To Show or Not to Show

by WOHe

To Show or Not to Show

The Kitchen/Bath Industry Show should it take place every
year or every other year?


Nearly everyone in the industry has an opinion, and it’s frequently
a strongly held, insistent one. Advocates of the current annual
format point to growth in the industry’s leading event as a
reflection of increased interest, and emphasize the value of
attendee exposure to new products, networking opportunities and
educational programs. At the same time, critics of the current
format contend that participating in the show year in and year out
proves far too costly an investment measured against questionable
returns for both exhibitors and attendees; they suggest going to an
every-other-year, or biennial, format for the show, similar to the
format of major trade shows in Europe (see related story, Page 53).

In the meantime, as they say in the entertainment industry, the
show goes on . . . maintaining the same annual format it has had
for the past two decades, and one that is likely to remain
unchanged based on sheer economics alone.

“The last two years of [K/BIS] set new records for exhibitors,
amount of square footage and attendance,” notes Larry Spangler,
director of marketing and membership for the National Kitchen &
Bath Association, co-sponsor of the three-day event. “Attendance is
well up over 40,000 now. It continues to stay strong. So the
thought of saying, ‘Let’s do this every other year’ doesn’t stack
up to the actual response to the show.”


“We as an association are very much committed to an every-year show
because of the feedback we’ve received from the attendees,” says
Gary West, president-elect of the Hackettstown, NJ-based NKBA.
“Exhibit booth sales get stronger every year.”

“Every year there seem to be three or four major new trends, and
hundreds of new products,” adds Jeff Burton, immediate past
president of the NKBA, and owner of the The Bath & Beyond in
San Francisco. “Manufacturers who are on the cutting edge need and
want to show every year.”

The viewpoints of Spangler, West and Burton sum up the opinion
of show proponents, as well as those dealers and designers surveyed
by Kitchen & Bath Design News (see related story, Page 54).

Then, there’s the equally assertive other side of the coin,
emanating from a seemingly growing group of vocal critics.

“It’s absolutely, totally ridiculous to have a K/BIS every
year!” complains Leo Bain, owner of Nor’East Associates, a rep firm
in West Newbury, MA. “What’s the purpose of the show? To sell space
and make money for the [NKBA]? This show started out [as] a kitchen
and bath show for cabinetry; now it’s primarily hardware. [The
costs have] gotten so high you’ve eliminated all of your smaller
custom cabinet manufacturers.”

Bain’s sentiments are echoed in many quarters of the kitchen and
bath industry, with K/BIS critics charging that escalating exhibit
costs have forced, in particular, cabinet manufacturers to abandon
the show if not completely, then at least on a yearly basis. Many
smaller, regional cabinet manufacturers particularly custom
manufacturers also say they get more bang for their buck by putting
their marketing dollars into other types of dealer-support programs
instead of exhibiting at a venue that’s often outside their core
market, and one that attracts a highly regionalized attendee base,
despite its billing as a “national show.”

“Right now, K/BIS costs too much, and it doesn’t produce the
kind of results that would justify an annual event,” observes Dick
Titus, executive v.p. for the Reston, VA-based Kitchen Cabinet
Manufacturers Association (KCMA). “The products don’t change
dramatically enough every year to require a show,” 
Titus says.

“I just came from the International Wood-working Fair (IWF),
which features the latest in woodworking machinery, where things
are changing very quickly with computer technology. And they have
an every-other-year show.”

Exhibit costs
Those most strongly in favor of a biennial show are cabinet
manufacturers including the KCMA who cite the costs of displaying
cabinetry as the motivating factor behind their every-year
resistance.

For the 2001 show in Orlando, for example, space costs alone run
$30.50 per square foot for non-NKBA members wishing to exhibit at
the Orange County Convention Center. In other words, costs for a
20’x20′ booth of 400 sq. ft. would cost $12,200. And that’s space
costs alone, for a relatively small booth; it does not include
shipment fees, drayage, booth setup costs, decoration, utilities
and show-related marketing expenses not to mention travel, hotel
expenses, meals, entertainment and a host of other costs, including
months of preparation, booth construction and time away from the
office.

The intricacies of booth design required for cabinet displays
are much more extensive than for other products, points out Neil
Lynch, senior v.p./marketing for MasterBrand Cabinets Inc., in
Jasper, IN.

