To Show or Not to Show

To Show or Not to Show

The Kitchen/Bath Industry Show should it take place every year or every other year?

In the meantime, as they say in the entertainment industry, the show goes on . . . maintaining the same annual format it has had for the past two decades, and one that is likely to remain unchanged based on sheer economics alone.

"The last two years of [K/BIS] set new records for exhibitors, amount of square footage and attendance," notes Larry Spangler, director of marketing and membership for the National Kitchen & Bath Association, co-sponsor of the three-day event. "Attendance is well up over 40,000 now. It continues to stay strong. So the thought of saying, 'Let's do this every other year' doesn't stack up to the actual response to the show."

"Every year there seem to be three or four major new trends, and hundreds of new products," adds Jeff Burton, immediate past president of the NKBA, and owner of the The Bath & Beyond in San Francisco. "Manufacturers who are on the cutting edge need and want to show every year."

The viewpoints of Spangler, West and Burton sum up the opinion of show proponents, as well as those dealers and designers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News (see related story, Page 54).

Then, there's the equally assertive other side of the coin, emanating from a seemingly growing group of vocal critics.

"It's absolutely, totally ridiculous to have a K/BIS every year!" complains Leo Bain, owner of Nor'East Associates, a rep firm in West Newbury, MA. "What's the purpose of the show? To sell space and make money for the [NKBA]? This show started out [as] a kitchen and bath show for cabinetry; now it's primarily hardware. [The costs have] gotten so high you've eliminated all of your smaller custom cabinet manufacturers."

Bain's sentiments are echoed in many quarters of the kitchen and bath industry, with K/BIS critics charging that escalating exhibit costs have forced, in particular, cabinet manufacturers to abandon the show if not completely, then at least on a yearly basis. Many smaller, regional cabinet manufacturers particularly custom manufacturers also say they get more bang for their buck by putting their marketing dollars into other types of dealer-support programs instead of exhibiting at a venue that's often outside their core market, and one that attracts a highly regionalized attendee base, despite its billing as a "national show."

"Right now, K/BIS costs too much, and it doesn't produce the kind of results that would justify an annual event," observes Dick Titus, executive v.p. for the Reston, VA-based Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA). "The products don't change dramatically enough every year to require a show," 
Titus says.

"I just came from the International Wood-working Fair (IWF), which features the latest in woodworking machinery, where things are changing very quickly with computer technology. And they have an every-other-year show."

Exhibit costs
Those most strongly in favor of a biennial show are cabinet manufacturers including the KCMA who cite the costs of displaying cabinetry as the motivating factor behind their every-year resistance.

For the 2001 show in Orlando, for example, space costs alone run $30.50 per square foot for non-NKBA members wishing to exhibit at the Orange County Convention Center. In other words, costs for a 20'x20' booth of 400 sq. ft. would cost $12,200. And that's space costs alone, for a relatively small booth; it does not include shipment fees, drayage, booth setup costs, decoration, utilities and show-related marketing expenses not to mention travel, hotel expenses, meals, entertainment and a host of other costs, including months of preparation, booth construction and time away from the office.

The intricacies of booth design required for cabinet displays are much more extensive than for other products, points out Neil Lynch, senior v.p./marketing for MasterBrand Cabinets Inc., in Jasper, IN.

"You want to have a new, unique, fresh look," Lynch explains. "That requires designers. You build, in essence, entire kitchens wallpaper, flooring, moulding. It becomes a real construction effort. For appliances, you might put a vignette or two together, but you're [basically] transporting a finished product."

"I think it's asking a lot of kitchen and bath manufacturers to exhibit on a yearly basis," agrees David Wylie, national sales manager for Kitchen Craft Cabinetry, which made a major splash at the 2000 K/BIS. "There's not enough product to introduce on an annual basis, and the expense incurred is so much more than [that of exhibitors who don't] require a lot of display space and construction. I don't feel the return on the investment is there."

"You have to go there, bring people there to operate the show, to install it," explains Bain, who says the cost of union labor and the booth itself is substantial. "Plus, you have to do something for the dealers, have a party or take them someplace special. The cost of the hotels is astronomical [also]," he adds, noting that proximity to large convention centers necessitates a luxury hotel.

Bain who reports an $125,000 investment for a modest-sized booth, a figure others characterize as conservative points out that smaller cabinet manufacturers are the hardest hit. "The custom manufacturers, a lot of them aren't going at all. The stock cabinet manufacturers, they go to multiple shows remodeling, builder shows. You've got companies under $10 million in annual sales. How much money can they afford to put into shows?

"People don't have the money to [go] so you don't draw a lot of dealers."

That argument, however, seems to fly in the face of assertions by show management regarding K/BIS attendance. In fact, some 17% of the 40,000+ attendees at the 2000 show or roughly 7,000 people were kitchen and bath specialists, including dealers, according to the Coppell, TX-based Miller Freeman Inc. Building Group, which until this year produced the show. And that was the largest attendee category at the show, which also attracted distributors, remodelers, builders, architects, interior designers, reps, fabricators, cabinet shop owners, home improvement retailers and other product specifiers, Miller Freeman reported.

Titus, for one, feels, though, that many dealers would welcome manufacturers' marketing dollars being re-allocated to support them on a local level.

And others agree.
"Every two years is more than sufficient [for the K/BIS]," concurs Bob Castriciano, v.p. for LesCare Kitchens, in Waterbury, CT. "As dynamic and fashion-conscious as our industry is, things do not change that quickly. Our customers have become more and more dissatisfied with the show."

