It has been a little over a week since I returned from the International Builders and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (AKA Design Week) in Orlando. Attending the grand dame of the residential construction industry was an interesting experience. As a point of reference, this was my twenty-sixth consecutive visit to these shows. When asked during the week, I said my expectations were zero, so I could not be disappointed. Skeptical, I know, but two years in virtual quarantine plays with your mind a little bit. After a week of rest and reflection, here are my impressions from IBS / KBIS 2022.
A Little Painful at First
NAHB and NKBA did a terrific job of creating a safe environment for exhibitors and attendees during the pandemic. Congratulations to Geoff Cassidy and team. The lime green wristbands verifying you are fully vaccinated was a reassuring touch. It was simple, non-invasive, and something I wish was available everywhere else we visited. Mask use was said to be mandatory but was selective at best. The biggest pain for most people was regaining the show stamina for standing and walking on concrete all day. By day two, all things felt like the old times.
Telling Stories Versus Talking Products
There was a nice representation of exhibitors at this year’s show. Most traditional show exhibitors were in attendance – Sherwin Williams, Kohler, Whirlpool. Booth sizes appeared to be a bit smaller – Nanawall featured their very cool regional exhibit (it is an automated shipping container. Great work Raleigh based Zig Zibit). A few product categories were underrepresented like windows and doors though Simpson Doors and Masonite were both exhibiting. Masonite featured their new smart entry door system. There were a few empty spaces converted to lounge areas as the result of a few large exhibitors deciding to forego the show at the last minute. There were also several exhibitors that had BIG footprints on the show floor. Haier Appliances had multiple large exhibits for GE Appliances, GE Profiles, GE Monogram, and Café.
Overall, most of the KBIS exhibitors appeared to invest in larger spaces than the IBS exhibitors but this was not the biggest difference I saw at the show. The KBIS manufacturers were focused on telling stories while IBS exhibitors were talking about products. Let me use the GE Monogram exhibit as an example. Each room of the exhibit invited the attendees to experience a different type of lifestyle they could experience with their products. The rooms were beautifully designed and decorated like a Parade of Homes house, both indoor and outdoor living spaces. You experienced the fantasy that only Monogram provides, at least at this show. Monogram is a remarkable example of using the exhibit space to connect with the builders and designers at an emotional level.
The exhibitors for IBS were mostly talking about their products. You know the drill of advantages, features, and benefits. A few, if any, we visited told stories of how their products led to the lifestyles builders and designer were seeking to create for their homeowners. Imagine James Hardie telling the stories of maintenance free weekends for the homeowners and callback free days for the builders when their products are installed. Not telling your story directly or through the experiences of their builders, designers, and homeowners seems like an opportunity lost. The salespeople attending working the exhibit have the knowledge and skills to talk product details, pricing, distribution, ordering, delivery, and service. The type of conversations the builders and designer need to have today.
There were some pretty cool products at the show. By cool, I mean different, remarkable, and memorable. Here are a few unique examples:
Challenges Moving Forward
The attendance at the show was respectable. The traffic was steady and the lines for food at lunchtime were manageable. Thank goodness for the food trucks at Show Village and nice weather. The engagement by the attendees was strong and sincere. There were a few big things missing from the show that remain to be addressed openly; specifically, expected lead times, pricing and price increases, shipping, labor shortages, and the demand for housing. All of these were being discussed by the associations from an industry perspective. Several of the exhibitors I met with would talk about these areas privately. No one seemed to address these items openly with one exception.
Open, authentic, and frequent communication during the most challenging times has been proven time and again to be the best approach to assure both short-term and long-term success. Ignorance is not bliss; it is suicide. Communication will allow us to succeed through joint troubleshooting and problem solving while these challenges are being addressed. Construction is a blended, integrated industry for all the businesses that touch it from the raw materials providers to the builders, realtors, and homeowners. Communication is mission critical.
Who put this soapbox in the middle of this review?
The pandemic has provided the industry with one meaningful opportunity we must not overlook, the use of online communications for ordering, order status, order histories, delivery management, customer service, and, yes, sales and marketing. We have the tools and experience due to the ‘pivots’ many of our businesses were required to take to provide the touchless experience the pandemic required. The addition of the online channel allows us to be more responsive, better communicators, and profitable.
Greenheck Residential is a large commercial HVAC and IAQ manufacturer that has chosen to embrace these lessons the pandemic and more to sell full systems direct, online. It is brave and smart for many of the reasons listed above. I am told they have the products in place. The next steps include creating the awareness they need and the experience of the builders and contractors to build momentum and prove the point.
The businesses that fully embrace the basic online business resources or sell direct online will be recognized as remarkable and memorable because of their success no matter how it is measured. Attending the show, I have faith in the industries strength. Hope for the industries recognition of healthy and profitable change. And a little skepticism for the history of romantically holding on to the past. Time and the people of our industry will tell.
Changes for 2023
It was announced this week that the National Hardware Show will be joining IBS and KBIS in Las Vegas next year as a part of Design Week. This is promising news for the industry as we work together.