market what’s


January 20, 2017
Creative Trends at IBS/KBIS 2017
Don Harder
My feet are in pain. But it’s a good pain. An inspired pain. If you’ve ever spent two days on the conference room floor in Orlando, you’ll know how I feel right now. (A bubble bath cures that, by the way.)

But the best part about how I feel comes in the form of design and creative tingling. My last 28,352 steps were spent looking at some of the biggest names in the building industry. And it was buzzing. Our cabbie last night asked if we were encouraged by the attendance. The answer was a resounding yes.

One of the most important things I noticed was the intentional use of design in most booths. The idea of form over function and pushing design forward is in no small part due to the shifting tastes of the industry folks who attend these shows. People from all walks of life — from designers to engineers to contractors — come from all over the world. I heard accents as far away as the Middle East and as nearby as down the street. And everyone was excited and buzzing about what they saw.

My impression? There’s a renewed sense of cash flow and therefore, capital expenditures are on everyone’s mind. On the streets of Chicago, I am noticing a lot of new trucks, so no doubt all the major vendors were here en force.

Here are some of the creative trends that stood out to me.

Workin’ Pre-Show

Some of the smaller names were just as packed as the bigger booths. I thought to myself, “Someone worked REALLY hard to get these people here.” All of that starts months ahead of the show. Arcat appears to have done that. Though they might be well known, they had a booth that was on the smaller size. Still, pretty busy compared to others.

Educational Stages

Companies brought in their own experts to help the business owners and drew affinity for their product. Yes, use our product, but we want you to be successful too. And I gotta tell you, these learning centers were packed! Many were standing room only, and it wasn’t just about the product. It was also helping you be better business people. Very clever.



With nearly one million square feet of exhibit space, it takes 20 minutes (at full speed) to get from one North/South Hall to the other. Accordingly, there were strategically-placed lounges throughout the show floor and gave my phone (and feet!) an opportunity to recharge. (Don’t let the photo below fool you — this was taken at the show’s open, but by the afternoon these lounges are PACKED.)



Celebrity names also came by. Tom Silva from This Old House walked by the James Hardie Building Products booth, Mike Holmes made an appearance at Simpson Strong-Tie (I JUST MISSED HIM! GRRR!) and Scott McGillivray (below) from HGTV’s Income Property was on camera for Roxul.


Big Motion

If video wasn’t on a screen, it was projected. If it wasn’t eye level, it was 18 inches in the air. It was an impressive display of technology as well. Video is expensive up front, but the technology will save you over the life of your booth. Also, if you go to a lot of them, you can customize by show. Wilsonart did a great job of using a static image of their logo but then projecting the surfaces on the left side. They went one step further and projected the name of the pattern right below. It was an ingenious way to get their catalog out in the open.


Bleeding-Edge Projection

My favorite display was at Toto. They simply sell some of the best toilets on the market. And how do you compete with the likes of Kohler and Delta on the show floor? You go big with tech. Here, they used custom projections on cutouts of toilets. These are full video, mind you, showcasing the way their Tornado Flush technology is better—DIRECTLY ON THE TOILET! It was truly amazing.


Big Screen Interactivity

I would love to say that screens have taken over paper, but I have about 6 inches worth of brochures in my show bag to prove otherwise. Still, the likes of GAF and Blum (below) took their literature to large touch screens. The technology not only provided information at your fingertips, but as imagery flashed on screen it attracted gawker traffic. A nice one-two punch.


When I think about my two days at the show, it confirms what I already knew: Even B2B consumers are craving what’s new and fresh, but with an eye for practicality and how it can make their business better. There are folks who think that trade shows aren’t appropriate. Trade shows are old school. And you know what? I totally get it! But you cannot replace a handshake, a conversation or a hands-on demo with a Skype call or a PDF.

As a designer, I definitely appreciated the effort that goes into creating spaces designed to wow — it validates you as a company to existing and potential customers. And even that came in different shapes and sizes: I was so excited about a hidden screw system for decking from Camo that I wanted to buy it for myself. And they didn’t spend $1 million on their booth. But was very thoughtful and it worked. Same with Simpson Strong Tie. It was a clever use of the space, but bringing in Mike Holmes filled that booth to capacity. Little, thoughtful things.

Overall, IBS/KBIS 2017 cemented in me the idea that creating spaces at a trade show isn’t just about showing up. It’s about bringing your brand to your audience where they are and how they want it. It’s part of every channel you’ve invested in — from your website to your brochure to your business card. And, trust me: They’d notice if you weren’t there.