Wholesalers coming back, exhibitors feeling confident heading into KBIS.

The 2012 KBIS will be held April 24-26. Photo courtesy of KBIS

Cregger Co. is starting to feel it.

Blackman Supply hopes it permeates on the floor of McCormick Place in Chicago April 24-26 at the annualKitchen and Bath Industry Show.

The “it” is optimism.

Kevin Gordon, marketing manager with New York-basedBlackman Supply, believes a strong KBIS – the yearly show held by the National Kitchen & Bath Association – can set the standard for the rest of the year.

“I think (KBIS) is like a big-time sports event,” Gordon says. “When the stadium is packed it adds to the drama. People feed off that energy.”

Brendan Donohue, vice president of South Carolina-based wholesalerCregger Co., says an uptick in the local markets of Hilton Head and Charleston adds to his excitement of making the trip with three of his colleagues to KBIS.

Liberty Pumps will bring its new Ascent II macerating toilet to KBIS. Photo courtesy of Liberty Pumps

“Our markets are starting to improve,” Donohue says of the affluent areas. “The single-family and residential have been our strong suit. It’s not great yet, but it’s improving.”

Cregger hasn’t visited KBIS the last four years because of the economic downturn, but it is ready to take in the latest from JADO, Porcher, Duravit, Hansgrohe and TOTO in particular.

“We are picking up steam on those product lines,” Donohue says. He hopes manufacturers are more directly involved with wholesalers at KBIS this year than at pre-recession shows.

“I’m hopeful vendor participation is better than it was before,” Donohue says. “That’ll signify to us some optimism and momentum for the industry. We’re looking forward to a good show and hope to see a lot of new and exciting products and to gauge a positive buzz from manufacturers.”

Kohler’s HydroRail shower column. Photo courtesy of Kohler

The long road to Chicago

For years,Jim Scottattended KBIS as president ofElkay’s plumbing products division. Scott retired from Elkay in 2008, and in June 2011, was recruited by Nielsen Expositions to take the job of KBIS managing director. Scott and his colleagues quickly began rebranding KBIS to give it a more intimate and personal feel.

“Our outreach efforts consisted of a new image in advertising; to present a more elegant design,” he says. “We followed that with a targeted effort to inform and invite attendees from the 2010 and 2011 events.”

Despite his best efforts, Scott was dealt a tough hand just nine days into his KBIS tenure. Scott started on June 13 and on June 22 President Barack Obama announced Chicago would hold the G-8 and NATO summits in May (on March 5, the Obama administration said the G-8 summit would instead be held at Camp David).

Visitors to Bootz Industries’ KBIS booth will see the Mauicast tub. Photo courtesy of Bootz Industries

Those announcements forced KBIS to accommodate and move its dates from April 27-29 to April 24-26.

“It was certainly a surprise,” he says. “We really focused on all the hotel blocks and venues that were available and solid. Also, we wanted to make sure our exhibitors’ interests were protected from any negative impact.”

Despite the hoops to jump through, Scott says everything is on track for a great event. The sign-up phase for exhibitors and attendees hasn’t been affected adversely by the date change. “We feel good about the pattern we’re seeing,” Scott says.

Roman Tub Valves from Moen. Photo courtesy of Moen

Helpful tools

Scott believes one of the main attractions at this year’s KBIS show will be the “UNcontained” exhibit, which looks at the five demographic generations currently in the marketplace. One specific exhibit focuses on baby boomers, a generation of people who may be moving out of their homes and into the homes of their children. Scott expects “UNcontained” to challenge the visitor with questions on how to handle a major shift, such as new members of the household and how to meet their needs. “How do you create a personal space for someone who moves back home?” Scott asks.

KBIS Connect – a free digital platform for both exhibitor and attendee – helps build a community before, during and after KBIS. Attendees can schedule booth visits on the fly with exhibitors, comment on exhibits and continue relationships after KBIS ends April 26. With KBIS Connect, exhibitors can post photos, press materials and links to special events for anyone to look through.

Moen will also display its Reflex kitchen pullout faucet at this year’s KBIS. Photo courtesy of Moen

Other features include:

  • Uploading a profile image;

  • A dashboard with important information, such as recent exhibitor and attendee matches, the latest products added to KBIS Connect and a show announcement feed;

  • A messaging system; and

  • Blogging opportunities.

    “Exhibitors want to be able to maintain relationships with attendees,” Scott says. “It might result in an order next week, next month or later.”

  • Brendan Donohue, VP of Cregger Co., is hopeful vendor participation is better than it was before.

    New to the KBIS floor

    Scott Edmunds, director of wholesale channel marketing forKohler Co., says the kitchen and bath manufacturer wasn’t thrown for a loop with the unexpected date change. Edmunds says KBIS “obviously” is an important event for Kohler. KBIS provides Kohler an excellent opportunity to engage with its marketplace and it can spur a big year for the company.

    “Our shows are thought out very carefully,” he says. “KBIS is a great showcase and place we can get people excited. It’s just a beginning and not the end for us.”

    Kohler will have many new products on display at KBIS, but the HydroRail shower column and the StereoStik audio add-on are expected to be two of the more popular items. The HydroRail is perfect for remodels and allows the homeowner to take a standard shower and turn it into a spa experience. The StereoStik add-on follows with the trend of integrating audio into home remodels and brings it into the bathroom. “It’s definitely about the experience,” Edmunds says of Kohler’s KBIS theme.

    Mike Reffner, a group product manager withMoen, says that KBIS gives his company a great opportunity to talk with wholesalers and contractors about new products, such as the Roman Tub Valve. The fixed valve option comes in many configurations and connections such as copper-to-copper, PEX/CPVC and cold expansion PEX piping. The three-piece adjustable valves also are compatiable with the aforementioned piping and include a spout shank expansion nut tool. All the Roman tub valves have 1 1/4-in. hole sizes so only one drill size is needed, saving contractors signficant time during installation.

    “To plumbers, adding more connectivity makes life a little easier,” Reffner says. “We wanted to develop a valve that they can use right out of the box.”

    Upstate New York-basedLiberty Pumpshas only recently started to exhibit at KBIS. This year’s show will be the company’s third go-around. Vice President of Sales and MarketingRandy Waldronsays the first two years were used to show off Liberty Pumps’ existing product lines, but this year it will bring its new Ascent II macerating toilet, which was released in November.

    The Ascent II makes for an easy installation in a new bathroom in locations where there are no gravity sewer lines, he says. The Ascent takes away the need for a major construction undertaking, including tearing up concrete floors in basements to add a bathroom. The high-efficiency 1.28-gpf model softens sewage waste with its RazorCut technology and discharges it through a 1-in, line up to 25 ft. high and 150 ft. horizontally.

    “People still don’t realize this type of product is on the market,” Waldron says.

    While the Ascent II toilet won’t have a major marketing blitz behind it, Waldron expects the toilet to turn some heads. “We’re going to have a working unit there,” he says. “It’s a great place to have this hooked up and working.”

    As a relative newcomer to the event, Waldron and Liberty Pumps have been impressed with the benefits of exhibiting at KBIS. “It’s very well-attended by plumbing distributors,” he says.

    Scott hopes all attendees and exhibitors realize that KBIS benefits everyone. He’s expecting this year’s show to be an experience unlike any other KBIS.

    “We’re all in this together. More relationships add value to the overall experience,” he says. “We want this KBIS to look and feel quite different than it has in the past and show that it’s moving in a new direction.”