For decades, the selection of new and improved woodworking had been greatly influenced by the annual National Hardware Show. The location changed over the years, but since the first show in 1945, manufacturers and retailers have made a pilgrimage each August. From the beginning, new lines or tools were rolled out, concepts floated, information exchanged, and orders made. It all went like clockwork. Well, not quite, according to Rob Cappiello, vice president of the National Hardware Show for Reed Exhibitions.
“The biggest season for purchasing any product for the home or workshop is the fall,” Rob explained, “and the show being in August was a bad time for retailers, distributors, and wholesalers because by the time they looked at product, evaluated it, and got it to market the season was over.”
Rob’s company, Reed Exhibitions, has been organizing the show since the early 1960s and holding it in Chicago since 1975. Reed, with U.S. operations based in Norwalk, Connecticut, is the largest trade show company in the world, putting on 450 shows annually. After the 2003 show, however, Reed decided to change the date and location for 2004. They chose May to give retailers and distributors enough time to get new products on the shelf by September and October. And, based on four years of research, they chose Las Vegas for the location.
“Attendance in Chicago was down and costs were going up,” Rob explained. “Our data showed that when shows move to Las Vegas, there’s almost always an increase in attendance, averaging around 21 percent. The attendees stay longer because it is a fun city, and they spend more hours on the show floor because the city is smaller, more convenient, and you can get back and forth to the show quite easily. Our hotel room blocks in Vegas start at $49 per night. You can’t find hotels in Chicago for $49.”
The sponsor of the Hardware Show, however — the American Hardware Manufacturers Association — wanted the show to stay in Chicago. So Reed and AHMA had a parting of the ways. Reed, as the owner, set the new venue for the National Hardware Show. The AHMA, however, decided to start their own show & the AHMA Hardware Show in Chicago. And it’s probably no coincidence that the AHMA’s show is scheduled for next April, one month before Reed’s event.
In the past, Rob described, if attendees responded negatively to a product, there wasn’t time to change it before the fall retail season. But having the big spotlight in the spring is going to change the nature of what the show does. The press coverage has time to filter down to the retailers and impact what they order for fall.
But beyond the time and location, Rob explained, “We needed to change the content of the show. One of the things we think was lacking in the past was really good information to help manufacturers and retailers understand the market and do better business. At the May show, we’ll have The Industry Summit on Home Improvement featuring 15 conference tracks with 60+ different sessions.”
Times change. With end of the second World War, many manufacturers had lost their government contracts. The show was started to bring hardware manufacturers and retailers together. According to Rob, many of the early attendees ran corner hardware stores so the emphasis was on “hardware.” But as time went by, the show attracted both national and international exhibitors and buyers. And over the last decade, the big box retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s emerged.
“Fast-forwarding to today,” Rob noted, “the show is really much more of a home ‘aftermarket’ show. According to the Department of Commerce, only about one-third of the dollars spent on homes goes to new construction, but fully two-thirds are spent after the home is built. All of these older homes built from the 1930s through the 1960s are being redone, fixed up, and just maintained. So the emphasis is now on tools or products that maintain, repair, remodel, and decorate the home.”
Rob has a unique perspective on both manufacturers and distribution channels. He described several interesting trends.
“The Home Depots will be the dominant players,” Rob admitted, “but I think there will be a lot of different spaces in this ‘home after’ market. Good independent retailers will survive by offering excellent customer service. Some carve out a special niche. Sixty percent of their inventory may be standard hardware, but 40 percent is unique to the store. They may specialize in home décor or improvement, or in tourist areas they may have a gift shop. I visited a True Value store in Vermont that sold Vermont cheeses and maple syrup. These are the kind of people we try to attract to the show.”
Rob’s also noticed a trend toward marketing to women in the DIY arena.
“Home Depot figured out fairly recently that half of their current customers are women. Even when a man comes in their store they have often been sent there by a woman to buy things for their next project. So a lot of manufacturers and retailers are reevaluating how they can attract more women customers. Manufacturers like Black & Decker have come out with a line of battery-powered tools with smaller handles and smaller, lighter batteries to make it easier for women to do jobs.”
“The goal is to draw more people into the mix. Home Depot has commercials where a dad goes in and wants to build a tree house for the son, but doesn’t know which end of the hammer to hold. And the HD guy says, ‘don’t worry, we will walk you through it.’ A couple of our seminar tracks deal with this changing demographic.”
Can the industry sustain two national shows?
“I’ll bet a lot of the big boxes will go to both,” Rob noted, “and some exhibitors are disappointed or confused by the two shows. But as of this week we had 1,609 exhibitors signed up & 1,300 are exclusive at our show & while the other show had about 400. That means we will have more exhibitors in 2004 at the Vegas show than we had in Chicago in 2003.”
Through the end of the year, the National Hardware Show’s web site provides links to both the Chicago and Las Vegas shows. As Rob explained it, this helps both exhibitors and attendees to be less confused so they can decide which show is best for them.