KBIS — Been There Done That

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.

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12 responses to “KBIS — Been There Done That

  1. Great post Pam – you hit the nail on the head so many times. Especially about lugging stuff around. I picked up many press releases that were on various fancifully disguised USB thumb drives or on CD – wouldn’t it be more practical/less wasteful just to scan my badge and send me a link?

  2. You said it Sarah! If they are really so “with it” as they’d like us to believe, they wouldn’t bombard us with stuff. I’m sure many consider themselves “progressive” because they put it on computer media instead of a glossy booklet –when in reality their new approach is even less friendly to the environment. In many cases –I got both. I can’t believe how many people ran over to scan my badge to send me junk before I had the opportunity to stop them.

    Why in the world would they be more concerned with filling up my junk e-mail box than my snail-mail box? Clearly it’s because the e-mail program is much better at filtering my mail for me. I do quickly scan my e-mail junk box before I dump it though just because I know it’s not a perfect system. I would surely catch items from KBIS exhibitors if they clearly stated that’s what they were. (I get about 150 to 200 spam a day).

  3. I didn’t understand why exibitors were in such a hurry to scan my badge but when I was walking through their booths I was rarely engaged about the products that were being shown. I would think our input and feed back might be just as valuable as our contact Info?!

  4. Hi Jeremy! Happy to meet you at KBIS too!

    Having the ability to scan someone’s badge is something I haven’t experienced at trade shows or home shows in the past. I’m inclined to think that might have been a new thing for most of the exhibitors. At least it was a new experience for me. I think there were negative aspects of this “new technology.”

    I found that there were missed opportunities to tell me about products when exhibitors first comments to me were “May I scan your badge?” instead of “May I tell you about our new….?” Hell this was a trade show! I expected to be “sold” to. Just goes to show that the selling process is still difficult for many even in a venue that was all about selling. This was painfully obvious when I was the only “customer” outnumbered by the “sales people” at booths. Even worse were situations where they thought that scanning my badge replaced the need (at an American trade show) to be able to communicate in English.

    I’m planning to devote future blog posts to some of the prducts that I learned about at KBIS. Some of them aren’t even from Masco Corp! Like Masco, telling me about their products was not secondary to collectiong my contact info.

  5. Pam, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments on experiencing KBIS 2011. Having prepared for NEOCON while working for a design showrooom at the Merchandise Mart, Chicago years ago and a regular attendee at KBIS since 2003, the comments made on how technology is changing Trade Shows rings true. Our responses to exhibitors marketing efforts mirror the rapid transformations taking place in our business and personal communications. Where paper is the default we now expect electronic transmissions, and when those are more than time allows a quick Youtube or Tweet or .com address gives the info we require in less time. Time is more imperative now than ever before.
    What does the client need? We fill a project book with Specs after reviewing and confirming what amounts to libraries of paper containing choices they/we have painstakingly pulled to satisfy the project.
    Yes, one piece of paper multiplied many times over becomes the weight on your shoulder that sends you to the chiropractor after the trade show, however it is also the one currency that delivers the dream your client is asking for.
    Each booth at the show represents considerable financial committment as you mentioned. Imagine being unable to attend any but the last day of the show, what can you take with you to maximize the information in so little time? Will the exhibitor be able to send something to you? Is there a ‘take-away’ available for further study?
    The year my mother died KBIS took place during the funeral week. On Sunday my rapid walk through the hall left me feeling a bit frantic, no time to pause and discuss, just scan & slip the literature offered into the bag. No doubt very few will attend under that circumstance but it left me with a respect for all the vendors who put a great amount of effort [and $$] into getting their products onto a paper that allowed me to take my time to look at what they offer.
    It is exciting to take part in the changes taking place now. If you will, contact me for next year, I’d be delighted to take you on a tour, answer your questions & deliver your feedback to the vendors I represent! Looking forward to reading more of your observations on this blog & hope to see your work as well. Kathleen

  6. Thanks Kathleen for taking the time to write such an insightful response to my blog. Yes, paper continues to be the default and I’ve not seen any less of it as a result of the electronic age of information… just more stuff to be bombarded with which is overwhelming. So much so that its difficult to narrow down the scope of information to that which I really want to know/see/hear about. As I mentioned in the blog post, I receive at least 150 to 200 “spam” in my email box daily. I always look them over before I empty the junk box. I nearly always find something that winds up in there that I’m interested in that my spam filter caught.

    While I’d like to see paper take-away info at trade shows reduced considerably, I have realistic expectations that it won’t completely disappear. All I’m saying is that instead of giving me take aways at the booth in addition to scanning my badge and sending me more of the same –why not offer me the option to scan my badge and offer to send me an email link to their website or blog where I can choose to ask for more information or samples be sent to me? I can choose not to accumulate stuff to have to pack around at the show if I know I’ll get a follow up email from that vendor.

    As for project binders, I haven’t created one of those since I worked in commercial interiors for a large contract furniture vendor before I got into residential kitchen and bath design. I’ve had residential clients that created their own project binders but haven’t had the need for the kitchen and bath projects that are mostly middle income residential remodels.

