In the industry, it's known as the Hardware Show Rift.
At the 2003 National Hardware Show, it dominated conversations throughout the North and South halls of McCormick Place.
Reed Exhibitions and the American Hardware Manufacturers Association are parting ways, each doing its own show for 2004. The two parties have handled the show jointly since 1975 in Chicago. Reed Exhibitions is the Norwalk, Conn.-based unit of publicly held Reed Elsevier plc Group. Reed will host the National Hardware Show With Lawn & Garden World from May 10-12 in Las Vegas. The American Hardware Manufacturers Association of Schaumburg, Ill., will host the AHMA Hardware Show from April 18-20 in Chicago.
The two groups disagree on several items, including the city and dates. Each group mapped out its strategy in PowerPoint presentations during the press conferences, highlighting improved educational features and cost structures.
AHMA terminated its relationship with Reed in February, said AHMA Chief Executive Officer Bill Farrell.
``We are at polar opposites of how to respond to what's happening in our industry,'' Farrell said during an Aug. 10 news conference. In 1999, the show's 3,200 exhibitors took up 1.2 million square feet of McCormick Place. This year, 2,000 exhibitors used 450,000 square feet.
``The show's decline has not been because people don't want to visit Chicago in August,'' Farrell maintains. AHMA officials say the industry needs one show and can't afford two diluted shows. Not-for-profit AHMA also maintains that revenues from the show will be re-invested in the association.
``There will be a winner and a loser,'' Farrell said. ``This industry will not support two trade shows.''
Still, there is a lot of frustration among exhibitors. Some say the two groups have to grow up and settle their differences. Certain plastics companies have made their choices for 2004, but others remain undecided. Genova Products Inc., an extruder of PVC pipe, deck and railing based in Davison, Mich., will stick with Chicago. Some companies are still undecided, including Quantum Storage Systems, a Miami-based injection molder of storage bins.
``For Genova, it was an easy decision,'' said Jeanette Kellogg, Genova vice president of sales and marketing. ``AHMA is a nonprofit association that is committed to the hardware industry. They're working to provide our industry with a show that brings value to all of those who support it.''
Kellogg said that even though both sides are working on cost and attendance issues, it would come down to who's working in the best interest of the industry. Genova has been an AHMA member for more than 20 years. Kellogg is in her third year of serving on the AHMA board.
Even though it's an AHMA member, Phoenix-based Desert Extrusion said it is leaning toward Vegas.
Jeff Andrews, director of sales, said Desert Extrusion has not made a final decision, but Vegas appears to be more economical.
``This last Hardware Show in Chicago that we just finished up was extremely poor,'' Andrews wrote in an Aug. 14 e-mail. ``Very low attendance, fewer and fewer quality exhibitors. I see little future for lawn and garden power equipment at a Chicago hardware show. If a future does exist for a National Hardware Show, I think it's in Vegas, not Chicago.''
Officials said they're acutely aware of the frustration.
``I feel the frustration all the time,'' Farrell said. ``This show has diminished somewhat, but it's a battleship and it takes some time to turn around a battleship.''
Rob Cappiello, Reed industry vice president, said the two groups spent 1999-2002 trying to settle their differences.
``If we spent another year or two, there would be no show,'' Cappiello said Aug. 10. ``I don't believe that the show will ever be 1.2 million square feet again. We need to make the show as best as we can. From our point of view, we did not break up with AHMA. We just chose to move the show. We're very dedicated to making sure that the industry doesn't lose its show. I think there's a reasonable chance that some of the major players might come back.''
Reed disclosed new numbers after the show, boasting 700 companies that have signed up for Vegas with 1,873 registered retailers, wholesalers and distributors. AHMA's Farrell said his group would not participate in a numbers contest. The association declined to release booking data at this time.