I was getting ready to catch a flight today, and someone shared an article that was in “The Journal” about the 2011 MHI Congress and Expo. Written by Frank Rolfe, he stated among other things that ”he didn’t see anything remotely resembling optimism at the event.” He also went on to state that “the plumbing fixtures show – which attracts 40,000 that same week in Vegas – is free;” “change the event to spanning a weekend, not on weekdays. An event that’s Saturday and Sunday would allow more people from outside to attend” and “I think everyone at the show was carrying an AARP card.”
The title of the article is “Were We All at the Same Show in Vegas?”, and I was wondering the same thing after I read his article. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but what was different about our opinions and experiences is that I spent a lot of time listening – OK, maybe even eavesdropping – and videotaped over three hours of interviews and presentations made during the show. What I captured on film are people’s perceptions of Expo and the industry. After viewing and reviewing what I saw, heard and have witnessed since, I’d like to share my perception of Expo and our industry.
1. Quality not Quantity. I’ve been attending and speaking at the MHI Congress and Expo since the 90’s. Is the show as big as it was then, and are as many people attending? No. But what is different now is the quality of the participants and the exhibitors. Where else, in two or three days can you have conversations with the leaders and CEO’s of almost every top 10 manufacturer as well as the smaller but innovative leaders in our industry? I like the intimate size that Congress is right now, but I know it’s not always going to stay this small and I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to get to have conversations with people that I might have never met before.
One of my favorite experiences this year was getting to chat with Jim Clayton about his book. I got the copy when he was a keynote speaker at Congress last year, and it made me love him and Clayton Homes even more. For me, that was a priceless, very special experience.
2. Optimism. I not only saw and heard optimism, I saw enthusiasm about our future. And this wasn’t just “talk.” Look at how Cavco has grown, and they are profitable while doing it! I’ve visited the Champion Homes of Texas and SE of Texas plants recently, and the proof that things are getting better is that the plants are open, busy, and there are homes consistently coming down the lines. I’ve also heard that we are running out of existing inventory homes – a great problem to have.
3. Age of Life, Stage of Life. I’ve always preached it’s not how old you are, but how old you feel. One of my favorite experiences was getting to reach in and draw the winner of the iPad drawing sponsored by iCafe. The winner may have had an AARP card, but I have a feeling he could dance me under the table any night. He understood technology, Skyped with his grandkids, and was attending with his son who is also in the business. I noticed that during the NCC seminars, almost everyone in my row had an iPhone, Smart Phone and/ or an iPad. I thought (and the photos back me up) that this year’s Congress had a much younger crowd, something I’m really excited about. We have some really exciting changes coming, and some great talent coming up through the ranks.
A company that I’m really excited about is Basic Components (BCI Inc). They just celebrated their 25th anniversary. Russ Chappell is sharing the reins of the company with his two sons, and I am blown away with the direction they are heading in and the products they are offering. You need to ask them if you want to know anything more 🙂 Another great example is Thayer Long – Executive Vice President of MHI. I’d never ask his age, but to me he’s a “youngster” that has really turned MHI around, and is changing people’s perceptions of MHI and the Factory Built Housing industry. A great example is that after attending and exhibiting at Congress, Champion has re-joined MHI. I doubt they’d be a part of an organization they didn’t believe in and see value in.
4. Other Conventions. I attend a lot of conventions and conferences, and had the opportunity to attend the plumbing fixtures show (actually KBIS – Kitchen Bath Industry Show) that Mr. Rolfe referenced in his article. It was a ghost town, and what usually takes me at least two days to go thru, took me only three hours. Kitchen & Bath Design News stated in a Feb. 2011 article that at that time, they had 5,867 registered attendees and 457 exhibitors as opposed to 44,154 attendees and more than 1,000 exhibitors in 2007 – the last year the show was held in Vegas. I was the Lifestylist® for the New American Home – the official show home for the International Builders Show (IBS) in Orlando this year, and their attendance was around 1/2 of what it had been in the past. Mr. Rolfe also stated that admission to KBIS is free – not necessarily true. You can visit the exhibits for free, but full registration including the seminars is comparable to Congress. The same is true at IBS: visiting the exhibit floor is free, but the rest costs about the same (except for the $5.00 coffee and $4.00 water at IBS). Making it free to visit the exhibits is fine, but will it bring customers or just lookers? With all that Congress offers, you really can’t compare it to the other shows because including the awards and luncheon, keynote, seminars, and all of the wonderful meals they feed us truly sets it apart.
I am on the Design Council for Thermador Appliances, and they have stopped exhibiting at KBIS and IBS because they have chosen to focus on their customers and potential customers in a more intimate setting, where they can give them their undivided attention. To me, this is exactly what Congress offers – instead of 1,000’s of people looking for free pens and bottle openers, you get the decision makers who are truly interested in what you do, and you are afforded the time to have a real discussion with them. Plus, one of the things that Congress offers that I think is brilliant is offering food and drinks in the exhibit area. Food is expensive in Vegas, and having the opportunity to enjoy some great food while spending time with others in my industry is a great service. I discovered some great products and services I wasn’t aware of at this year’s Expo, and I plan on doing business with them.
Lastly, I think Thayer Long, Ann Parman and the other tireless members of the MHI team should be congratulated for putting on a first class event. It’s an event I won’t miss, and some of my favorite times and stories have happened in Vegas. But you know what they say – What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas… unless you ask. I would love to share my experiences – you can view some of my interviews at: www.lifestylist.tv and on my YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/lifestylist. Because business has been so good, I’ve been too busy to get all of them up – there will be more to come. If you have a positive story about the industry, please share it with me at: firstname.lastname@example.org – let’s share why “Now’s The Time To Buy” a new factory built home!
Photos by Lisa Stewart – Lisa Stewart Photography # #
Suzanne Felber, Lifestylist®, 214-941-8341, or email email@example.com