LAS VEGAS— In the midst of the most turbulent economic times since the Great Depression, and faced with a diminishing exhibit base and attendance, the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (KBIS) returns here in April with a daunting task. It must find a way to renew interest in a show that has long been seen as the industry centerpiece of design and product innovation, but now needs a reenergized exhibitor and attendee base.
There's no question that the economy has had a profound impact on the kitchen and bath industry in recent years, leading dealers and manufacturers to reexamine everything from staffing, overhead costs and manufacturing processes to marketing, advertising budgets and travel expenses. But how much of what is currently going on with KBIS is tied to factors beyond the economy, specifically to changes within the industry and the way people view trade shows?
2010 National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) president Mark L. Karas, CMKBD, CR of Stoneham, MA-based Adams Kitchens, admits: "The economy has forced everyone in the industry to closely examine the resources that will most effectively help their business. [But] as the premiere opportunity for collaboration among peers [and showcase for] the latest trends and technology, I believe that KBIS remains one of those critical resources."
That said, he adds: "We're constantly looking to increase the value of KBIS."
Whether the NKBA's efforts to increase the show's value will have a significant impact on 2011 attendance figures remains to be seen. However, it's hard to ignore the change in attendance in recent years – a problem that is impacting many industry trade shows, and which has led some to question whether the annual trade show model itself may be outdated (see related story, Page 31).
In 2007, the last time KBIS took place in Las Vegas, official attendance totaled 44,154 kitchen and bath professionals and more than 1,000 exhibitors – considered "a record-breaking number of attendees," according to the Hackettstown-based NKBA, which owns the show.
In 2008, organizers reported "some 40,000 attendees" in Chicago, while the 2009 show in Atlanta attracted only 28,921 attendees and some 540 exhibitors, according to show organizers.
Moving the show back to Chicago in 2010 seemed to help increase attendance; NKBA officials cited a 30% increase in attendance from KBIS 2009 to KBIS 2010, with reported attendance of more than 37,000 and nearly 700 exhibitors. By comparison, there were 457 exhibitors committed to KBIS 2011 as of press time and, 15 weeks prior to the show, registered attendance numbers for 2011 totaled 5,867, compared to 3,228 at the same time in 2010, according to the NKBA.
However, there are currently only two exhibit halls leased by NKBA this year – compared to three used in Las Vegas in 2007 – and many manufacturers who are on board for the 2011 show are decreasing their booth space in response to the economy and other factors.
Additionally, the composition of the show has changed dramatically in the last few years, according to dealers and manufacturers interviewed by KBDN, with a significant drop-off in major cabinet and appliance manufacturers and a growing number of smaller booths from companies based overseas.
When asked about the drop-off in attendance by cabinet and appliance manufacturers and the changing composition of the show in general, Brian Pagel, v.p./kitchen and bath for Nielsen Expositions, the arm of New York, NY-based Nielsen that produces the show, declined comment and deferred his response to Karas – as did NKBA CEO Don Sciolaro. Karas also declined comment, noting: "Policy prevents me from sharing some of the statistical data requested."
Likewise, when asked about the square footage devoted to exhibitors this year as compared to previous years, NKBA declined comment.