Trade shows versus the real world - Fine Homebuilding
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Better than Plumb

Better than Plumb


Trade shows versus the real world

comments (3) January 29th, 2009 in Blogs
Kevini Kevin Ireton, editor-at-large


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.

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posted in: Blogs, business

Comments (3)

moucon moucon writes: Next time, visit a JLCLive show. We started those shows in the mid-90s to show the reality of the jobsite in a tradeshow setting, and even after a couple changes in management they're still going strong. Nothing on the scale of IBS, but a great show for working builders, remodelers, and trades. http://www.jlclive.com
Posted: 4:17 pm on July 4th

MikeGuertin MikeGuertin writes: I know just what you mean. Seems the bigger the company, the more polished the shoes and the talk. I tend to gravitate to the smaller exhibitors - the one's staffed by the owner / inventor. They tend to be less like used-car-salesperson. Sure, they present their product in the best light but you can just sense it comes from the heart and not the pep rally they had before the show opened.

There are a couple of big companies who 'get it' - Their sales staff is made of contractors who can talk the talk because they've walked in our shoes. And they're just as quick to tell you their product won't solve your problem as they are to show you tricks that go beyond the printed materials. Unfortunately, these allies are few and far between at a big trade show. Usually I see them at a local lumberyard show / cookout. If you haven't been to a contractor yard event in a while, you should see if there's one at a yard in your area in the spring.
Posted: 12:18 pm on January 30th

gatno gatno writes: thankyou kevin
Posted: 10:49 pm on January 29th

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