The first half of February was like being dropped into a hurricane from 14,000 feet.
Okay, maybe not that bad. But covering the AHR Expo (Jan. 31st - Feb. 2nd) then pivoting to cover KBIS/IBS (Feb. 8th- 10th) was rough. I’m probably out of practice. The shows—while not as well-attended as they have been in the past—seemed busier than ever. I don’t think I had a half-hour while the show floors were open when I wasn’t scheduled to meet someone and see the latest, greatest thing that was about to revolutionize the plumbing and heating industry.
Could have been worse, though. I was on the fence about going to the WWETT Show in Indianapolis (Feb. 21st- 24th) and finally decided it was just too close to my deadline. Even so, we've been able to publish a lot of event coverage:
Everyone at all three shows had so much to talk about. Maybe it’s because the products companies were trying to launch in 2020 never got a chance to take off and they were hoping to re-introduce them? Maybe because they had almost two years of hard work and innovation saved up they had been dying to show off? Maybe everyone was just glad to back at a big show again? To feel the size and strength and diversity of this industry once more.
And make no mistake, these shows felt huge. More than 70,000 people at Design and Construction Week felt like twice that number (to me, anyways) after having been away for so long. Exhibitors remarked how pleasantly surprised they were by the foot traffic, especially on the first days of the shows. People had been worried about a spate of late cancellations by some key companies. A few exhibitors had also recently attended the Consumer Electronics Show, which had some underwhelming numbers.
Here are just a few things that jumped out at me as I was walking around.
Companies best known for their decorative fixtures, faucets and showerheads are expanding their behind-the-wall offering; valves especially, but also leak detection systems. Contractor feedback is part of what’s driving the change as manufacturers want to be able to offer complete packages to make installations easier, especially on large, multi-unit residential jobs.
Conversely, some companies best known for their behind-the-wall products are trying to grab a piece of that front-of-the-wall market. Oatey, for example, launched its new L.R. Brands line in part to get some of its decorative drains in front of designers and remodelers.
Industry influencers—experts with large social media followings—are becoming a big deal, not just online but in-person. Several major tool manufacturers had meet-and-greets or product demos with influencers at their booths and they seemed to generate a lot of buzz.
Heat pumps—heat pumps everywhere! Greenhouse gas emission targets are spurring efficiency legislation, with mandates, rebates and incentives galore. That means cold weather heat pumps, commercial heat pumps, air source, ground source, and water source heat pumps in every kind of configuration you can imagine.
And lastly, almost every manufacturer I talked to said they had supply chain problems, and almost everyone had found the same solution: honesty. Having honest conversations with their vendors and their customers (and sometimes their customers’ customers) about what they could deliver and when. Few people are happy with the state of the supply chain, but almost everyone has factored it into their short- and mid-term planning.
I’ve missed having those kind of conversations in-person. So, I’m off to the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis next week. If you’re going, drop me a line!