Let's clear the air on some understandable confusion: There will be two competing hardware shows next year.
At the 2003 National Hardware Show, held Aug. 10-12 in Chicago, Reed Exhibitions and the American Hardware Manufacturers Association duked it out for exhibitors' commitments for 2004. After nearly 30 years of working together, they're going their separate ways. Reed will hold the National Hardware Show with Lawn & Garden World from May 10-12 in Las Vegas. The American Hardware Manufacturers Association will stay put in Chicago, hosting the AHMA Hardware Show from April 18-20.
Not even the Vegas showgirls at Reed's booth could ease the tension at this year's show. As one spectator put it, ``It's like living in the same house with parents who are divorcing.'' Each side held separate news conferences. At Reed's booth, visitors could have their photos taken with the showgirls and a digital sign boasted the number of exhibitors who have signed on for Vegas.
On the show floor, speculation swirled: Which show will win? Will AHMA garner the support of its own industry? Will Reed have Lady Luck on its side? Some plastics exhibitors were waiting to see the results of this year's show before deciding which show to attend next year. All seemed to agree that they can't attend both.
Now publicly held Reed and not-for-profit AHMA have to showcase their best. What can they offer exhibitors? Which show will attract the retailers that exhibitors desperately want to reach? So far, both parties are erasing drayage charges for exhibitors. All the money that companies typically would pay to have their equipment moved into McCormick Place or Sands Expo Center - it's forgiven for next year.
Only one show can survive when trade shows are becoming selective business choices rather than a standard item figured into the yearly budget. The National Hardware Show dwindled from its peak in 1999, consuming 1.2 million square feet of McCormick Place with 3,200 exhibitors. This year, the show had 2,000 exhibitors in 450,000 square feet. In an ever-changing market, companies are getting creative with business connections. Retail consolidation has made that necessary. The North American plastics industry is all-too familiar with the overseas competition factor. At this year's Hardware Show, firms from Taiwan and China moved from the basement to the main floor, competing on plastics products like housewares and children's toys. Some U.S.-based manufacturers grumbled at the sight. But you can't ignore the symbolism.
We chronicled Rubbermaid Home Products exiting the 2001 National Hardware Show. Many other injection molders followed suit this year. Sterilite Corp. was missing. So was Home Products International Inc. The list goes on. One other large plastics processor exhibiting this year said it won't return to either show next year.
It will be interesting to see if either show will be able to attract the largest players and the critical buyers. Or, will the Hardware Show as the industry knew it become a hapless victim of the global economy?
Angie DeRosa is an Akron-based staff reporter for Plastics News.