The organisers of the Comptoir Suisse are hoping a band of nine fairies and a complete thematic overhaul will help to reverse a steady decline at one of the biggest consumer fairs in Switzerland.
The Comptoir started life 82 years ago as a way for rural produce to be brought to the attention of the people of Lausanne, and since then it has remained a vital link between the city and the countryside. But it has grown to include the usual panoply of jacuzzis, orthopaedic beds and beauty products one would expect at a consumer fair.
The Comptoir remains the biggest fair of its kind in French-speaking Switzerland, but for a number of years it has been accused of being old-hat, lacking in direction and unsure of precisely who it is appealing to. It has also suffered as a result of competition from smaller, specialised fairs.
"Every year, the number of visitors and the capacity of the exhibitors has been falling," says Olivier Fahrni, the Comptoir Suisse project manager. "We absolutely needed a new image and a new position in the market."
The fair has been reorganised into eight areas of economic activity - or "poles of pleasure", such as food, nature, health and fitness, interior design, youth products or holidays. In effect there are a now a number of specialised fairs within the Comptoir.
"People should be able to find exactly what they are coming for. But it should be like a big rock festival, where you have stages offering different kinds of music. They should have the chance to sample other things as well," Fahrni told swissinfo.
Having decided that pleasure should be the leitmotif of the Comptoir, an image was required to sell it. And that was where the fairies came in. There are nine of these walking, talking creatures: one for each area of pleasure, and one to keep them all in order.
The Comptoir fairytale
Fahrni describes the new Comptoir as a kind of fairytale, but in reality it is an attempt to remind people that the fair is a place to have fun, and also to appeal to a much younger, switched-on public.
For that reason, one of the poles of pleasure is the "No Adults" zone, which has everything from snowboards, break-dancing demonstrations and DJ competitions.
To better reflect the evolution of people's working and buying habits - and therefore to attract a more professional clientele - the fair has been shortened from 12 days to 10, but will stay open until 9pm every weekday.
For all his attempts to attract a new kind visitor, Fahrni believes the Comptoir should not lose sight of its origins - a showcase for the economy of canton Vaud, but especially for the products of its soil: "This is the very foundation of the Comptoir. The more society develops, the more I believe people want to remind themselves of their roots. Our problem is how best to present it."
The image of the Comptoir may have been overhauled, but getting the more than 800 exhibitors to change their ways will take a lot longer. Larger companies have the means to spend time on marketing and the look of their stand. Smaller, family firms cannot afford that luxury.
"We now have to improve the quality of the products and the originality of the presentation," Fahrni says.
by Roy Probert