There's a big, fascinating world out there. That's why we're leading the way to ISH.

One of the nicest compliments ever paid to me was in 1984, after we had published the first several issues of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, of which I was founding editor. A marketing VP from one of the plumbing manufacturers called to tell me how much he enjoyed reading this new magazine for contractors. He described it as having a "cosmopolitan" tone.

Cosmopolitan is a fancy word that basically means being open-minded and aware of the big picture. The opposite of cosmopolitan is "provincial," which describes people who act as though everything revolves around their own little corner of the world. World crossroads like Paris, New York and London often get described as cosmopolitan cities, but the cosmopolitan-provincial spectrum is about attitudes, not geography. Bigots are provincial. People who enjoy the company of people from different backgrounds are cosmopolitan. Provincial people talk mostly about themselves and their personal interests. Cosmopolitan folks enjoy the give and take of conversation and try to find out what makes other people tick. Provincial people are totally absorbed with local events that directly impact them. Cosmopolitans take interest in the forest beyond the trees. Provincials are fearful of the unknown. Cosmopolitans are explorers. Provincials think small thoughts. Cosmopolitans think big.

Overcoming provincialism

For years I was puffed up by that compliment from an industry VIP. I thought it was keen insight on his part. I did regard myself as a cosmopolitan individual, and this naturally was reflected in my work. Cosmopolitan were we, and cosmopolitan we would always be.

Then, in 1993, I was stricken with a sudden attack of provincialism. That's when I paid my first visit to the every-other-year ISH trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany.

I had heard some industry people rave about this event, but I'd never paid much attention. It was a big deal for Europe, but most of the companies that exhibited there didn't market in America, and out of more than 1,800 exhibitors at the 1993 ISH show, only 10 were based in the United States. Out of 227,000 show visitors from 84 countries, only a few hundred journeyed across the Atlantic from here. For me the trip was a heck of a junket, but what did that have to do with the interests of our readers?

Do you hear the heavy metal screech of provincialism in that line of thinking? The show itself made me come to my cosmopolitan senses. I saw many good reasons for being there. In fact, I came back so enthused that I persuaded my bosses that our magazine ought to lead the way in opening the eyes of the American plumbing-heating industry by sponsoring a group tour of the show. We did this in 1995. We are doing this again for the 1999 version, in conjunction with Ecoflex, the European manufacturer of preinsulated flexible pipe used in a variety of plumbing and heating applications. It runs March 23 to 28, 1999.

Our previous tour occurred when we were in the early stages of launching PM Engineer, and we didn't really promote the tour to this new audience. Mostly it was contractors who went along, and they loved it. Some of their comments:

  • "Truly, this is a show every plumbing and heating contractor should attend. Manufacturers and suppliers could also benefit from a trip to heating wonderland...My best friends warned me about the immensity of the show. They were right."-Robert "Hot Rod" Rohr, MAXROHR, Inc., Springfield, Mo.

  • "My father and I had a great time in Germany...You did a first-class job on this trip." -Jack Simonson Jr., The Irish Plumber, Villa Park, Ill.

  • "I had a very positive experience and have made several lifelong friends. Thank you for your kindness and attention to detail."-Dan Hennessey, Hennessey Plumbing Services, Milford, Conn.

An engineer's delight

Plumbing and heating engineers have even more reason to attend than contractors. We sent editorial director, Julius Ballanco, to the 1997 ISH, his first experience there, and you may recall the article he wrote about it in our June 1997 issue. He wrote:

"Until this year, I thought the bi-annual ASPE Plumbing Show was the best trade show in the world. That was before I attended this year's ISH Trade Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. The ASPE Show pales in comparison to ISH. Combine the ASPE, NEX, Kitchen & Bath, ASHRAE and Home Builders Shows, and multiply the size of all of these shows combined by three, and you get a picture of ISH...

"I could write volumes on the new and innovative plumbing and mechanical systems I witnessed at ISH," said Ballanco, who, because of space limitations, wrote about only two of the fascinating ideas from ISH.

ISH displays some of the most technologically advanced plumbing and heating products in the world. People argue whether or not the Europeans make better stuff than here in America, but in any case you'll certainly see some different approaches. Because Europe is more congested than America, its environmental regulations are even tougher than ours. This has sparked many energy- and water-saving breakthroughs. Wait until you see some of their ultra-sanitation techniques and electronic plumbing-heating gadgets. Wouldn't it be great to be the first in your market to specify some of their stuff? Wouldn't it enhance your professionalism just to know it exists and how it works?

ISH is without question the world's greatest showcase of hydronic heating technology. Here, hydronics occupies a small market niche. In Europe, it is the prevalent method of heating homes and buildings. The large European boiler manufacturers such as Buderus and Veissmann have exhibits that cover tens of thousands of square feet. Radiant floor heating is particularly well developed over there. One of the 20 or so separate exhibit halls at ISH is given over entirely to radiant heating products and demonstrations.

Another exhibit hall is devoted exclusively to pumping technology. Plumbing and piping technology spans two huge exhibit halls. Despite the grand size of ISH, it is well organized and mapped. The choice is yours whether to spend all of your time in those halls most pertinent to you professionally, or just wander around and sample some of the show's other wonders-such as an exhibit hall filled with nothing but woodburning stoves, another with filtration equipment, two exhibit halls with live demonstrations of modern plumbing tools (the loudest places on earth), or the Italian exhibition of luxurious bathroom vignettes.

And by the way, virtually every exhibitor at the ISH Show has someone there who speaks English. Language is not a barrier. Same goes for most hotels, restaurants and shops in major German cities.

Fun & games

Many exhibitors fill visitors with food and drink at little dining areas and bars set up amid their displays. Some are not so little. A few of the larger exhibitors actually run sit-down restaurants with waitresses to take orders.

Our tour includes plenty of after-hours activity. The package price includes dinner and entertainment every evening, although nobody is held captive. You are free to come and go as you please to explore sights of personal interest.

We also have scheduled two excursions that will enable you to see quite a bit of Germany. One is to the Ecoflex plant in a little town about two hours away. You'll get to see a lot of the German countryside and quaint little towns, as well as state-of-art European manufacturing techniques. We'll also be venturing to Heidelberg, the historic German city that is one of the most picturesque places you'll ever see.

Our accommodations are particularly unique. Finding a decent place to stay in Frankfurt is hard to do during ISH week. Most hotels within walking distance cost $350 to 450 a night, and the ones that are a little cheaper tend to be downright crummy. Our tour group will stay on one of dozens of riverboats chartered by ISH exhibitors for special guests. It will be situated on the Main River, about a mile away from the show site. If the weather's decent, it's not a bad walk. Otherwise, transportation to and from the show is provided as part of our tour package.

I hope to see many of you joining us next March. Don't underestimate the importance of visiting ISH with dozens of like-minded companions. Unlike American PHC shows, you face tough odds running into someone you know. First time I viewed ISH, I traveled by myself and got to feeling lonely after a couple of evenings dining out alone.

Our tour's package price of $1,995 plus plane fare ($1,495 per person, double occupancy) is several hundred dollars less than our previous tour in 1995 and includes many more amenities.

Accommodations are limited, so don't delay in signing up. To do so, contact our tour director Anne Coffelt toll free at 877-ECOFLEX (326-3539), or 707-833-6900. Or e-mail: