A continuation of commentary on the world's largest trade fair and international styles and trends.

Last month I reviewed part of my experience at ISH (International Sanitary Heating) held in Frankfurt, Germany. This month I'll conclude my observations and comments.

Many European and American manufacturers are utilizing "name" designers to create products and using the name for marketing purposes. I suspect this helps accomplish unique designs and probably a higher price to go with the name.

Just like "less is more" is a current design trend, so is "minimalistic." This style combines surfaces and cylinders in perfect symmetry. It encompasses clean, flowing lines, clean edges and pure forms. Manufacturers are working hard to combine design, function and innovative technology - and this bodes well for the end consumer.

In Europe and other areas of the world, the bidet is an integral part of personal hygiene, so there were matching bidets and water closets in every style imaginable. All showroom salespeople should learn about the features and benefits of the bidet. You'll be doing your client a favor and grow your sales at the same time. The bidet is truly a show-and-tell product.

Europeans use a lot of freestanding furniture in the bathroom for a mix-and-match look that delivers versatility, function and form. Bathroom furniture is a growing piece of the business in the United States as well. It takes up a fair amount of space, but each piece has a very nice price tag. Many showrooms sell the furniture right off the floor and replace it from one or two pieces in inventory. You could also align yourself with a local cabinet shop, which would add the benefit of being able to offer custom sizes. Also, many water closets, bidets and furniture are wall hung, which makes cleaning the floor much easier.

It took awhile, but American manufacturers are finally marketing comfort height water closets with style and color. How about a wider bowl/seat for wider folks? My feeling is we should try to be customer friendly for all sizes and shapes of people!

The Europeans have good-looking urinals available for the home. I've always thought this would be a great idea for men and boys in the bathrooms of our homes - and I'll bet most wives would agree!

Even with 200,000 attendees, the show aisles didn't seem as crowded as the Home Builders Show or K/BIS. Possibly this is because the display areas and cafes allowed a lot of people to be out of the aisles. In any case, I'm not aware of any convention facility in the United States that would be big enough to handle a show as big as ISH. The number of hotel rooms would also have to be a consideration.

Working A Show

Even though ISH was a full five days, it is almost impossible to cover the entire show - especially if you need to stop and talk. It reminded me of my first couple of Builder Shows and K/BIS when it got larger. To do a good job "working" any show you have to have a plan.

First, you should list and prioritize all of the vendors you want to visit. Circle them on the exhibit map. Second, set up as many appointments as possible ahead of time. Let the vendor know what you want to talk about and how much time you'll need. Take advantage of before and after show time to meet with vendors for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try to set up your meetings so you're not crisscrossing the convention center. Keep in mind that time is money for both you and the vendors. They will be the ultimate decision makers, so if you need to talk with the top guys, do it at the show!

If more than one person attends the show from your company, divide up the things that need to be accomplished. Then meet once or twice a day to check progress and plan the next phase. Compare notes and if necessary revisit any vendors that require it.

In my opinion, too many folks go to the shows for a good time. K/BIS, Home Builders, ISH and even your local trade and home shows are wonderful opportunities to see new products, styles, finishes and colors. They also offer the opportunity to strengthen relations with vendors, and also very importantly, they give you a chance to "network" with peers in the industry. Nothing else affords you the opportunity to see so much, talk to so many people and learn from seminars and classes. Take these shows seriously and work them hard!

One More Thing To Consider

I'd like to share one other observation that is controversial, and maybe not politically correct: for more than 10 years I've felt there were a number of good reasons why the plumbing, HVAC, kitchen & bath and home builder industry trades should combine their shows and move to the every-other-year format that ISH utilizes. I know the arguments from both sides. The people that own the various shows make a lot of money. Combining the shows would mean somebody would go away. But I'm convinced that the overwhelming advantage to manufacturers, wholesalers/distributors, dealers, tradespeople and even consumers would more than justify the change.

There just aren't enough new and innovative products rolling out each year to justify an annual show. The cost to exhibitors is tremendous, and the yearly cost of people and their related expenses (travel, housing, food, entertainment) is huge. An every-other-year show would save immensely in these areas. I believe exhibitors would be happy to pay double (or maybe even more) for the booth space if they knew they could save in the associated cost areas by showing every other year. I'll bet we would also see bigger and better displays that would draw more attendees.

Many of you know that ISH did its first North American Show in the fall of 2002 and will be doing its second show Oct. 1-3, 2003 in Las Vegas. From what I saw in Germany this week, Messe Frankfurt knows how to put on a great trade fair. Shouldn't we stop worrying about who makes what and how much putting on the shows, and start thinking more about the folks that exhibit and attend the shows?

If you ever have the opportunity or interest in being part of the biggest and best trade show on plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation products, mark your calendar for the fall of 2005 in Frankfurt, Germany!