The big reveal of the New American Home translated well to a virtual tour and panel talk. And the economists were as interesting and engaging as ever when they gave their forecasts online for the housing outlook. But the other half of this year's International Builders' Show — the virtual exhibits — were nowhere to be seen, at least on the IBS X platform.
"Due to ongoing technical issues with IBS X, virtual booths are inaccessible," the website for the Feb. 9-12 online event said.
Underneath it, there was a button to click to join IBS X programs, such as educational sessions, demonstrations and shop talks. At least that wonderful information could still be shared by the National Association of Home Builders, which organizes IBS. However, I needed to find other ways to learn about the new building products and innovations launching ahead of this construction season.
Although I was a registered media member, news releases and interview offers hadn't been coming my way in the usual IBS volume. I flipped through old business cards, scanned old emails and hoped the contacts were the same. Some were.
A marketing representative for one company told me in an email that the software used for IBS X "didn't perform well," then added: "Sounds to me like it couldn't handle the traffic."
Sounded plausible to me. For 75-plus years, IBS has been a great environment for learning and networking. About 90,000 people attend the builders' show and the co-located Kitchen & Bath Industry Show annually in either Las Vegas or Orlando, Fla. The combined events are known as Design and Construction Week (DCW).
I had been looking forward to the virtual IBS booths. I didn't know exactly what to expect, but I was glad for the chance to most likely see, and definitely learn about, new products.
IBS also offers a precious chance to meet executives and engineers and dive a little deeper into market nuances, materials, processes, patents and installation innovations. I was hoping for that, too.
In preparing to cover my first virtual trade show, I had perused a list of about 330 virtual exhibitors and made note of participants with ties to the plastics industry. I looked forward to catching up virtually with colleagues and experts at Fiberon, Royal Building Products, DaVinci Roofscapes and Uponor as well as meeting representatives of first-time IBS exhibitors like the Alside division of Associated Materials LLC.
My list surely wasn't as long as other years, when I'd schedule an interview practically every 45 minutes or so from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for three days. Trex and Azek weren't part of IBS X. Neither was CertainTeed, and Cornerstone's participation was limited to stone veneer products used for the New American Home and New American Remodel.
A representative for one of the manufacturers not participating told me in an email that the company officials "believe an in-person experience is more meaningful than virtual for our team and potential customers."
Nobody can argue with that. The great thing about IBS has been holding that lightweight cellular PVC siding, touching that heat-resistant composite decking, sliding that giant vinyl patio door with tandem nylon rollers and dreaming about the new colors of polyethylene roof shake shingles on my house.
While large-scale, in-person shows aren't an option right now, I thought virtual trade shows would be the next best thing. Injection press builder Engel Austria GmbH and injection equipment maker Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH, also based in Austria, made it look easy with their online presentations timed to coincide with what would have been the 27th annual Fakuma International trade show back in October 2020.
Wittmann Battenfeld managed to put a spotlight on 11 products. Company experts gave highlights. Executives fielded media questions. It seemed a safe and less expensive way to promote products and meet colleagues. I was somewhat surprised when nothing virtual was planned for NPE2021.
But now I get it. NAHB had decided back in early October to go virtual, and despite the four months of planning, things went wrong. And then the backup plan announced Feb. 12 to reschedule the virtual exhibits fell through.
"The NAHB and NKBA have worked tirelessly to find a solution to overcome the technological points of failure of DCW's virtual expo platform," IBS X organizers said in a March 1 email.
"Unfortunately, our internal teams and external consultants have been unable to resolve the technical issues pertaining to the exhibitor platform in a timely manner. As a result, NAHB and NKBA have concluded that it will not be possible to recover the virtual expo booth experience of Design & Construction Week for 2021."
I don't know what I missed. Neither do other companies that had been watching closely to see a top-notch organization move its popular trade show to a digital platform.
Now some things have to be unraveled. NAHB and the organizer of the kitchen and bath show said they are committed to fulfilling their promises of full refunds of all exhibit booth package and registration fees.
And I'm going to give up on the promise of huge online trade shows. They can be such a virtual pain for organizers and attendees. I'm back to rooting for vaccines. There could be enough doses for U.S. adults by the end of May.
In the meantime, all trade show eyes are now on Chinaplas, which is going ahead with an in-person event in mid-April in Shenzhen. A Plastics News correspondent plans to attend. I wish everyone luck and safety. There seems to be virtually no way around it yet.
Kavanaugh is a Plastics News staff reporter who covers construction, machinery and tooling. Follow her on Twitter @CatherineKav.