K/BIS 2000: Where's the Cabinets?

Visitors to last month's Kitchen/ Bath Industry Show couldn't help but be truly impressed.

They couldn't help but be impressed, for one thing, by the sheer magnitude of a show that attracted a record 41,000 attendees; by a cavernous exhibit hall that spotlighted 700 companies; by the annual flood of cutting-edge new products that continue to shape and drive the market.

K/BIS visitors couldn't help but be impressed, moreover, with the resounding statement the show made about the vitality and growth of an industry that's clearly been transformed from an immature, stodgy, manufacturing-driven industry into a sophisticated, marketing-oriented, fashion-driven industry that's sounding a higher note than ever.

K/BIS 2000 couldn't help but leave one other lasting impression on show-goers, however.
It's the unfortunate, and troubling, feeling that cabinet manufacturers, for the most part, have disappeared almost entirely from the market.

That's not really true, of course. It only felt that way wandering the busy aisles of Chicago's McCormick Place.

Don't get me wrong: Some cabinet companies obviously spent big bucks to make a major statement at this year's show. But many of the products they exhibited or so it seemed were aimed primarily at the mid-to-low-end of the market. In contrast, booths featuring high-end custom cabinets were relatively few and far between and were virtually lost in a veritable sea of plumbing fixtures, decorative hardware, appliances, countertop materials and other products on display.

The result was that it seemed like you practically needed a compass and a road map to find the kind of cabinets that used to comprise the heart and soul of K/BIS . . . the kind of cabinets that remain the most important product in today's kitchens . . . the kind of cabinets that most of the kitchen/bath dealers and other specifiers walking the aisles were no doubt hoping to see.

So what's going on here? Where's all this headed?

Well, what's been clear for awhile, of course, is the fact that a growing number of cabinet manufacturers have been wondering if there's a place in their business strategy and money in their marketing budget for exhibiting every year at K/BIS.

Sentiment among prominent members of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, for example, has been running in favor of an every-other-year format for the show. Groups and individuals have approached the trade show's owner, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and the event's producer, the Dallas-based Miller Freeman, to persuade a switch to a biennial format, or to co-locate the trade show with a compatible entity, such as the biennial plumbing show ISH.

That's not likely to happen, though. K/BIS is simply too large and far too lucrative not to be staged every year. The show's growth demonstrates, furthermore, that for every company that sits out K/BIS, there's at least one other company willing to jump into the mix with a new or expanded booth.

While all this debate goes on, though, it's becoming increasingly clear that cabinet manufacturers may be missing out on a major marketing opportunity by missing out at K/BIS.

Cabinet suppliers are already relatively invisible in the eyes of consumers, with the $50-billion kitchen and bath industry as a whole spending only a fraction of what other industries pour annually into promotion.

These same cabinet firms may well be hurting themselves even more long-term by deciding to remain invisible to the trade.
Cabinet manufacturers simply can't afford to consistently miss an opportunity to connect with 40,000+ specifiers in a single three-day span. They certainly can't afford to send a message to the trade they that they've gotten so used to double-digit monthly sales gains, they've forgotten the value of face-to-face contact with prospects and customers.

There's no surer recipe for calamity than equal parts complacency and overconfidence.'
Cabinet manufacturers, sadly, may be walking down that path if they continue to turn their backs on shows'
like K/BIS.