Duo interview Robert Stelling and Rob den Hertog
Monday, 01 February 2021

Duo interview with Robert Stelling and Rob den Hertog

After sixteen years of Interclean, Rob den Hertog has retired as an exhibition manager on the 1st of January. In this tumultuous coronavirus time, he has passed on the baton to Robert Stelling. Service management has interviewed Rob and Robert and together they look at the future of Interclean. 

A big farewell at the fair in May 2020 was not possible because of the coronavirus. That must be made up for in 2022, notes the new exhibition manager. Robert Stelling will manage a fair with a glorious history. In the mid-1960s, the Bouwbeurs (builders fair) was organised in Utrecht, where - in the absence of a specific cleaning fair - suppliers of floor maintenance machines such as Taski, Wetrok, Clarke and Columbus-Dixon also exhibited among the building materials. That was no coincidence. Because in those years mechanical floor maintenance really broke through in cleaning. But among all the construction elements, these exhibitors remained the odd one out.

The very first Interclean Amsterdam

Mr Van de Pasch of bureau Invas then suggested that RAI Amsterdam should organise a specific cleaning fair every year. This resulted in the first Interclean in December 1967. The first 57 exhibitors from 1967 included eight companies that still fully participate in professional cleaning: Alpheios, Ewepo (now part of Groveko), Flash, Hago, Hijman, Metternich/Spectro, Nilfisk and Vendor. The annual frequency was too costly for the exhibitors, which was followed by biennial editions until 1987, all with Jos van den Berg as exhibition manager.

 

The growth of the Interclean is essentially based on good listening

 

Internationalisation

Visitor numbers exploded during that period. The RAI broke through the 20.000 mark and started internationalisation. During the tenth Interclean - in 1983 - all records were broken with 23.000 interested parties and a net exhibition area of 22.000 square meters. Rob den Hertog took over from Jos van den Berg in 2004. “At that time, I had only done national events from 200 to a maximum of 400 exhibitors. There were also international parties there, but the Interclean was a size bigger. With Italians, English, Germans and many more international guests. I have learned from Jos that you have to be there when something happens in your industry. That makes you a lot wiser.”

Largest cleaning show on the planet

The fair just kept growing until it became the largest cleaning show on the planet. The number of visitors went to 33.000 in 2018. Worldwide about 6.000 of them come from the Netherlands every two years. In total the Interclean had 900 exhibitors in 2018. Den Hertog: “As a Dutchman you will find an overview of all innovations in cleaning in your own backyard. Up to two hours driving.” Den Hertog continues: “The growth of the Interclean is essentially based on good listening. The RAI's research department mapped out very precisely why visitors got into the car, train or plane to come to the Interclean. But we also have committees to put out the feelers. In short, the question is always how we can match the needs of the cleaning industry as closely as possible.”

Neutral terrain

Besides the fact that the Netherlands has an excellent infrastructure, it is simply nice to visit Amsterdam and the Interclean operates on neutral territory. Den Hertog: “If you participate as an exhibitor in a trade fair in England, Italy or Germany, you are immediately in the backyard with your competitors. We do not have such large manufacturers here in the Netherlands. It is neutral territory. Further we have, relatively in the world, a high hourly wage in the Netherlands which means that innovation pays off sooner. So we have a mature cleaning market with a lot of innovation.” This made the wheel turn, Den Hertog observes. “More visitors attract more exhibitors. Which makes it more worthwhile for visitors to see the complete overview."

Segmentation in the show

Cleaning companies eventually disappeared as exhibitors. A fun fact: VLS is the last cleaning company that had a stand in 2004. “But cleaning companies, along with facility managers, do belong to the primary visitor target group. What am I most proud of in those sixteen years? I think the growth we have been able to experience. And the innovation in cleaning that we have provided a platform. Think of the innovation lab that has become bigger and bigger, but also everything related to management and mobility that we as Dutch are good at. That was just a corner by the stairs and has now become a more than fully-fledged part of the fair. Eventually there was segmentation in the show which, for example, brought companies in the washroom segment together. So as a visitor you know exactly where to go. It is also nice for exhibitors: you know that the visitors in the hall concerned are actually interested in your category.”

