Smaller in size, big on ideas

Australian Hardware Journal

The show is over, the votes are in, and the final verdict is now in. On balance, the show earned a lot more positive assessment than many buyers and vendors expected. One primary purpose of a trade show is to introduce new products to new customers. This year, the smaller, more compact National Hardware Show® continued to provide that vital service and, in fact, made it easier to spot new items.

Members of the retailer committee which searched for new products

Yes, some of the big names were missing. Yes, the show was condensed into two exhibit halls, with the Lakeside Center (the East building) not in use. But thousands of other vendors – both large and small – many with brand new concepts and items, were present. As a result, buyers found they had more time to walk the aisles and find new vendors and items, not “burdened” with seeing and spending time with companies from whom they already buy.

Proof of this was to be found in a retailer committee searching for new products for Do It Yourself. Jane Simpson, a divisional merchandise manager for Mitre 10, and Ian Strickland, managing director for B&Q’s Asian Operation, served as members of the Retailer’s Choice committee. They picked out well over a hundred brand-new products that they felt would meet consumer and/or contractor customer needs and give them an opportunity to ring up added sales.

Many smaller manufacturers, especially those with broad lines, find the show is their one opportunity to show their complete range to many smaller accounts and to find new customers. Their main question was: “What would we do without this show?” Manufacturers with very well established distribution also seem to recognise the continued need for an industry trade show, even though their major customers had already been shown new items and new programs before the show.

For buyers, the show was better organised by departments, making it easier to view categories and compare among vendors making similar products. Show management made the show more attractive to exhibitors by increasing promotional efforts and doing a better pre-show support job, while also reducing some of the costs of exhibiting. Visitors as well as exhibitors also benefited from lower hotel rates were offered this year.

Environmentally-friendly
The American Hardware Manufacturers Association continued to stage a New Products Exposition, which makes it easy for buyers to identify new products and visit those vendors. And for international buyers, AHMA once again sponsored a lavish reception during the show.

International attendance now represents about 20% of total attendance. Wal*Mart International had people on hand from the UK, Mexico, Germany and South America. Australian representatives included a group of four people from Mitre 10, plus a group from Bunnings/BBC. And BritainÕs B & Q, now the worldÕs third largest home centre chain, had a sizeable contingent aggressively working the show.

In terms of trends, the show highlighted an ongoing interest in environmentally friendly products Ñ non-flammable, non-toxic paint removers, for example; a number of orange-based cleaning products; and dozens of other specific examples.

It also featured a variety of faux painting tools and techniques. What used to require a painting contractor can now be accomplished by the average DIYer, who can create marvellous new looks for oneÕs home or apartment easier, faster and less expensively.

Workplace safety, including improved ergonomic tool designs, also captured buyer attention. With the growth of cathedral ceilings in many dwellings, extension poles for everything from cleaning to light bulb replacement are a growing sales category.

Probably the most significant single category warranting buyer attention is that of storage. Home storage of every type, with many innovative new storage materials and concepts, could be found in many stands. ItÕs not just closets being organised now, but bathrooms, kitchens, even garages.

One manufacturer, a division of giant Whirlpool, introduced a line of components to organise a garage, modular in concept which could be acquired item by item. The line even includes a small refrigerator to hold beer and soft drinks. (What kind of garage work requires a fresh brew?) Based on extensive research, including male focus groups, the Gladiator line is designed to remove the clutter which frequently dominates garages.

Smaller suppliers in limelight
Overall, this year’s fair focused on smaller markers as large-scale manufacturer participants scaled back their fair participation. Despite fewer attendees and exhibitors, the show proved to be a lively affair where smaller manufacturers were given a chance to shine. Many of the small-and medium- sized manufacturers of DIY products said they were pleased with the booth traffic despite the smaller number of participants.

Lawn and garden products proved to be a strong catrgory, riding the wave of bringing more deign focus to the outdoors. An on’site seminar underlined this trend as a panel of lawn and garden experts talked about the rise of landscaping and gardening projects. Another seminar presented research findings on what types of displays, signage and packaging sell more products.

One of the many award events that were held during the show was the International Hardware Week Packaging Awards which attracted a total of 400 entries from exhibitors. Product packaging and merchandiser awards were given to 54 of these entries on-site. The judges that included retailers and wholesalers evaluated the entries on the basis of the information communicated, visual appeal, desirability and overall effectiveness.

Mitre 10 execs tour US stores
Four merchandise managers from Mitre 10 took a whirlwind tour of America’s newest and biggest stores in conjunction with a visit to the National Hardware Show® in Chicago. Stops included southern California, Montreal, Northern New Jersey, Indianapolis and Chicago.

(l-r) In front of the Menard store are Shane Lipton, Jane Alexander, Craig Franks and Jane Simpson

In Indianapolis, they visited one of the newest Menard stores, a 225,000 sq. ft. giant as well as a four-year old “smaller” store of 170,000 sq. ft. They also took in a modern-style Home Depot, the latest Do It best store, a Meijer store which is part of the huge, privately-owned hypermarket chain, a Lowes, Sears Hardware and a Super Target.

Other stores visited included the latest, smaller urban Home Depot, All American Home Center, a single-store giant in California, which shares a parking lot with Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Linens ‘n Things, and others.

Lowes especially impressed them with its excellent informative signing and “softer” warehouse look, appealing more to females. They posed outside one of the Menard stores, all of which feature an outdoor sample display of various materials, and in front of the new-format Do It Best store design for independent retailers.