As I helped arrange the name badges on the counter of the registration desk at the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association’s (DPHA) 2021 annual conference, I gazed at a long escalator full of people focused on our desk. For the next few hours, I had the pleasure of watching people descending from above with eyes beaming — their smiles hidden behind protective masks. People gleefully made the journey to Austin, Texas, in the midst of a pandemic with business at home ridiculously strong. They were taking the time away to listen, ask questions and learn ways to improve their businesses.

There are many other industry trade shows that are widely attended every year, but there is nothing as focused on the plumbing showroom business as the annual DPHA conference. The KBIS-IBS show presents products galore. The Architectural Digest and ICFF shows attract accomplished and influential designers and architects from New York City and beyond. These far-reaching shows present volumes of products in dynamically merchandised booths. But not one of these shows can claim to be the place to discuss the strategy, merchandising challenges, trends and nuances of operating a 21st century decorative plumbing showroom.

These mega conferences offer thousands of square feet of displays. Organizers want you on the exhibit floor, in the booths, talking with vendor after vendor. All the time reminding you that you cannot risk missing anything. If you happen to pass over a new product or emerging brand, it could mean a competitive weakness in your home market. Oh my! Presenting the latest and greatest products is the engine that drives these mega shows. The more the attendees interact with the vendors, the happier the vendors. And the happier they are, the more likely they will return to show year after year. It's a win-win situation. The vendors show their new products to targeted customers, and the sponsoring trade association gets stronger. But does anyone really improve their business acumen?  

The DPHA conference actually shuts down its exhibit hall during the speaker and roundtable meetings, allowing every attendee the ability to participate and network. The vendors know the conference schedule offers ample time for their customers to see their new products. They also understand that face-time away from others outside the exhibit hall is important in building stronger vendor-distributor relationships. Every time I strolled into the lobby, I saw countless meetings and discussions taking place. Vendors, sales representatives and distributors were sharing, listening and learning how to improve their businesses.

At these smaller, laser-focused conferences, one can easily meet people who own and manage successful showroom businesses and constructively talk about ideas that you both have been pondering. Your time can be spent learning about new products, discovering what is hot in Houston or how other distributors are supporting their best salespeople so they can sell more. Your time is not governed by having to visit hundreds of booths, it is governed by what attendees want to learn and what intrigues them. The DPHA conference is about offering vendors, sales representatives and showrooms the opportunity and time to learn and make your showroom division a better and more profitable business unit.

DPHA 2020 Showroom Professional of the Year and DPHA President’s Award recipient Rich Campbell of Belmont Hardware echos the importance of the event. "The DPHA conference promotes our showrooms,” he says. “We annually reconnect in a family-like atmosphere and elevate each other through discussions that are stimulated by the speakers and ideas from all segments of our membership. My company would not be the same without this conference.”

Then, there are buying group conferences. Here, much of an attendee's time is dedicated to meetings with preferred vendors discussing purchasing history, show specials and future sales. The overall purpose of the buying group meeting is to increase the purchasing volume of the group and members' overall product profitability. Yes, showrooms brands and products are discussed, but they are not the sole focus. At the DPHA conference it is all showroom, all of the time.

First-timer Julie Keil from Earth Elements Design Center notes the in-person event was particularly enjoyable after months of virtual events. “This was my first time attending the DPHA conference, and I was excited to see familiar faces and make new connections,” she says. “I have enjoyed the recent virtual roundtables, but being able to meet in person was very meaningful. I’m looking forward to participating more in DPHA and plan to see everyone again in New Orleans!”

Discovering new vendors and exciting products is energizing and foundational to any premium and luxury business. This is what large business fairs are all about. Small, focused conference gatherings, such as DPHA, create networking opportunities while presenting new and trending industry information.  All with the goal of improving your knowledge to better guide your company in an ever-changing market. That is DPHA’s mission.  

If you are simply looking for new brands and products at the same venues as your competitors, how can you differentiate your showroom from all the fast follower competitors in your market? This is where industry specific conferences can help you elevate your showroom to levels your competitors cannot even imagine.