in Valencia, at least not to the extent that is experienced in other places.
-And what role does Cevisama play in the new internal restructuring that Feria Valencia is experiencing?
Never forget that Cevisama accounts for 35% of Feria Valencia's annual turnover; In other words, it's their main show. We honestly do not know, in the face of this internal restructuring, what approach will be taken at the international level in order to attract significant new exhibitions. But I can tell you that if the purpose is to achieve large events, either through private companies or however they are established, the first thing that whoever carries the flag for this entity is going to demand is that the city is involved and supports these international events.
And I will tell you that if what is intended is for more fairs to come to Valencia, the best presentation that the Generalitat or Valencia City Council can offer is, without any doubt, Cevisama, the third largest fair in Spain and a model that should serve the Administration when it comes to promoting Feria Valencia, whose venue is one of the best in the world to host this type of event.
-Although the 2021 edition was finally cancelled, did the initial postponement to May of this year not represent an omen to think that the fair could move to spring in future editions? The debate was recently opened and February was decided, but is the debate still open?
The answer to this question belongs to the sector and a few months ago it was taken into consideration through a survey. February was voted for. This does not mean that in a few years it can't be changed. But the sector will decide. It will be everyone's decision. Of course, if a change of dates is decided, Feria Valencia will do what the sector says; It is true that it was raised in its day and a decision was made, but this does not mean that in the future it cannot be considered again. Debate always enriches us all. But as I say, it is a decision for the ceramic sector as a whole.
El máximo responsable del salón calcula que esta edición, marcada por los coletazos de la covid y los altos costes energéticos, apenas reducirá en un 15% la asistencia gracias a las ambiciosas campañas de captación de visitas y la coincidencia con la World Design Capital Valencia, entre otras acciones.