Frankfurt Germany

6 plumbing trends from ISH

April 6, 2015
Greater accessibility More hygienic products Increased vanity, cabinet storage Greater use of LED accent lights More music New, different controls

The world’s largest plumbing heating cooling trade show — ISH — occurs every other year in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s a preview of coming attractions in the world of plumbing. Here’s what you can expect.

ISH leads all other shows for two reasons. First, ISH has scale over every other show in the world. The Messe Frankfurt Trade Fair is like no other convention area. Even ISH doesn’t fill every available hall, and ISH fills 11 buildings, many with multiple levels. The largest venues in the U.S., like Chicago’s McCormick Place and Las Vegas, fail to hold a candle to Messe Frankfurt. Companies exhibiting hold little back. They spend enormous amounts on their booths and display the very best products they’ve got.

Second, ISH is filled with design prototypes that will hit the market a year or more after the show. While I have never been to a show in Asia, I’ve attended numerous shows in the U.S. and Canada, as well as other shows in Europe and Australia. ISH is the only show I’ve attended where everyone seems not only willing, but eager to show off prototypes. Products displayed at ISH may be a year or more away from production. Since most launch in Europe first, it can be two to three years before we see them.

As an aside, ISH is also one of the only shows where photography is welcomed. Most shows discourage it or prevent it, though it happens clandestinely. At ISH, it’s in the open and exhibitors are even proud to pose with their products.

What’s coming

While plumbing technology changes only gradually, it does change. This year, there appears to be more changes on the way. Here are six trends to track:

  1. Greater accessibility: Many exhibitors at ISH displayed products to make kitchens and baths more accessible for an aging population. Sinks were designed to allow easy access for people with wheelchairs. Toilets were designed to with arms to help seniors and other disabled people. Mixing valves allowed consumers to dial in the desired temperature at the tap.

    Accessibility is certainly not a new topic. In fact, given our aging population, the net worth of seniors, and the desire of baby boomers to stay in their own homes as long as possible, every plumbing contractor should be figuring out ways to maximize his or her ability to address this growing remodeling and retrofit opportunity. What was new at ISH was the beauty of the designs.

    Most options for accessible sinks, toilets and baths on the market today are utilitarian, stark and eyesores. The products on display at ISH where beautiful, elegant and much more likely to appeal to boomers.

    Moreover, these are attractive, discretionary products. Plumbing contractors do not have to wait around trying to be Johnny-on-the-spot when something breaks. Plumbers can market to create their own demand.
  2. More Hygienic Products: We live in a paranoid world about sanitation. Products on display at ISH reflect that paranoia. Expect more touchless faucets. Expect more tap-on/tap-off faucets. 

    Though they have been around for more than a decade, rimless toilet designs appear to be taking off. Nearly every toilet manufacturer at ISH had one or more on display. By eliminating the rim and utilizing jets to complete a circular sweep of the bowl, cleaning is easier and there are less places for bacteria, lime and scale to accumulate. Time between cleanings can even be extended because streaking from the holes in the rim is eliminated.

    Manufacturers are even producing porcelain products where the porcelain is claimed to be antibacterial. Hype or not, this reflects the paranoia about sanitation and presents new market opportunities for the plumbing contractors enlightened enough to promote them.
  3. Increased vanity, cabinet storage: When we toured the plumbing exhibition halls at ISH, our group included a number or women with only a tertiary, marital connection to the trade.  Some of the products they found most interesting were cabinets and vanities that offered extra storage options. Due to their cramped living conditions (by U.S. standards), the Europeans have necessarily had to get better at space utilization. For the women on the trip, this was incredibly appealing. “I’m tired of clutter by the sink,” declared one.

    The women’s reactions suggest a sales approach for remodeling might focus on simple solutions that offer greater storage compartments. Little things like this are why mini-van manufacturers focused on the number of cup holders in a vehicle.
  4. Greater use of LED accent lights: Coupled with the storage was an emphasis on vanity lights, often integrated into the mirror, thanks to the emerging usage of LED lights. The LED lights present options never before available and the manufactures displaying their wares at ISH were taking full advantage. 

    Lighting was not only integrated into vanities, but also showers. Designers are utilizing the LED lights ability to present, variable lighting, an array of colors, and lighting patterns.
  5. More music: Singing in the shower may be old hat, but the designers displaying their wares at ISH emphasized music integrated into showers in a variety of ways, often with Blue Tooth connectivity to a consumer’s personal music player. One manufacturer’s waterproof speaker system was magnetically held in the center of a showerhead, easily removed so it could be used elsewhere, and color coded so each occupant in the household could have one. 

    When combined with the lighting, the trend for showering and bathing is more experiential, more enjoyable. For U.S. contractors on their game, this presents a ripe opportunity for discretionary remodel work.
  6. New, different controls: Coupled with the new technology incorporated into baths and showers, manufacturers were presented unique ways to control the plumbing and lighting.  Wave a hand under a vanity and the mirror automatically rises to reveal cabinet storage.  Digital controls let consumers change shower patterns and lighting. Granted, we can do this today with an adjustment of the shower head, but that becomes more problematic when the showerhead is flat and integrated into the ceiling. 

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable, contracting’s largest business alliance. To stay on the cutting edge of plumbing business practices, join the Service Roundtable at, or call 877.262.3341 toll free and ask for a private tour of the website to see everything available to help you make more money.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization.

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