I am no longer a KBIS virgin. I am home now after almost a week at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). Now I can proudly say: “Yeah KBIS? Been there, done that!” Well, maybe not so fast…. Not just because I’ve read the reviews and heard comments while at the show from KBIS veterans, but because it was painfully obvious that attendance was… well… ahem… way down from years past.
I’ve been to home shows, conventions and trade shows that were local or regional in other industries that were larger than this “international” show. I say international because it seemed like there were many foreign manufacturers of everything K & B were very well represented at the show and most of whom I’d never heard of.
I saw a beautiful display of some bathroom fixtures that were made in China. I asked the lady manning the booth if they had a collection of CAD symbols for their products. Apparently I had stepped out of the realm of conversation that she had prepared to participate in. “Kitchen?” she said looking like a deer in headlights. “No… AutoCAD symbols?… you know… for computer… for drafting.” (Trying my best to convey my meaning using hand signals and expressions as if in a game of Charades.) “No” she said… “No Computer.” We weren’t communicating very well. I didn’t collect brochures (or let her scan my badge to send me some). Clearly, if I ever did have an opportunity to order anything from them, they’d likely have some issues getting the order right.
Admittedly, I was drawn to people and companies that I had become familiar with over the foreign product manufacturers I felt I couldn’t easily buy from or specify even if I wanted to. Most notably was Masco Corp. They are (I think still) the largest parent company of kitchen and bath product manufacturers in the country. They produce familiar named cabinetry such as Marilat, Kraftmaid and Quality (all of which I have specified and sold over the years) as well as plumbing super stars Delta and Brizo. Many of the events that I scheduled myself to attend (and actually made it to mostly) were Masco related. This due largely to Mark Johnson who (until now) I had known as some architect guy on Twitter (@markjohnsonfaia) who was generously posting my tweets in his kitchen design “daily” news blog. I had no idea he was really a secret agent for Masco! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zu96Po3fCc&feature=related
Mark not only emcee’d the knowledge presentations at the Masco booth, he actually presented sessions himself on the basics and benefits of social networking. He also coordinated Tweetups that he invited me to attend as well as dinners and receptions that Masco was throwing or helping with. Those that I attended highlighted the KBIS experience for me. It not only gave me the opportunity to meet up with many of my “Blogger 19” friends and others of my “online design network” in person, but actually gave me insight and new inspiration into the field of kitchen and bath design.
I listened to a couple of Masco’s sessions presented by Sarah Reep who also writes for Kitchen and Bath Design News and consults for HGTV. She talked about several topics from Universal Design which addresses the burgeoning needs of the Baby Boomers as their physical needs and changes influence kitchen and bath design to understanding the trends, influences and buying habits of the next great demographic: Gen Y (17 to 30 year olds presently) who are destined to outnumber the Baby Boomers as the major buying group in the next 5-6 years. She stated that over half of the homes purchased last year were from this group. http://youtu.be/SW7nJpucu1o
That segue lead to a session I enjoyed presented by Eric Schimelpfenig, Akbd, a kitchen designer, self-proclaimed geek and Sketchup guru who demonstrated using the iPad as a tool to replace the volumes of paper designers find themselves generating in the design and sales processes. Until then, I couldn’t justify owning an iPad that just looked like an expensive toy. With all the free and nearly free aps that are available, Eric was able to show some real-life practical uses for the iPad by kitchen designers from taking site measurements to pulling together story boards nearly instantaneously before a clients eyes… How cool is that?! Imagine: no more heavy binders to update and lug around as cabinet vendors make their spec guides available as PDF documents. A paperless society in our future? Almost!
On the last day I was there walking among the exhibits it seemed there were way more exhibitors than attendees… in fact it seemed as if the exhibitors were more or less exhibiting to each other.
I decided I’d better track down some of the booths that I had wanted to see before it was too late and perhaps see some products from manufacturers who I was not familiar with. After all, they’d stuck their necks out (and pocketbooks) to exhibit in a show that had been dominated in past years by the big and famous that had opted not to “risk it” on the iffy projected attendance of this year’s show.
The KBIS experience appears to be evolving into more than a place to see the newest and coolest products on the market. Clearly that’s not going to happen as many of the exhibitors that had been the cornerstones of past years were no longer present. In anticipation of this, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) turned its focus toward other aspects that would be beneficial to attendees. In particular was the emphasis in technology and the changing demographic of the kitchen and bath consumer. Not just in product innovation, but in how we kitchen and bath professionals conduct business and how we relate to, communicate to, and define our clientele. So it’s likely I may never experience KBIS as those veteran attendees have.
I’m OK with that. In the many decades since KBIS first began, we have changed. Kitchens and baths have changed. Technology has changed. So it’s appropriate that our industry’s most important event should change too. I’ve never felt the need to attend KBIS before because in the past decade that I’ve been in the business, I’ve had access to the internet. I’ve subscribed to every available trade magazine, attended training seminars and product demos, and I have familiarized myself with products and technologies as needed. It wasn’t until I found that KBIS was actually another social networking opportunity did I consider attending.
What I learned was that the opportunities for learning and networking were the aspects of KBIS that made attending this event worthwhile. I’m hoping that the NKBA will pay attention to it’s own advice (so to speak) and keep moving toward adapting to the demands of changing technology. There was evidence of this throughout this year’s show that included the cell phone ap that had the maps and exhibitors as well as personal calendars that integrated using the attendee’s badge number. There was the Know-It-All Lounge and the Multi-Media Lounge where people could get info, charge their phones, and put their feet up inbetween tours and sessions.
My challenge to next-year’s exhibitors: Don’t make expensive glossy books such an important part of your presentation. Don’t offer to scan my badge and send me stuff I can get on the internet. I’d rather you would send me an email and not waste a bunch of trees and chemicals that fill up my mailbox and (if the truth be known) I’m probably going to toss in the recycle bin along with the rest of the junk mail I get. By the end of the second day of filling my KBIS-provided tote bag with crap, I was beat from hauling it around and found myself too exhausted to attend a reception I was really looking forward to!
This is part and parcel to marketing for the next generation of designers and consumers who are looking for smarter, more economical means to learn about new products and processes. Perhaps if exhibiting and attending were more fullfilling experiences while being less expensive, some of the exhibitors that have dropped out this year will see the advantages of returning for future KBIS events.
I’m a KBIS newbie. I’m OK with that. I’m hoping the next one I attend will be a totally new experience too and nothing like I expected. If it’s the “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” it will be my last. Somehow, I don’t think my next KBIS will dissappoint.