K/BIS 2009: A Reason to Feel Good

The swine flu pandemic didn’t render it sickly. The stagnant economy didn’t bring it down. Rumors of its demise, as it turned out, were grossly exaggerated.

In contrast, the 28th annual Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Atlanta last month was a pleasant surprise, providing a much needed shot in the arm – and more than a fleeting sense of hope – for an industry that’s been back on its heels for far too long (see story, Greater Goods).

In fact, K/BIS 2009 may well prove to be a palpable turning point for the kitchen and bath industry, an encouraging sign when we needed it the most that the industry remains not only vibrant and resilient, but destined for recovery in the months to come.

Sure, attendance was off from that of previous years. Sure, the buzz at the three-day event wasn’t quite as electric as in the past. Sure, exhibit space was down, with many of the industry’s key players
sitting out the show in light of the housing slump.

But that was to be expected. That was no surprise.

What was a surprise, in contrast, were the many positives that attendees could take away from this year’s show – the many reasons to view the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, the many signs to draw on if you’re seeking glimmers of hope.

And why not feel good about what took place?

As always, K/BIS provided a unique venue for dealers, designers and other trade professionals to interact, exchange ideas and attend a first-class educational conference. As always, innovative new kitchen/bath products were on display. Despite the economic slump, in fact, exhibitors from some 540 companies – more than 150 of them new to K/BIS – occupied some 500,000 square feet of space at the show. Despite the current slowdown, K/BIS officials reported a higher-than-expected attendance of nearly 29,000 at a venue that, even in the best of years, couldn’t be expected to draw the kind of attendance as that of destination cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago.

Show officials also did a good job of managing the exhibits, constricting space across two halls of the expansive Georgia World Congress Center in a way that made the show seem busy and alive. Booth traffic was steady for much of the event. Exhibitors, for the most part, expressed satisfaction with the size and quality of the audience, and the amount of time they could spend with visitors.

Equally encouraging was the prevailing mood at the show. Despite admitting to the market’s serious challenges, most visitors to K/BIS 2009 were upbeat. Press coverage on both the consumer and trade sides seemed as strong as ever. The outlook with respect to the industry’s long-term future was positive.

All in all, a welcome change of pace from persistent media reports of gloom and doom. All in all, a reason to feel good.

Some analysts have pointed in recent weeks to “green shoots” sprouting in the housing market. Others, of course, claim that the only green shoots in housing are the weeds enveloping the record number of foreclosed, abandoned homes. Whatever you believe – and whatever side of the political argument you’re on – last month’s K/BIS was positive in one key respect: It provided a reminder that the kitchen and bath market is alive and breathing, that people are out there doing business, that there’s hope.

The housing market no doubt has a long way to go before anyone can say with certainty that it’s truly in a state of recovery. Who knows if it’ll ever get back to what it was at its height.

But last month’s K/BIS made a positive statement about the residual strength of the kitchen and bath market. It provided a tangible sense that the industry, like the show, is far from dead. It validated the belief that we’re moving ahead, fighting our way through the downturn, trying to make our way back.