This may be the industry's last, best hope to achieve what exhibitors want.

Many exhibitors and would-be exhibitors think the ISH North America trade show creates more problems than it's solved. Its promise was to reduce, through consolidation, the oppressive number of trade shows PHCP vendors must patronize if they want to reach all of their target audiences. Instead, many grumble that it has done just the opposite. By replacing the every-other-year NEX show with an annual event, ISH NA seems to have added an extra trade show every two years rather than subtract any.

There are some flaws with that arithmetic, which I'll explain shortly. More important, though, is an existential issue that hasn't been fully appreciated by the industry at-large. That is, ISH NA is the only trade show touching our industry that is committed to consolidation. Progress has been slower than anyone would like, but alone among the major trade shows involving PHCP products, ISH NA has an explicit mission of bringing others together under one roof.

What's that mean to frustrated exhibitors? Let's pretend that ISH NA ceased to exist and examine likely scenarios that would unfold.

Some PHCP vendors would applaud, thinking they have one less show to worry about. Yet, a key audience consisting of the trade channel - contractors and wholesalers - would be left without a show targeting their interests. Would they flock in greater numbers to K/BIS, the Home Builders Show, the retail shows and others that address plumbing/heating only tangentially? Would ASPE's Engineered Products Expo have much appeal to the residential crowd? Would PHCC and ASA still be viable if their exposition revenues suddenly dried up? Would that be good for the industry?

"No" seems to be the answer to all of those questions. Thus, it seems likely that if ISH NA disappeared, something comparable would arise to fill the vacuum, and vendors would be back where they started. Except the world-class trade show operators at Messe Frankfurt wouldn't be involved in the effort. Any successor trade show would likely be an amateurish operation born of desperation, with less value to exhibitors and visitors than ISH NA.

Don't buy that? Think ISH NA wouldn't be missed as much as I claim?

Okay, let's say PHCP vendors would enjoy the savings of one less trade show contending for their marketing dollars. That would leave only K/BIS, Home Builders, ASHRAE, ASPE, the retail shows (the Hardware Show this year splintered into two expos, by the way), plus various regional and specialty trade shows to squeeze into the budget. For most firms the dollars saved eliminating ISH NA would be a tiny percentage of total trade show spending, and at the cost of missing contact with thousands of trade channel customers.

What's more, none of the remaining trade shows would have the slightest interest in linking up with one another. It seems almost absurd to envision, say, K/BIS and ASPE joining forces. Yet, to anyone who has attended the gigantic version of ISH in Frankfurt, Germany, it doesn't seem at all weird to envision an all-encompassing PHCP trade show under the ISH banner. Messe Frankfurt has lines of communication open with all the other groups about consolidation, and although agreements haven't been reached, the quest continues. Without them pressing the issue, consolidation would likely slide off the agenda of every other show sponsor.

As for that faulty arithmetic, it has to do with the fact that even though ISH NA has started out on an annual schedule, it has eliminated some significant expenses for many industry vendors. The recent consolidation of the Radiant Panel Association removed an annual expo that was a high priority for many hydronic heating firms. ISH NA also has subsumed PHCC's Tech Show and ASA's Conference Booth program that were held in off years between NEX.

Granted, these little consolidations don't have the same impact as rolling up a K/BIS or ASPE. Yet, when you add them up they come close to compensating for exhibiting at ISH NA for many vendors. To date 22 PHCP organizations have signed up as partners or endorsers of ISH NA. The more that jump on that bandwagon, the more inviting it will become for one or more of the big groups to decide that its best interests lay in a marriage with ISH NA. And, Messe Frankfurt has stated repeatedly that ISH NA will eventually go to every other year once it gains traction.

It won't happen overnight and there's no guarantee it ever will. But ISH NA is a noble effort and the only trade show responding to the industry's clarion call for consolidation. ISH NA may represent the last, best hope to achieve that goal, and that's why it deserves everyone's support. <<

Jim Olsztynski will moderate panel discussions at this year's ISH North America Conference in Las Vegas. On Thursday, Oct. 2, at 3:30 p.m., he will present "PVF Liability & Safety," featuring representatives from Charlotte Pipe, Weldbend, NIBCO and ASA's Industrial Piping Div. Then on Friday, Oct. 3, Jim will moderate "Code Wars: Why the Confusion Continues," with panelists representing IAPMO, ICC, NSPC and PM columnist and code consultant Julius Ballanco. To register for the show, visit