“You want to have a new, unique, fresh look,” Lynch explains.
“That requires designers. You build, in essence, entire kitchens
wallpaper, flooring, moulding. It becomes a real construction
effort. For appliances, you might put a vignette or two together,
but you’re [basically] transporting a finished product.”

“I think it’s asking a lot of kitchen and bath manufacturers to
exhibit on a yearly basis,” agrees David Wylie, national sales
manager for Kitchen Craft Cabinetry, which made a major splash at
the 2000 K/BIS. “There’s not enough product to introduce on an
annual basis, and the expense incurred is so much more than [that
of exhibitors who don’t] require a lot of display space and
construction. I don’t feel the return on the investment is
there.”

“You have to go there, bring people there to operate the show,
to install it,” explains Bain, who says the cost of union labor and
the booth itself is substantial. “Plus, you have to do something
for the dealers, have a party or take them someplace special. The
cost of the hotels is astronomical [also],” he adds, noting that
proximity to large convention centers necessitates a luxury
hotel.

Bain who reports an $125,000 investment for a modest-sized
booth, a figure others characterize as conservative points out that
smaller cabinet manufacturers are the hardest hit. “The custom
manufacturers, a lot of them aren’t going at all. The stock cabinet
manufacturers, they go to multiple shows remodeling, builder shows.
You’ve got companies under $10 million in annual sales. How much
money can they afford to put into shows?

“People don’t have the money to [go] so you don’t draw a lot of
dealers.”

That argument, however, seems to fly in the face of assertions
by show management regarding K/BIS attendance. In fact, some 17% of
the 40,000+ attendees at the 2000 show or roughly 7,000 people were
kitchen and bath specialists, including dealers, according to the
Coppell, TX-based Miller Freeman Inc. Building Group, which until
this year produced the show. And that was the largest attendee
category at the show, which also attracted distributors,
remodelers, builders, architects, interior designers, reps,
fabricators, cabinet shop owners, home improvement retailers and
other product specifiers, Miller Freeman reported.

Titus, for one, feels, though, that many dealers would welcome
manufacturers’ marketing dollars being re-allocated to support them
on a local level.

And others agree.
“Every two years is more than sufficient [for the K/BIS],” concurs
Bob Castriciano, v.p. for LesCare Kitchens, in Waterbury, CT. “As
dynamic and fashion-conscious as our industry is, things do not
change that quickly. Our customers have become more and more
dissatisfied with the show.”

Castriciano recalls that when LesCare informed its customer base
that the company wouldn’t be exhibiting at the last K/BIS, “they
said, ‘thank God, we won’t go because you won’t have your awards
dinner.’ “

“We empathize with the amount that every exhibitor has to put
forth,” insists the NKBA’s West. “Some exhibitors have chosen to
only exhibit every other year, and we can’t fault them for that,
[although] we encourage them to exhibit on an every-year basis and
keep their product out in front of the attendees.”

“It’s a marvelous way to reach 40,000 people in a very
concentrated [period of] time,” adds Spangler. “We would love to
see cabinet people being involved more regularly, [although] I do
recognize that some [businesses] may be regional and may not have
the same need or interest to reach a national audience each
year.”

“I think the fight for an every-other-year show is purely
economics for the smaller guy,” admits Burton. “It’s a hardship for
them to show every year, but they do have the option of showing
every other year and not lose their priority in booth selection and
space. So, the option is there.”

Change in focus
Pure economics aside, however, many observers of the show say that
K/BIS has subtly changed its focus over the 20 years of its
existence, as exhibit booths by high-end custom cabinet
manufacturers have been replaced by those of other kinds of
suppliers. Most observers agree, in fact, that the biggest,
splashiest displays these days tend to be in the plumbing, hardware
and appliance areas, a perception that cabinet manufacturers don’t
consider a plus.

“It’s become less and less kitchen people,” complains LesCare’s
Castriciano. “It’s become a bath show. If you look at who shows,
where are the high-end cabinet manufacturers? They don’t show any
more. Your [real cabinet] players in the market don’t go to the
show, and haven’t gone for years.” 

“[Plumbing and hardware businesses] market differently,” states
Titus. “How many faucets or handles do you have to sell to equate
to one set of kitchen cabinets? The show has unquestionably taken
on a plumbing flavor, which is not a good thing for cabinet
manufacturers. They’re not the same customers. Plumbers don’t buy
cabinets.”

