Scratching the ISH Itch

I've heard about ISH as long as I've been in the HVAC industry. ISH is the International Sänitar Heizung Clima show, held every other year in Frankfurt, Germany. It's purported to be the world’s largest HVAC trade show.

Is it really larger than the AHR Show when that fills McCormick Place in Chicago? Call me a skeptic, but I had my doubts.

I was wrong.

For the first time, I attended ISH with a group from the Service Nation Alliance as part of an International Leadership Workshop led by Contracting magazine Hall of Fame inductee, Ron Smith. For three days, we participated in the workshop in the mornings and visited the trade show in the afternoons. We only covered a fraction of the show.

The ISH Show filled 11 — count 'em, 11 — exhibition halls. Most had multiple floors. According to Bob Mader, the editor-in-chief of Contractor magazine, Messe Frankfurt, where ISH is held, is five times the size of McCormick Place. It attracted 204,000 visitors, compared to 34,000 for AHR, held a couple of months earlier in Las Vegas.

With 3.5 million sq.ft of exhibition space, the scale of the show is difficult to comprehend. The record for AHR is 400,000 sq.ft.

"The ISH show is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen or even heard of. This is great," commented Ben Stark, one of the contractors with the Service Nation Alliance.

"The one thing that strikes me really hard," said contractor Steve Lauten, "is that the exhibitors at ISH spared no expense in promoting their goods and services. I have never seen the size and quality of the booths that ISH had, thousands of them! These people were ready to do business, had food and drink ready to go, tables set up, and in general, were very friendly."

I wasn't prepared for the size and expense of the booths. Multi-story trade show booths were not the exception, but the norm. Exhibitors literally spent millions.

So what did we learn? I think we hold our own in cooling technology. We're also pretty good in solar, even though the Europeans seem to be applying more of it. We did see some controls and instrumentation that caused the team to do a second take. We also were blown away by some of the heating technology. While we didn't see a better upflow warm-air furnace for the masses, we were continually impressed by upper end heating products with the potential for high margin sales.

Surprisingly, many European manufacturers showed little interest in introducing their products in the North American markets. They weighed the potential sales against the bureaucratic red tape they'd have to overcome to sell products here and decided it's not worth it.

Asian manufacturers, by contrast, showed no inhibitions about entering our markets. In fact, many of the ones we talked with were already exporting to the U.S. and Canada.

While Asian, Indian, and other manufacturers were at ISH in force, few American manufacturers could be found. Those present tended to have strong European operations and the products they displayed aren't always available in the U.S.

As Americans, we tend to be smug about our superiority. I believe we should never become so insular that we ignore the potential to learn from others.

While I was disappointed with the lack of American presence at ISH (only a few thousand Americans even attend), the show exceeded my expectations. It's an itch every contractor should scratch at least once. Based on the feedback of the contractors who attended the show, I’m looking forward to the next International Leadership Workshop and trade show. Maybe Australia?

Matt Michel is the CEO of Service Nation, which operates the Service Roundtable (one of the industry's largest and most affordable contractor alliances), the Retail Contractor Coalition (helping contractors offer their own branded lines of HVAC equipment), and the Service Nation Alliance (a best practices group dedicated to giving contractors multiple, attractive exit strategies). Learn more at or by calling 877/262.3341.

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