 

Relatively speaking in the world, we have a high hourly wage in the Netherlands, which means that innovation pays off sooner

 

À la carte restaurant packed

The Interclean has meant a lot to Dutch providers with international ambitions. Den Hertog: “It is impossible to search the yellow pages for a distributor for your products in Argentina, for example. But you can find it via the Interclean. You will probably find all distributors in Argentina. That international character is unique. We have always tried to take this into account as well as possible. The funny thing is that the Dutch eat a sandwich with cheese and drink a glass of milk at a fair. And then quickly on again. At the Interclean, the à la carte restaurant is packed. You also want international visitors to feel at home. That goes beyond just providing a pizza for the Italians.”

Ups and downs

Den Hertog tells about ups and downs. "A highlight was of course the 25th anniversary and the fact that we could publish a book about it." Dick van Zomeren, former chief editor and still associated with Service Management as an editor, fully contributed to this book. “However, the presentation was also a low point. Peter Holt, one of the first exhibitors on behalf of Truvox, succumbed to heart failure. That was very tough, but it was also good to support each other in the cleaning industry. I thought it was a highlight every two years that again we had succeeded in creating the best possible overview. "Everyone who means something in the cleaning industry walks around here," I have received as a compliment. That is the best compliment you can get as an exhibition manager.”

Exploring megatrends

What will Den Hertog miss most? “The conversations to develop new business. To the madness of the fantastic Interclean team, I have pulled new things up. I am also going to miss the contacts. But mind you, I haven't left yet.” Den Hertog will remain associated with the RAI for two mornings a week to explore new possibilities for the show. “What megatrends are there? Think of robots and cobots, green cleaning and the training of cleaning professionals. I can further explore these opportunities. Furthermore, it is nice that not everything has to be done immediately anymore. The deadlines are now in Robert's hands. It takes some getting used to it, but having rest is also nice.”

Robert Stelling has officially taken over from Rob den Hertog on the 1st of January. That transfer takes place under unfavourable conditions because of the coronavirus. “Can Rob already take a little distance?” Stelling repeats the question. Laughing: “Hardly. When I tell him what we are doing, he gets eager and is still full of ideas.”

Lessons from online fair

Stelling has started in March 2012 and raised his hand in 2018 when it turned out that Den Hertog wanted to slow down. “It is a challenging time to take over the job and they are big shoes to fill. But the coronavirus also brings with it lessons on how to set up a trade fair program online. We have gained experience with this in November. The online activities will enable us to involve more people worldwide in the physical fair in 2022. Not everyone can come to Amsterdam, so we can still offer those who stayed at home a good program online.”

2022, a more hybrid concept

At the same time, Stelling notes that both exhibitors and visitors miss one-on-one contact. “Online was a good replacement and elements such as the television studio will certainly return, but in the end you want to feel that one cleaning cloth, ride a cleaning machine or talk face to face with an interesting prospect. I do expect the Interclean 2022 to have a more hybrid concept.”

 

Online was a good replacement, but in the end you want to feel that one cleaning cloth or talk face to face

 

The Interclean will be in China in April. “It will take place as a mainly Chinese show. In China they have already reached the point where physical contact is possible again, also due to the strict testing program of the Chinese government. There they shake hands again. Our colleagues in Shanghai can travel all over the country to visit exhibitors. I expect that when the vaccinations are ready, we can also return to normal in the Netherlands; including international travelling to get here.”

Cleaning high on the global agenda

Exhibitors are confident that the Interclean will return in 2022, notes Stelling. "They have moved their booking to next year." The advantage is that hygiene and cleaning are worldwide higher on the agenda than ever before. Den Hertog: “Including the consequences for healthcare that we discuss in the Healthcare Cleaning Forum. Think of the rise of viruses such as the coronavirus, but also antibiotic resistance. My advice is to continue with that forum.”

Finally: what has Stelling learned from Den Hertog? “It starts with your target group. Listen to the market. Know what's going on. Listen to your stakeholders and actually do what they indicate. The Interclean is truly the meeting place where we, together with visitors and exhibitors, are building the future of the cleaning industry. That is and will remain the core.”

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