    The demonstration I mentioned by Eric Schimelpfenig and the iPad I thought was a very real look into the future of the Gen Y demographic’s lean toward automating the process and viewing product info on electronic media over paper because of their inate impatience and tendancy to “want it right now!” They’ve never lived life without computers, the internet, global TV, fast food, or cell phones. As Sara Reep related in her presentations —they’re going to outnumber Baby Boomers very soon and are the ones we’re going to have to cater to if we want to survive in this business. If the real estate market ever rebounds, it will be that generation who makes it so.

    There has got to be some way to bring the exhibitors back to KBIS. An improvement in our economy would certainly help to bolster expectations for better attendance. That’s stating the obvious, but there’s no guarantee when or if that will happen. We know it will never be like it once was. In the meantime, it seems to me that the expense (both for exhibitors and attendees) and the show content are both ways that could help the show evolve and become more attractive in the future.

    Lastly, I believe the people of Gen Y are looking to better the environment. Creating less paper waste and the use of the chemicals used in the process is a nod in that direction. I heard a quote that I liked in that regard: “We do not inherit the planet from our parents, but are given it on loan from our children.” Those children at present are the members of Generation Y.

  7. All good with the ideas for take away options. Expanding the lines and products is going to take more time, as you noted the imports rose while reliable standby did not show. The NKBA will need to reaccess for Chicago, always a good show.

  8. Thanks Kathleen! I’d like to say that I’m up for the next show in Chicago. If the economy (here) takes a turn for the better, you can plan on it. Right now I’m not too hopefull. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait until it comes around to my part of the country (West) which might be a couple of years.

  9. Pingback: Kitchen Clarity » KBIS part 2 – Brizo, Blogger 19, friends old and new

  10. Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m the exact demographic KBIS exhibitors had in mind! I personally found it to be a most valuable trip. I tried not to get too many brochures because I frankly can’t use them in my blogs. I told one and all that my preference was Media Kits that would enable me to download pictures and perhaps excerpt an occasional line from a Press Release. But having those press releases on paper is a waste all the way around. I do like them as background material—I do NOT need them in paper form.

    I am very selective about where my email addresses go, so I get very little spam. Since the show ended, I have been in contact with several people from advertising agencies, several of whom have a number of clients that would be of interest to me. I asked them all to just send me an email with links to their clients, let me check out the sites, and let them know which ones I was interested in. Worked like a champ!

    Of course, having said all that, I have to say, too, that I’m not an interior designer. I just write blogs about products and designs, so a lot of the stuff you were throwing away was pure gold for me!

    I did hear from all the designers that previous KBIS shows were bigger events, but we got plenty tuckered out, so I can’t say that I was necessarily rooting for more! Also, we went to a dinner given by GE which was held offsite. As it turns out, GE did not have a booth, choosing to spend their money this way. So, there may well be more of that sort of thing in the future.

    But for Joe Dusel and me… KBIS worked just fine. We saw a lot of new stuff, made a lot of good contacts, and got to meet “online friends” like you and Sarah Lloyd, which was a heck of a lot of fun.

  11. Hi Joseph! I too found the KBIS trip attendance valuable (and memorable) in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It was an awesome opportunity to network and “hang” with my “design blogging homies”. If it were not for that aspect, I have to say the product exhibits were insufficient. I did see many things that I liked –even loved, but there just wasn’t enough. Some of the areas were hardly represented at all.

    I spoke to one of the original Blogger 19, Ann Porter, of Naples, Florida, after the show. She didn’t attend. Her comment to me was that in recent shows there seemed to be a dominance of plumbing fixtures and hardware vendors. Don’t get me wrong –that’s an area I really like to see. But there are other areas of the biz I really missed –like appliances. I also wasn’t too impressed with the amount of cabinetry and countertop exhibitors. Ann’s comment caused me to reflect –truly it really was about the plumbing and hardware folks: Thinking back to the really dominant exhibitions from Kholer, Delta & Brizo, and Toto to name a few really huge exhibits comepared to the rest. I recall going to the area that had the big “cabinetry” sign over it and not finding much in the way of cabinets.

    Honestly, I spent a lot of my time at the show with pre-arranged meetups, tweetups, and listening to speakers. After seeing some of the after-KBIS blogs that showcased some of the products, I think I just didn’t get around to seeing every exhibit. My process for seeing exhibits was to identify certain names I wanted to see and seek them out. I didn’t see very many that I wasn’t familiar with ahead of time. I now feel that this approach caused me to miss some really great products.

    On the other hand –I had a great time! I got to meet you!

  12. Oh one other thing Joseph –I have had separate email accounts for my business and personal emails. I expect vendors to send to my biz email. Seems like not matter how painstakingly diligent I try to “filter” what goes in there –I get spam from people I couldn’t possibly be interested in. Yet it’s the only way I like to get product and industry information. THANK GOD they aren’t sending me stuff on paper! I got 160 spam today before noon.