Trowel Talk: Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends
November 1, 2008
“Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.”
– David Niven, Acto
Have you ever been to an industry trade show? I usually attend several each year; the INTEX Expo, World of Concrete, and this year I had the opportunity to attend the Remodeling Show sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders at the Convention Center in Baltimore. You can always tell when a trade show is in town. Local restaurants and hotels are filled with small groups wearing matching shirts.
I usually have to get on a plane, rent a car, and book myself into a hotel when I attend these things. But this show was just a short drive from my home in Maryland, so I commuted in. The night before my wife asks, “where ya going, what ya doing…” and I foolishly reply, “I’m going into Baltimore tomorrow to see the Remodeling Show.” Upon which I now must answer a series of questions about what might be displayed at the show. As I tick off the list of products such as windows, kitchen and bathroom accessories, lighting fixtures, roofing materials, and wall treatments, I can actually see the gears turning in my wife’s head. After nearly 25 years of marriage, a husband should have been smarter than this, shouldn’t he? Needless to say, I had company to the show; company armed with questions and a shopping list.
Have you ever found yourself just wandering in a Home Depot? You know what I mean. You’ve picked up whatever it is that brought you into the store, and now you’re just window shopping. Meandering up and down the aisles, taking mental inventory of what type of duct tape or weed-whacker this particular store keeps in stock, just in case the need might arise next week, you’ll know right where to find it. You’re actually saving time; well, you will be later on when you really need something and you’re in a hurry. Now imagine that a dealer representative for every item in the store is standing there in the aisle, just waiting for you to stroll by with a few questions about their product. Not just a salesman, but a technical representative who can just about answer any question you might have. They’re handing out literature, perhaps some free samples, showing demonstration videos, sometimes demonstrating their product live onsite, sometimes with really pretty girls; and definitely showcasing the very latest invention or improved product on the market. Pretty cool, huh? Well that is what a trade show is like.
When I made that comment about the pretty girls, you did remember that I said my wife was with me, right? OK, I digress, back to the column…
COME INSIDE, COME INSIDEAs we entered the main showroom, something wasn’t quite right. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was, or what it wasn’t. “Where are all the people?” I asked myself. Usually there are crowds waiting to get in as the show opens. Most attendees like to get in and get out during the morning hours; this leaves time for exploring the city, or the golf course, later in the day. But we were there at opening bell, and the attendance was obviously lacking and a subject of a lot of conversation throughout the floor. Now in all fairness, this show, as with some others, runs educational workshops concurrently with the show. So there were a lot of attendees busy in the morning with classes on estimating, developing better business plans, and how to manage employees who helped to fill the showroom a little later in the day when their classes turned out. But the attendance was still noticeably off for such a prestigious event.
Construction guys are always big into their trucks, and I’m no exception. So, I was pleased to see the Big Three auto manufacturers all in attendance with truck displays. Ford showcased its newly redesigned for 2009 F-150, featuring a smoother and more fuel-efficient 6 speed automatic transmission, and unique access steps built into the tail-gate and side panels. Dodge was actually signing folks up for onsite test drives of their newly redesigned Ram 1500 pickup, equipped with the optional WiFi feature. And General Motors was there and talking about their hybrid Silverado pickup, although they didn’t actually bring one to the show. About the time I was asking when the new 2009 models would be hitting the dealerships, I felt my wife tugging on my sleeve.
Have you ever wondered how many different styles of toilets there are? Me neither, but there are a lot; trust me. Tall ones, short ones, sleek ones, and bold ones. Ones that flush using a low volume of water to preserve our environment, and ones that you wonder just what would happen if a small dog were to be getting a drink when a high velocity flush was initiated. Try explaining that to the family; “honey, I flushed the dog.” All kidding aside, it’s like walking into a women’s shoe store, there is a style and color of toilet for any occasion.
I have always been a big fan of famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright all of my adult life. And as we walk through the show I am delighted to see the subtle hints of Wright’s style incorporated into the craftsmanship of windows and doors by Pella, Anderson and others. Energy efficient with a classic look that is timeless. This is complemented by a host of companies offering architectural moldings in both wood and acrylic, each display as impressive and beautiful as the next.
What’s the difference between boys and men? The answer may be as simple as, the price of their toys. And what would a remodeling show be without tools. Hand tools and power tools. There were tools to keep your tools sharp, and tools to make that perfect cut. The right tool for the job was certainly well displayed by a host of manufacturers. And yes, there were plenty of women contractors ogling the tool display also, or was that the hunky tech reps?
If the bathroom was well represented, the kitchen may have stolen the show. High end cabinetry, both genuine granite and cultured stone counter-tops, hardware, gourmet appliances, all shining spotless and beautiful; truly a sight to behold. The only thing missing was Emeril Lagasse shouting his trademark cry, “Bam!”
As the day drew to a close, the modest crowd, which never really grew to the level of my expectation, began to fade. More and more representatives were seen talking to one another. Is this a sign of the times? As our nation faces difficult economic times, is there less expendable income in the coffers to afford a trip out of time to enjoy such indulgences? How long will the housing bust last? The folks I spoke with were optimistic. The construction economy has always been cyclical. It had its heyday shortly after WWII, again in the late ‘80s and again in this new millennium. But after each boom, there was a lull when money was tight and when demand caught up to inventory, or is it the other way around? I believe even in the hardest of times, people will invest in their home and business. And if the quality of the products I saw at this show is any indication of what the future has in store, I think we’re going to be fine. The products offered in Baltimore were well designed, energy efficient, beautiful, and obviously made with pride. Such things never lose value. W&C