Katharina C. Hamma, Founder myHomice GmbH & MD, COO, Expert International Trade Fairs and Events

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ES. Let’s kick off this interview with some words about myHomice. How did the concept of myHomice come to you? Kindly brief us about the company, its specialization, and the services that your company offers.

Katharina C. Hamma. myHomice is a digital marketplace for home office facilities and arose from the effects of the Corona Pandemic. During the first lockdown in spring 2020, the government in Germany ordered home office (work@home) for all office workplaces and thus started the mass experiment home office (work@home).

In autumn 2020 it became clear to me that corona is not a short-term phenomenon and that the home office will establish itself as an alternative place of work for office work as well as thinking and creative professions. As the Managing Director of Koelnmesse, I was heavily involved in the redesign of Orgatec, the world’s leading trade fair for the workplace. As a result, after the first few months of the Corona Pandemic, it became clear to me very quickly that there would be new, as-yet untapped sales markets for the office furniture industry that would not be developed through the existing structures. In Germany there are extensive guidelines and laws on how an office workplace must be set up according to ergonomic specifications. This has not yet been regulated for the home office (work@home) workplace. myHomice closes this gap with its attractive voucher system. Employers can purchase vouchers of any value for their employees from myHomice. With these vouchers, employees can then select the home office (work@home) facility that suits their personal needs and tastes.

“Digitization, new trade restrictions, the desire for climate neutrality, and also the fear of contagion at major events will turn the trade fair world upside down.”

The employer, in turn, has the guarantee that the financial contribution was actually invested in ergonomic equipment, since all the products offered on myHomice also comply with German workplace guidelines. After around 2 years of the corona pandemic, both employers and employees have discovered the advantages of the home office (work@home). The employer can save expensive office space, since around 20 square meters are required per employee in Germany.

The employee saves long travel times to and from the office and can better integrate work into his work-life balance – a big issue in Germany. There is currently a great deal of pressure from the trade unions to contractually regulate the ergonomic equipment in the home office, as they want to prevent the health of employees in the home office (work@home) from suffering. The main aim here is to avoid back pain caused by an incorrect working posture at the desk. From my point of view, it is to be expected that sooner or later there will also be a legal regulation in Germany for setting up the home office.

ES. What is an Ergonomics Index? As an employee, how does one benefit from myHomice?

Katharina C. Hamma. We have the myHomice Ergonomics Index as a simple product classification system to help customers choose a product. Here in Germany, all larger companies have experts who ensure compliance with ergonomics at the workplace in the office. Of course, this does not apply in the home office (work@home). With the myHomice Ergonomics Index, which we have derived from the recommendations of the German administrative professional association, the customer has a simple orientation as to how ergonomic the product is and whether it is suitable for his needs. We would like to give all customers even more security when choosing products.

ES. With 20+ years of fair trade experience in management positions, please take us through your professional journey since inception and some major milestone achieved over the years.

Katharina C. Hamma. I think I’m one of the very few managing directors or board members who has climbed all hierarchical levels in the trade fair career, because I started as a trade fair hostess 😊 and then climbed up the career ladder very quickly. As a result, I always had deep insights into the processes and procedures involved in preparing and holding trade fairs. During my work in Munich in particular, I was able to develop many new topics – first in the organizational structure in Munich and then the international portfolio of capital goods fairs.

The highlights were certainly the first Bauma China in Shanghai in 2002, which was the largest trade fair organized by a foreign trade fair organizer in China right from the start. The first bcIndia India in Mumbai in an open space in Bandra Kurla (Mumbai) was also a real highlight for me. We simply swapped the processes over during construction: the exhibitors first placed their machines in the planned hall and we then built the air-conditioned hall around it. The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 a few days before the start of bauma was definitely a particular challenge for me. At the time, this paralyzed all international air traffic and together with the airlines we looked for solutions to let our customers travel to Munich. Even today, the industry tells us how many turbulent days travelers put up with and what unusual travel communities have formed to get to the fair, which lasts a total of 7 days.

ES. Can you identify a trend or development that is enveloping the Exhibition industry around the world that you believe is important?

Katharina C. Hamma. Digitization, new trade restrictions, the desire for climate neutrality, and also the fear of contagion at major events will turn the trade fair world upside down. I am convinced that the prognosis for the international trade fair industry can be compared with the development in another branch of the economy, or is dependent on it: passenger air traffic. International event participants usually arrive by plane. This was made clear to me by the volcanic eruption just before Bauma 2010. As long as air traffic does not return to its “normality”, the number of participants at leading international trade fairs from the spoiled pre-Corona period will simply not be possible. Unfortunately, the statements made by the airlines about their business forecasts are difficult to read. Trade fairs are becoming more regional again. This was shown here in Germany in an unintended way at the beginning of the year in the lifestyle and interior sector.

