The benefit of networks – what we can learn from ice-cream producers

By: Gerald Scheffels | Specialist editor

The fact that so many owners of ice cream parlors in Germany come from a small valley in the Dolomites also has to do with networks. The industry even has its own trade fair there. Similarities with the FMB and OWL are purely coincidental …

The ice-cream parlour as a role model

Where does the family come from who owns the ice-cream parlour in your town? It’s highly likely that they come from a small mountain valley in the Dolomites –Val di Zoldo in the province of Belluno. This location is or was the home of around three-quarters of the Italian ice-cream makers in Germany, and this is where most of them return each winter. Since ice-cream was invented, they have formed a network for the exchange of their ideas, knowledge and experiences, the infrastructure of which is continually adapted to meet new requirements.

Concept for success “regional network”

This example demonstrates that regional networks are a recipe for success. A further example of this is incomparably larger and more famous: Silicone Valley in California, a central location of the IT industry and the registered seat of numerous gigantic enterprises ranging from Alphabet (Google) and Apple to Ebay and Facebook through to HP and Oracle. The third case in point: the region East Westphalia-Lippe (OWL), home to an internationally successful mechanical engineering cluster. Approximately 800 mechanical engineering companies and their suppliers – including many global leaders – generate an annual turnover of some 23 billion euros in this region.

Trade shows contribute to the success

Federations and associations, which promote and drive along cooperation projects, play a major role in the concept for success of such a network. In OWL this is the association “OWL Maschinenbau e.V.”. A trade show is also part of this concept. Incidentally, the ice-cream makers were and are aware of this fact as well. For more than sixty years now, the world’s largest annual ice-cream trade show “Mostra internationale di gelato artigianale” (MIG) has been taking place in Longarone, a small town at the entrance to the Val di Zoldo.

Larger radius – same concept

In OWL, the FMB is the trade fair (platform) for communication. It was established in 2005 with the aim to bring together regional suppliers and mechanical engineering companies.

Today, sixteen years on, the sphere of action is significantly larger, yet the basic idea remains unchanged: The best result is achieved by close collaboration between mechanical engineering companies and suppliers.

A fresh start in November

Following 15 years of growth, the FMB had to be cancelled due to the pandemic in November 2020. Preparations are now under way for the new start of the trade show activities. In doing so, we, i.e. the organisers, are pursuing the concept of dovetailing online contacts and a face-to-face event. One key element of the concept is the “B2B match-making service”: By already identifying suitable companies in the run-up to the event and arranging appointments with them to conduct discussions on site, exhibitors and visitors can reduce the number of contacts at the show itself.

Networking also plays a role in the preparation stage

Since networking has a long tradition in OWL, we also rely on collaboration with strong and well-connected partners when it comes to the planning and preparation stages – for instance in the implementation of “B2B match-making” as a new, efficient way of establishing contacts. This tool enables exhibitors and visitors to already sound out their interests and find suitable dialogue partners in the run-up to the show. The NRW.Bank, which plays a very active role in the field of SME business, is involved in the organisation here as well as the Centre for Innovation and Technology in NRW (ZENIT GmbH) and, as the optimally positioned link in the region, the district business development office “Kreiswirtschaftsförderung Lippe”. We are planning to activate the matchmaking tool in August 2021. Exhibitors and visitors definitely have something interesting to look forward to. They can then take advantage of a new way of networking.

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