Castriciano recalls that when LesCare informed its customer base that the company wouldn't be exhibiting at the last K/BIS, "they said, 'thank God, we won't go because you won't have your awards dinner.' "

"We empathize with the amount that every exhibitor has to put forth," insists the NKBA's West. "Some exhibitors have chosen to only exhibit every other year, and we can't fault them for that, [although] we encourage them to exhibit on an every-year basis and keep their product out in front of the attendees."

"It's a marvelous way to reach 40,000 people in a very concentrated [period of] time," adds Spangler. "We would love to see cabinet people being involved more regularly, [although] I do recognize that some [businesses] may be regional and may not have the same need or interest to reach a national audience each year."

"I think the fight for an every-other-year show is purely economics for the smaller guy," admits Burton. "It's a hardship for them to show every year, but they do have the option of showing every other year and not lose their priority in booth selection and space. So, the option is there."

Change in focus
Pure economics aside, however, many observers of the show say that K/BIS has subtly changed its focus over the 20 years of its existence, as exhibit booths by high-end custom cabinet manufacturers have been replaced by those of other kinds of suppliers. Most observers agree, in fact, that the biggest, splashiest displays these days tend to be in the plumbing, hardware and appliance areas, a perception that cabinet manufacturers don't consider a plus.

"It's become less and less kitchen people," complains LesCare's Castriciano. "It's become a bath show. If you look at who shows, where are the high-end cabinet manufacturers? They don't show any more. Your [real cabinet] players in the market don't go to the show, and haven't gone for years." 

"[Plumbing and hardware businesses] market differently," states Titus. "How many faucets or handles do you have to sell to equate to one set of kitchen cabinets? The show has unquestionably taken on a plumbing flavor, which is not a good thing for cabinet manufacturers. They're not the same customers. Plumbers don't buy cabinets."

"[Plumbing manufacturers] can more easily participate in the show," echoes Lynch. "If something is easier, obviously you'll see more of it." 

However, there's a legitimate reason for this shift in exhibit focus, K/BIS officials argue.

"The plumbing people are driving the market more than the cabinet people," says the NKBA's Burton. "They're the most innovative, the most creative. Every year, you see new items. The plumbing and appliance guys are driving the new trends, the new gadgetry."

K/BIS' location also draws some heat. The show which has been rotating for the past several years between Chicago and Orlando has outgrown many venues that might prove more geographically advantageous, while show management also tries to avoid certain cities that have been received less than enthusiastically by exhibitors, based primarily on such factors as labor costs, inner-city congestion and attendee reluctance to travel to those locations.

"There are only five venues in the U.S. where we can hold this event Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, and Las Vegas because we need a million square feet," Burton notes. "But, the problem with Las Vegas [is], all the attendees say [they] can't take time off from work, but Vegas will not allow you to have a weekend show because they want the rooms for gamblers. They don't want to give you a cut rate on the rooms.

"In San Francisco, to get a million feet, you'd be in five buildings," Burton continues. "And then you have manufacturers saying, 'I want building A, not building B, I want to be upstairs, not downstairs.' You can't please everybody. Los Angeles and San Diego, there's [no venue] big enough, and there's nothing in the Northwest."

Titus points out, however, that many cabinet manufacturers have a regional sales base, and will likely decide their attendance largely on where the show takes place. "If someone isn't doing much [business] in Florida, they're unlikely to come to an Orlando show," he says. "But if that's a target area, they will."

"You go to Chicago, you get 30,000 people, but 27,000 are from Chicago and 3,000 are from outside," insists Castriciano.

"If you analyze your leads, they're usually from the area the show is in. You don't get a good representation of [the whole country]." 

"There does tend to be some regional skew," admits Spangler.

Audience makeup
Opinions also vary as to whether K/BIS reaches new clients, or serves primarily to maintain and strengthen existing business relationships.

"There is a growing group of people within our industry, more and more new faces," insists West. "That gives the exhibitors the opportunity to show their products to new people looking for the newest and most innovative product on the market. It forces manufacturers to think 'out of the box' to come up with something new and different each year."

"I'm not sure if everyone would agree with that," counters Titus. "The feedback I hear is, in the main, exhibitors see the same people [year after year]. It's more [about] supporting existing customers than about looking for new ones." 

"People may be questioning how much actual decision-making goes on at the show," adds MasterBrand's Lynch, whose company has opted to go to an every-other-year schedule.

"They can expect to see us every other year," echoes Wylie. He adds, however, that Kitchen Craft might display two years in a row if the company had a new product line to show.

Despite this criticism, however, some major cabinet manufacturers think the current annual schedule for the show works well.

"We go every year. We feel it's very good for new business," says Angela Wellborn O'Neill, director of marketing for the Ashland, AL-based Wellborn Cabinet, Inc., which has had a strong presence at the show for years.

"A lot of our marketing strategy is based around the show," O'Neill explains. "That's the date for product launches. In addition, it gives you a location to hold certain events like sales awards for your customer base. The cost is worth it it's an investment."

Still others take a middle road, opting to exhibit big every other year while maintaining a smaller corporate presence in "off" years. 

KraftMaid Cabinetry, Inc. in Middlefield, OH, is a company that takes this approach, explains spokesperson Kim Craig. In the "off" year, KraftMaid displays door styles, finishes, construction and decorative hardware options and new products along with other companies in the corporate booth of parent company Masco Corp. KraftMaid also partnered with a consumer magazine and co-sponsored a display on the K/BIS floor at the last show.

"K/BIS is a tremendous show and it's a terrific forum to display the versatility of [a company's] products," Craig says.

"Planning and preparation for a large booth takes a lot of time, and exhibiting every other year enables us to still make that big splash while we concentrate on meeting the needs of our customers." KBDN