The international industry beacon Ambiente, where manufacturers from India have always had a large presence, had to be canceled – not because of official requirements – but because a large part of the international participants were obviously unable to attend the event due to the corona-related travel restrictions. On the other hand, the regional events Trendset Mustermarkt in Munich and Nordstil in Hamburg met with a positive response from participants. In addition, the trade fair industry moves in a global scramble. The bottlenecks in the supply chains caused by the corona pandemic have unfortunately only increased due to the outbreak of war in Ukraine. The issue of supply chains is more under scrutiny than ever, because the associated price increases and the resulting volatilities in delivery dates are already extremely high and sometimes unbearable for the companies. If procurement becomes more regional again, then this will also be reflected in the trade fair industry.

I am convinced that trade fairs will become more focused and curated in the future. Trade fairs will no longer be trade fairs with large thematic complexes, but will reflect niche offers. They will be more specific and focused, as the pre-selection of manufacturers, dealers and service providers will continue to increase in the broad digital offering. More and more tour operators will emerge who are experts in their niche. And, to the chagrin of the leading trade fairs, there will be offers that are creative, flexible and innovative. In addition, for the visitor to a world-leading trade fair, all the product segments were seldom of equal interest. As a rule, there was always a focal point of the visit.But I don’t believe that trade fairs will become obsolete as marketplaces. People crave live communication, personal exchange, experience, human exchange and nuances. The major political and social discussion about a “Freedom Day” here in Germany has shown this clearly. However, all of our behavior has changed. I think carefully about where I want to be present and who I want to get in touch with. I consider whether keeping a possible distance is still in my own hands. Trade fairs are therefore becoming more of a gated community format in which participants trust that these fears will be minimized.

Companies with a duty of care towards their employees do this much more intensively – and will continue to do so – even if it can be combined with cost savings or the expansion of market power. Large companies are investing significantly in their own digitization and their own live communication and have long been making attractive offers to retailers and end customers independently of trade fairs. Digital marketplaces for niche topics such as screws, shoes and chocolate are developing rapidly,

ES. In your opinion, what does the Exhibition industry need to improve and what are some challenges surrounding this sector?

Katharina C. Hamma. From my point of view, the term trade fair will have to stand for changed formats of changed content in the future. After decades of maintaining the business model, the market will change it disruptively, especially with international formats. Above all, the pricing model for square meters sold is wobbly. The attempt by trade fair organizers to flee to digital or hybrid formats is a dead end. What is advertised as a hybrid variant is often nothing more than the meaningless depiction of trade fair stands in real time on the Internet or an information overload with product presentations from individual large exhibitors.

At an “analogue” trade fair, each participant could simply look around anonymously and discover topics that he had not even included in his agenda before. The English language has the beautiful word “serendipity” (meaning for lucky coincidence, happy meeting). Every decision-maker with a high procurement or investment budget either has to get a digital alias for a hybrid event or runs the risk of being rated as high potential with every digital step and being processed accordingly in terms of sales.

Good for trade fair organizers and exhibiting companies – bad luck for the interested party who can no longer determine the time of the anonymity surrender himself. On a digital marketplace, I usually only have to reveal my contact details if I really want something.

ES. How important is the German market for you despite all the internationality?

Katharina C. Hamma. As a German living in Germany, I naturally have the greatest insight into market developments in Germany. With my new business model, I was able to derive an opportunity from a crisis. I am convinced that after decades of globalization there will be a return to regional markets. And Germany, with 83 million inhabitants, is by no means as big as India, but it is still a very large market with high purchasing power. And actually I haven’t strayed that far from the trade fair business model. I bring supply and demand together like at a trade fair, only digitally.

ES. What is one of the hardest challenges that you’ve come up against and what did it teach you?

Katharina C. Hamma. A really big challenge was and is the non-digital slowness of the German authorities when founding a company and everything that goes with it. This has certainly increased again due to Corona and the government restrictions to protect employees from Corona. For example, I actually only need stamps for correspondence with state institutions – everything else is done digitally. Germany has a lot of catching up to do there. Apparently, constant economic and social growth over generations without a real crisis or upheaval also inhibits the willingness to innovate in established structures. This is a learning curve for me. Countries that have had to reinvent themselves in recent decades, such as the Baltic States, are simply much further along.

Social acceptance and the recognition of the advantages of working from home (work@home) only came about as a result of the external impact of the corona pandemic.

ES. On another note, what do you enjoy the most about your work? Please share your hobbies, what keeps you busy when you are away from work?

Katharina C. Hamma. In addition to classic hobbies such as golfing and skiing, I really enjoy cooking – of course also dishes that I have gotten to know on my many travels. Dal Makhani is one of them. In India I also got the joy of spicy food. I grow chillies on my terrace so that I can cook them at home, as fresh hot chillies are still very rarely available here. To relax I have – in addition to the chillies on my terrace, also a lot of roses, peonies, iris camellias and even jasmine. English gardens or gardens in general fascinate me.

ES. Is there anything that you would like to share with our readers?

Katharina C. Hamma. As a textile engineer, I naturally also have a soft spot for beautiful fabrics and handicrafts. I’m a big fan of Indian textile craftsmanship and now almost have a collection. I was very amused that an Indian colleague who once accompanied me when I went shopping for a genuine all-over embroidered pashmina shawl was shocked by the prices. Quality has its price everywhere in the world.