Technology advancements, sleek styles highlight KBIS 2012.

While there was a smaller show floor footprint, numerous manufacturers told Supply House Times they were pleased with the quality of meetings. Photo by Kelly Faloon/Supply House Times

Plastered throughout McCormick Place in Chicago was the slogan for theKBIS 2012event: “Touch the Future.” With the pace companies are advancing technology in their kitchen and bathroom products the slogan for KBIS 2013 might be “A Touchless Future.”

Major manufacturers such as Moen, Kohler, Delta and many others were busy showing off their latest products to wholesalers, contractors and designers April 24-26 at KBIS. After the show closed its doors until 2013 in New Orelans, confidence was high about where the industry stands after several down years.

It was hard not to notice what Moen has done in advancing the technology in the kitchen faucet with its MotionSense concept. After doing some extensive market research, Moen discovered homeowners were ready and excited for a touchless faucet in the kitchen.

“We surveyed the ‘hierarchy of needs’ and what our customer wants and desires were,”MoenKitchen Product ManagerLaura Garlandsaid. “A hands-free product (was a high on the list).”

MotionSense, which is currently only available in Moen’s Arbor pull-down faucet, features two unique sensors that activate the kitchen faucet. The Wave Sensor is on top of the faucet and turns the water on with just a wave of the hand over the sensor. The Ready Sensor is at the base of the faucet and will activate the water when an object such as a hand or a cup is placed under the spout. The water runs for as long as the object is in range of the sensor, and will turn off right after the object is removed from the sensor zone.

Moen also added a traditional handle mounted on the side to MotionSense – the winner of the Best of KBIS Best Green Product award – and it works as one would expect. Moen made a concerted effort in the design and production of MotionSense to provide the traditional handle because the company understands not every user will be expecting a motion sensor in a kitchen faucet.

After extensive market research, Moen created MotionSense, a kitchen faucet with two sensors that trigger water flow when activated. Photo courtesy of Moen

The MotionSense comes in traditional, spot-resistant and oil-rubbed finishes and will be available in the third quarter of 2012. Garland said that wholesalers were impressed with the product at the show and wanted to understand the best way to sell it their consumers.

“Showroom managers and consultants had not seen the product,” Garland said. “They wanted to know how to make it relatable for consumer experience.”

Kohler made a big impression sonically during KBIS. Current Top 40 hits filled the air of the Wisconsin-based manufacturer’s booth to accentuate the VibrAcoustic technology for its Underscore bathtub line.

The technology focuses on creating a complete body relaxation by using the sound vibrations created from songs and channeling them through the body. Designed to wash away stress and tension, the sound quality is so strong that a VibrAcoustic tub can be used as a stand-alone sound system for a homeowner’s entire bathroom.

The VibrAcoustic tub impressedChris Semerau, showroom manager at Morton Grove, Ill.-basedCrawford Supply. Semerau thinks that the tub could make a big impact at his showroom in the future.

“It’s not a big list price add-on,” Semerau said. “Time will tell if it’s successful.”

Semerau also was impressed with HydroRail from Kohler. HydroRail is a budget-conscious solution for a homeowner who wants to transform the shower into a spa experience with rainshower and handshower heads. It only takes about an hour for the majority of installations, and since the system utilizes the existing valve outside the wall it helps keep costs low.

“It’s a simple solution to make a hand shower,” Semerau said.

There were plenty of product demonstrations to be seen at KBIS. Delta had multiple H2O Kinetic showerheads running in a working display – including one with a flashing strobe light to give booth visitors a chance to see the technology in action. The company is expanding its water-efficient H2O Kinetic showerheads, making the technology available in raincan showerheads, handshowers, body jets and sprays in existing collections. Delta Faucet felt it was invaluable to show how the H2O Kinetic’s internal system can sculpt the water into a unique wave pattern, resulting in the end user get a feeling of more water hitting them in the shower while using less water in the process.

“To see the science in action, that was priceless,”Delta FaucetProduct ManagerAli McKinneysaid. “People saw it and said ‘I get it.’”

There was a rise in products on display at KBIS 2012 that featured black finishes, including Danze’s Taju kitchen faucet. Photo courtesy of Danze

New generation to market

A new style was prevalent at KBIS; black matte finishes on multiple kitchen and bath products, particularly faucets. Manufacturers such as Danze, Gerber and Brizo had this new style on display in Chicago, and it’s expected this stark new finish will be embraced by young designers and the Gen-Y market. Gen-Yers, also known as Millennials, just now are becoming homeowners and are ready to put a sleek stamp on their homes to make them stand out from the homes they grew up in with their parents or grandparents.

“The black finish is unique. It’s not widely accepted and we’re not overdoing it,” saidKevin McJoynt, the director of marketing forGerber Plumbing FixturesandGlobe Union Group. “It’s a little more edgy. It’s different and fun.”

Brizo – a Delta Faucet partner – worked with fashion designerJason Wuand had black matte finishes added to some of its bathroom products. Also, Brizo has other different finishes such as snowflake white and brushed gold that differentiate from the traditional.

“Older generations are hesitant (about the new finishes),” McKinney said. “But, this has been very positive.”

Kohler’s VibrAcoustic technology uses and channels the sound waves generated from a person’s favorite songs through the walls of its Underscore bathtubs to relieve stress and tension in the body. Photo courtesy of Kohler Co.

Smaller, but still pleasing

In past KBIS shows at McCormick Place, both halls on the main floor would be filled with manufacturers’ booths, but this year only one hall was used. Still, manufacturers were pleased with the traffic and discussions they had with visitors to their booths.

“The quality of the booth traffic was good,” Garland said. “People were very active. This year people were talking about real projects. They were going to spec the new products. There was genuine enthusiasm. People were asking ‘How soon can we get it?’”

Gail Sager, showroom manager at Elkhart, Ind.-basedMid-City Supply, was disappointed some of the major companies didn’t have a booth at KBIS, but with fewer booths to visit she was able to take in more of the show.

“It gave you more time to be in the booths,” she said. “I got to see more of the show. You’re usually in a big hurry. I saw a lot of products I’d like to add to my showrooms.”

According toKBISmanaging directorJim Scott, the show featured 550 exhibitors and 16,091 visitors in 2012, a 10% increase from the 2011 show in Las Vegas.

McJoynt was impressed with the business KBIS brought to Danze and Gerber.

“We were pleased,” McJoynt said. “There was more traffic and more leads. The quality of leads were good and the audience is what we wanted.”