AHMA Hardware Show: Continuity and Change

AHMA Hardware Show: Continuity and Change

For the latter half of the last century, through recession, inflation, stagflation and boom time, the hardware business could rely on one annual event & the Hardware Show held every August and in Chicago for the past three decades.

In a break with tradition, the 2004 Show will be held in April — from April 18 to 20. AHMA Vice Chairman of the Board William P. Farrell explained that the date of the Show was changed to spring when research indicated August was too late in the buying cycle for many of the industry’s major product categories.

“There are at least nine major product categories such as hardware, hand tools, power tools, paint and decorating products, housewares, plumbing, electrical, automotive, sporting goods, and other peripheral lines that fall under the ‘umbrella’ name of hardware.” Farrell noted, “And though no single month in any year would be ideal for all of them, the timing is better for most retailers, distributors, and manufacturers.”

2004 will also see the appearance of a rival show, sponsored by Reed Exhibitions and held from May 10 to 12 in Las Vegas. (See December 2¸ 2003 Tool Maker Insider.) AHMA, however, feels that its Show is getting the industry’s support.

“If you look at our web site,” noted Farrell, “you will find that all of the major brands, with very few exceptions, and most of the buying organizations, both domestically and internationally, are lending their support and endorsement to the AHMA Hardware Show in April.”

Following the end of World War II, the hardware industry needed to get back on a peacetime footing. The first Hardware Show was held in August 1946 at the Grand Palace Hotel in New York City with 346 exhibiting companies. As the industry grew, the Show moved to larger venues and in 1974, under the auspices of the AHMA, moved to Chicago’s McCormick Place.

According to Farrell, the Show’s growth kept pace with the expansion of McCormick Place. And with AHMA’s introduction of educational programs and special expositions for new products, packaging and retailing concepts and services, the Show evolved into an industry event.

“Perhaps one of the most significant contributions the Show provided was the “do-it-yourself concept,” Farrell explained, “which allowed manufacturing exhibitors to respond to the ever-growing demand of homeowners for products that were packaged and illustrated for easy installation. It was the Show that provided the genesis for the do-it-yourself movement that prevails in the industry today and has made this industry one that now rates at being somewhere between $300 billion to $350 billion annually at retail.”

Since its inception, the Show has attracted an annual pilgrimage of manufacturers and buyers of all sizes. As Farrell explained, it’s the place to see and select the new products, packaging, and innovations that allow each retailer to differentiate itself from the competition. The emergence of the big box retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, however, has had a dramatic and far-reaching impact on the entire hardware/home improvement industry. But Farrell feels there’s still a major role for independent retailers in the market and at the Show.

“Initially, there were many big box/home center retailers,” recalled Farrell, “but a very competitive environment ultimately reduced their number. Today only a handful of majors are doing a significant amount of retail business & some estimates range from 25% to as high as 40%. But in the remaining 60% of the market, there’s still a place and a role for independent retailers who’ve found niches or special ways to compete with big box retailers. And though our show is inclusive of the industry, you’ll see a major focus on the major co-ops, independent distributors, and wholesaler buying organizations that are supported by independent retailer members.”

The AHMA, a not-for-profit trade association, further differentiates its Show as the fulfillment of its mission to serve all its members. Special attractions created for both exhibitors and buyers are intended to create an “event” that better serves the industry rather than simply conducting a traditional trade show.

“The United States is the largest single consumer products market in the world.” Farrell explained, “The Show offers an annual opportunity for both manufacturers and buying organizations to come together and network, to display and to preview new products, packaging, retail conceptual ideas, and gain educational information. Everyone, regardless of their role or market position, gets a firsthand opportunity to ‘take the pulse’ of the industry and prepare their company to thrive and survive in the future.”

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