K/BIS 2000: Where’s the Cabinets?

by WOHe

Visitors to last month’s Kitchen/ Bath Industry Show couldn’t
help but be truly impressed.

They couldn’t help but be impressed, for one thing, by the sheer
magnitude of a show that attracted a record 41,000 attendees; by a
cavernous exhibit hall that spotlighted 700 companies; by the
annual flood of cutting-edge new products that continue to shape
and drive the market.

K/BIS visitors couldn’t help but be impressed, moreover, with
the resounding statement the show made about the vitality and
growth of an industry that’s clearly been transformed from an
immature, stodgy, manufacturing-driven industry into a
sophisticated, marketing-oriented, fashion-driven industry that’s
sounding a higher note than ever.

K/BIS 2000 couldn’t help but leave one other lasting impression
on show-goers, however.
It’s the unfortunate, and troubling, feeling that cabinet
manufacturers, for the most part, have disappeared almost entirely
from the market.

That’s not really true, of course. It only felt that way
wandering the busy aisles of Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Don’t get me wrong: Some cabinet companies obviously spent big
bucks to make a major statement at this year’s show. But many of
the products they exhibited or so it seemed were aimed primarily at
the mid-to-low-end of the market. In contrast, booths featuring
high-end custom cabinets were relatively few and far between and
were virtually lost in a veritable sea of plumbing fixtures,
decorative hardware, appliances, countertop materials and other
products on display.

The result was that it seemed like you practically needed a
compass and a road map to find the kind of cabinets that used to
comprise the heart and soul of K/BIS . . . the kind of cabinets
that remain the most important product in today’s kitchens . . .
the kind of cabinets that most of the kitchen/bath dealers and
other specifiers walking the aisles were no doubt hoping to
see.

So what’s going on here? Where’s all this headed?

Well, what’s been clear for awhile, of course, is the fact that
a growing number of cabinet manufacturers have been wondering if
there’s a place in their business strategy and money in their
marketing budget for exhibiting every year at K/BIS.

Sentiment among prominent members of the Kitchen Cabinet
Manufacturers Association, for example, has been running in favor
of an every-other-year format for the show. Groups and individuals
have approached the trade show’s owner, the National Kitchen &
Bath Association, and the event’s producer, the Dallas-based Miller
Freeman, to persuade a switch to a biennial format, or to co-locate
the trade show with a compatible entity, such as the biennial
plumbing show ISH.

That’s not likely to happen, though. K/BIS is simply too large
and far too lucrative not to be staged every year. The show’s
growth demonstrates, furthermore, that for every company that sits
out K/BIS, there’s at least one other company willing to jump into
the mix with a new or expanded booth.

While all this debate goes on, though, it’s becoming
increasingly clear that cabinet manufacturers may be missing out on
a major marketing opportunity by missing out at K/BIS.

Cabinet suppliers are already relatively invisible in the eyes
of consumers, with the $50-billion kitchen and bath industry as a
whole spending only a fraction of what other industries pour
annually into promotion.

These same cabinet firms may well be hurting themselves even
more long-term by deciding to remain invisible to the trade.
Cabinet manufacturers simply can’t afford to consistently miss an
opportunity to connect with 40,000+ specifiers in a single
three-day span. They certainly can’t afford to send a message to
the trade they that they’ve gotten so used to double-digit monthly
sales gains, they’ve forgotten the value of face-to-face contact
with prospects and customers.

There’s no surer recipe for calamity than equal parts
complacency and overconfidence.’
Cabinet manufacturers, sadly, may be walking down that path if they
continue to turn their backs on shows’
like K/BIS.

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