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Friday, February 21, 2014

The International Builders Show 2014

I’m just back from my annual visit to the largest trade show for residential building. This marks my 14th year attending what for me is an essential immersion into the latest products, design trends and business tools to fine tune Butler Brothers for another year. The show has been steadily regaining its glory days of the mid 2000’s and this year felt like it was truly back.  The crowds were on the floor, the classrooms were filled and the energy was really remarkable.  It certainly helped that the show was combined with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) for the first time.  There is so much synergy with this show and I finally was able to see all the products my client’s demand in one venue.  I’m sure the exhibitors were happy to only have to make one shot at displaying their wares and most went all out. 

Once again, Kohler had an amazing display with their product line continuing to feel leading edge.  The one thing that has always been missing from IBS was the cabinetry, countertop and, to a lesser extent, appliance folks. With KBIS there, we got all that and more.  I really enjoyed the way the two shows blended into one and you could freely move through the exhibits.  I was glad it was not broken into two totally separate areas.  I think the attendees enjoyed mixing and it certainly helps the exhibitors.

Here’s a few observations on the trends from both shows -

Overall, I did not see a major shift underway but rather a continuing trend toward clean design.  Most of the products leaned toward a more modern but still classic feel.  One thing that stood out to me was the presence of wood.   It seemed to be everywhere and often in richer species and tones.  I did not see the natural stained, clear woods that have been very prevalent in recent years.  Painted finishes were still present and seem to have fully taken the “classic” label.  Another strong component on the show floor was color.  Not just color, but lots of it and quite bold.  There have been a few bright red, yellow and blue appliances making an appearance for a couple of years but this year it was much more throughout the product lines.  I’m curious to see if this takes hold in the market since my clients have not embraced these primary color trends yet.  I’ll let you know the first time I see a bright yellow tile floor or red tub installed in a Butler Brothers project.

I also had a chance to teach a class at the show, as I usually do.  This year it was "Business Management for Building Professionals".  I had about 35 students and there was a lively discussion.  It appears the challenge of low-bidding competitors is nationwide.  Once again, I stressed the need to differentiate your service from these often under-qualified and inexperienced firms.  I believe most clients will make the right decision if they can understand the real difference between contractors.  It’s not only about quality or matching specifications that result in a successful project.  Even if the finished product was identical, I doubt very many folks would chose to live through 14 months of start and stop production vs. a 4 month experience of steady work and constant communication.  There is no way to quantify that difference and it’s important for clients to realize that when considering firms to trust with their investment.

I also was asked to speak at the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s Center Stage on the show floor.  My topic was “Selling Universal Design to a Reluctant Baby Boomer”.  I made what I hope was a strong case for getting away from labeling this design concept.  Most people don’t truly understand what it encompasses and how it adds value, usability and safety to the home.  The preconceptions that many clients have about this ‘brand’ are not helpful in creating demand or acceptance.  Speaking to mostly designers, I challenged them to integrate these concepts into their projects in order to demonstrate the value and provide more examples that homeowner’s will then embrace.  Many manufacturers are taking this approach and I strongly believe it’s the right one.  As long as we label it with Universal Design or Aging-In-Place or whatever other name you want to give it, people will decide its not appropriate or will require a trade-off with their primary goals.  Creatively applied, these design features will accomplish the client’s goals and add real value and flexibility to every area of the home. 

I’m invigorated for another year and ready to apply what I observed and learned at this year’s show.  In fact, I’m looking forward to next year already!

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