“[Plumbing manufacturers] can more easily participate in the
show,” echoes Lynch. “If something is easier, obviously you’ll see
more of it.” 

However, there’s a legitimate reason for this shift in exhibit
focus, K/BIS officials argue.

“The plumbing people are driving the market more than the
cabinet people,” says the NKBA’s Burton. “They’re the most
innovative, the most creative. Every year, you see new items. The
plumbing and appliance guys are driving the new trends, the new
gadgetry.”

K/BIS’ location also draws some heat. The show which has been
rotating for the past several years between Chicago and Orlando has
outgrown many venues that might prove more geographically
advantageous, while show management also tries to avoid certain
cities that have been received less than enthusiastically by
exhibitors, based primarily on such factors as labor costs,
inner-city congestion and attendee reluctance to travel to those
locations.

“There are only five venues in the U.S. where we can hold this
event Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, and Las Vegas because we
need a million square feet,” Burton notes. “But, the problem with
Las Vegas [is], all the attendees say [they] can’t take time off
from work, but Vegas will not allow you to have a weekend show
because they want the rooms for gamblers. They don’t want to give
you a cut rate on the rooms.

“In San Francisco, to get a million feet, you’d be in five
buildings,” Burton continues. “And then you have manufacturers
saying, ‘I want building A, not building B, I want to be upstairs,
not downstairs.’ You can’t please everybody. Los Angeles and San
Diego, there’s [no venue] big enough, and there’s nothing in the
Northwest.”

Titus points out, however, that many cabinet manufacturers have
a regional sales base, and will likely decide their attendance
largely on where the show takes place. “If someone isn’t doing much
[business] in Florida, they’re unlikely to come to an Orlando
show,” he says. “But if that’s a target area, they will.”

“You go to Chicago, you get 30,000 people, but 27,000 are from
Chicago and 3,000 are from outside,” insists Castriciano.

“If you analyze your leads, they’re usually from the area the
show is in. You don’t get a good representation of [the whole
country].” 

“There does tend to be some regional skew,” admits
Spangler.

Audience makeup
Opinions also vary as to whether K/BIS reaches new clients, or
serves primarily to maintain and strengthen existing business
relationships.

“There is a growing group of people within our industry, more
and more new faces,” insists West. “That gives the exhibitors the
opportunity to show their products to new people looking for the
newest and most innovative product on the market. It forces
manufacturers to think ‘out of the box’ to come up with something
new and different each year.”

“I’m not sure if everyone would agree with that,” counters
Titus. “The feedback I hear is, in the main, exhibitors see the
same people [year after year]. It’s more [about] supporting
existing customers than about looking for new ones.” 

“People may be questioning how much actual decision-making goes
on at the show,” adds MasterBrand’s Lynch, whose company has opted
to go to an every-other-year schedule.

“They can expect to see us every other year,” echoes Wylie. He
adds, however, that Kitchen Craft might display two years in a row
if the company had a new product line to show.

Despite this criticism, however, some major cabinet
manufacturers think the current annual schedule for the show works
well.

“We go every year. We feel it’s very good for new business,”
says Angela Wellborn O’Neill, director of marketing for the
Ashland, AL-based Wellborn Cabinet, Inc., which has had a strong
presence at the show for years.

“A lot of our marketing strategy is based around the show,”
O’Neill explains. “That’s the date for product launches. In
addition, it gives you a location to hold certain events like sales
awards for your customer base. The cost is worth it it’s an
investment.”

Still others take a middle road, opting to exhibit big every
other year while maintaining a smaller corporate presence in “off”
years. 

KraftMaid Cabinetry, Inc. in Middlefield, OH, is a company that
takes this approach, explains spokesperson Kim Craig. In the “off”
year, KraftMaid displays door styles, finishes, construction and
decorative hardware options and new products along with other
companies in the corporate booth of parent company Masco Corp.
KraftMaid also partnered with a consumer magazine and co-sponsored
a display on the K/BIS floor at the last show.

“K/BIS is a tremendous show and it’s a terrific forum to display
the versatility of [a company’s] products,” Craig says.

“Planning and preparation for a large booth takes a lot of time,
and exhibiting every other year enables us to still make that big
splash while we concentrate on meeting the needs of our customers.”
KBDN

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