BERNEXPO GROUPE Report
In 2019, the BERNEXPO GROUPE successfully consolidated its position as the leading Swiss live communications company. Our work is currently overshadowed by the spread of the coronavirus, which poses a major challenge to our industry.
Guiding principle – management report
The BERNEXPO GROUPE aspires to remain engaged with the target groups of its strategic areas of Industry & Technology, Holidays & Leisure, Interior & Design, and Education & Careers beyond the momentum of the trade fair. To this end, in 2019 we systematically and successfully supplemented the conventional formats with agile platforms, both live and digital.
Strong partnerships as the basis for success
The stable exhibitor and visitor numbers at the BEA 2019 are the result of long-standing and strong partnerships as well as continuous further development and innovations in the trade fair service range. For example, in spring 2019 we relaunched the popular Suisse Toy at the BEA: creatively implemented as an innovative village of play, it focused entirely on the needs of families within the scope of Switzerland’s most popular social event. Additional positive developments in the consumer exhibitions of the BERNEXPO GROUPE demonstrated that platforms for interaction that are underpinned by emotional appeal are still in vogue: in its 52nd edition, the Suisse Caravan Salon set a new visitor record. The booths for exhibitors were also sold out some two months before the event.
Relevant networking platforms for the industries
With the successful launch of the new platform for the metal- and steel-processing industry BLE.CH in 2019, we underscored the fact that trade fair formats can excel by setting themselves apart and with content that is particularly relevant. INNOTEQ, the new leading trade fair for the manufacturing industry, machine and tool dealers, and suppliers to the MEM industries shares this ambition. Starting in 2021, this exhibition will be held at the BERNEXPO site every two years with support from the relevant associations – tecnoswiss, Swissmechanic and Swissmem. The objective is to offer a trade fair that brings together current industry developments, new products and key information. In addition, INNOTEQ will increase the visibility of the sector both within and outside the MEM industry.
Investments in new formats
Both today and in future, we are making targeted and successful investments in new formats and are also taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalisation. At HeroFest, the most important eSports event in the German-speaking world, a 40% increase in visitors was achieved already at the second event. The positive response from well-known partners and from visitors shows that the transition from the trade fair to the festival was persuasively accomplished with creating emotional moments and unique experiences.
With the acquisition of the companies together AG in St. Gallen (SG) and talendo AG in Trogen (AR), which host cross-media student and graduate job placement platforms, we have systematically continued the implementation of our strategy in the area of education and careers. The two up-and-coming companies specialise in career and job services in the area of HR marketing and recruiting of students and graduates. They enable the BERNEXPO GROUPE to bolster its portfolio in a meaningful way that complements the current range, thus providing a wide array of live and digital services targeted at apprentices, high school graduates and students.
Focus on the core business
In 2018, the Board of Directors of the BERNEXPO GROUPE decided to sell the majority stake in its subsidiary Messepark Bern AG and to forge ahead with further development of the infrastructure with new shareholders. This step ensures that the BERNEXPO GROUPE will be able to use the necessary latitude for further development of its core business.
In recent months, external experts analysed the infrastructure of Messepark Bern AG as part of a comprehensive due diligence assessment. At the same time, we worked with HRS Real Estate Ltd. to validate concepts for future use of the area and develop a suitable participation structure for Messepark Bern AG. The overall project is on track. Talks are currently being held with potential shareholders in Messepark Bern AG with the goal of closing the transaction in summer 2020.
We have significantly enhanced and expanded our expertise in strategic marketing, branding and live communication in recent years. At the same time, the market environment for communications agencies has changed a great deal. That is why we made the decision in 2019 to sell the communications agency Republica AG, which had been part of the BERNEXPO GROUPE since the beginning of 2016, to the former owner in the course of a management buyout. In future, Republica AG will once again operate as an owner-run and independent agency while remaining the communications agency of the BERNEXPO GROUPE with numerous areas of engagement.
Within the context of a trade fair mix that is aperiodically weaker and Suisse Public’s changeover to a three-year cycle, the results of the most recent financial year are solid. In 2019, the BERNEXPO GROUPE achieved sales of CHF 49.7 million (previous year: CHF 62.6 million). EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) amounts to CHF 8.8 million (previous year: CHF 11.0 million) and EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) to CHF 2.4 million (previous year: CHF 4.9 million). The consolidated annual profit in the reporting year amounts to CHF 2.1 million (previous year: CHF 3.3 million).
The EBITDA margin was able to be held at 17.6% despite the weaker trade fair mix. Primarily due to the lower Group result, cash flow was slightly lower at CHF 4.9 million (previous year: CHF 5.8 million). On the other hand, the cash flow margin increased by 0.6% to 9.8%. The two margins show that the absolute decline in sales was balanced out on the cost side. The consolidated equity ratio was 50.4% in the reporting year and thus only slightly below the previous year (–0.3% compared to 2018). We thus have a very healthy balance sheet, reflecting factors that include the high intrinsic value of our company. The average number of employees of the BERNEXPO GROUPE in the reporting year was 146 full-time employees (previous year: 140), mainly due to the integration of the new subsidiaries together AG and talendo AG.
Due to the prevailing uncertainty for an indefinite period of time as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the Board of Directors will propose the precautionary business measure of waiving the originally planned dividend payment at the coming Annual General Meeting of Shareholders on 29 May 2020. This step is intended to ensure that sufficient liquid funds are available to the core operating business and that the BERNEXPO GROUPE can overcome the crisis without damage.
The Board of Directors and the Management Board carried out the annual risk assessment. The relevant risks were evaluated and weighted according to their potential for damage and probability of occurrence. A variety of measures were defined to minimise risk.
The tightening and extension of the ban on events until at least 20 April 2020, decreed by the Swiss Federal Council on 13 March 2020, has a serious impact on the BERNEXPO GROUPE. The entire BERNEXPO site was completely shut down by order of the Federal Council, with dramatic financial implications for our undertaking. The coronavirus crisis resulted in the cancellation of not only the BEA as the largest consumer exhibition in Switzerland but also all other of our own events and guest events (annual general meetings, congresses and other events) during this period, translating into large losses for us. The Management Board thus immediately initiated far-reaching cost-cutting measures, such as reduced working hours and the suspension of all projects that were not time-critical. The BERNEXPO GROUPE is well capitalised and has a healthy balance sheet. The consolidated equity ratio is over 50%. The BERNEXPO GROUPE has taken precautionary measures to maintain the necessary liquidity. It is not expected that the situation will dramatically worsen. Thanks to its professional management and future-oriented business model, the BERNEXPO GROUPE will be in a position to ensure recovery after the crisis and to press ahead with successful further development of the company.
Together we are strong, and together we will remain that way. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to express my sincere thanks for your trust and goodwill. We are making every effort to overcome the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus crisis and to implement our vision of nurturing long-term engagement between people and brands in the present moment and beyond. I sincerely hope to welcome you again soon to one of our events held on the BERNEXPO site.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my special thanks to all employees of the BERNEXPO GROUPE for their motivated commitment and valiant dedication at a time when all stakeholders are facing extraordinary challenges.
Franziska von Weissenfluh
Chair of the Board of Directors