Trade shows versus the real worldcomments (3) January 29th, 2009 in Blogs
The first construction-industry trade show I ever attended was probably the National Hardware Show in Chicago, which would have been, to use my mother’s term, umpteen years ago. I had only recently given up carpentry to become a journalist, and essentially walked off a job site and onto a trade-show floor. What impressed me terribly at the time (and still does) is how little the one has to do with the other.
For instance, walking the floor at the International Builders’ Show last week, it would be easy to think that windows never leak, paint never peels, decking never fades, and doors never warp. It would be easy to think that insulation will keep you warm and that foundation drains and waterproofing will keep your basement dry. It would be easy to believe that an 18v cordless impact driver will make you a better carpenter than you could ever be with a 14v cordless drill. It would be easy to believe that housewrap never hangs in tatters and gets sliced in the corners before the siding goes on. It would be easy to believe that bath fans and range hoods, once installed, will never be heard, or that no appliance with smart technology will ever break down.
The world of the trade show is bit like Lake Wobegon: All the men are smart, all the women are pretty, and all the products are above average. When I see the latest, greatest product at a trade show, my first question is always: Yeah, but will it be there in my town, at my lumberyard, when I need it? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone into the building supply and asked for a product I had just seen at a trade show, only to be told, quite convincingly, by the salesclerk that it didn’t exist. And oftentimes, the salesclerk is right. Because if I can’t get the product, it doesn’t exist.
Mostly what impresses me about trade shows is how little they reflect the realities of the job site and of the people who work there. When you’re building a house, for instance, it is always too hot. Or too cold. Or too wet. You’re uncomfortable. You’re tired. You’re rushed. And you don’t understand building science well enough not to roll the housewrap through the corner, where the siding installers will have to slice it.
Some companies try to bridge the gap by having Mike Guertin or Myron Ferguson or some other installer in their booth to demonstrate a product and to answer questions. That helps, but it doesn’t make up for all the glad-handing suits whose patter assures you that their product is the best on the market, is worth more than it costs, and is quick and easy to install. Just once, I’d like to walk into the Kohler booth and find it populated by a rugby team of sweaty fat guys with butt cracks winking just below their sleeveless T-shirts who’ll look you in the eye and say, “My customers love it, but that sink is overpriced and a bear to install.” I’ll probably be waiting a long time.
posted in: Blogs, business
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About this blog
As the editor of Fine Homebuilding, I spend my weekdays trying to produce a magazine that will satisfy 300,000 of the most demanding builders, both professional and amateur. As the owner of a 200-year old Cape in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, I spend weekends working on my house.
Each activity invariably informs, and complicates, the other. In this blog, I’ll offer observations from both worlds -- publishing and building -- with the hope of providing some useful or at least entertaining insights.