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The 2018 National Hardware Show: Our 10 Miles of Observations

Over the past 75 years, The National Hardware Show has been a great way to remain up-to-date on the hardware and home improvement industry; to gain a first-hand perspective on new consumer product trends.

To stay connected with the industry and connect with clients, Motiv typically attends this show each year, and 2018 was no exception. Here are some of our observations, based on walking what seemed to be at least 10 miles of the Las Vegas Convention Center, where the Show was held:

Show Attendance – Perhaps it was the cavernous convention center, and notwithstanding the show’s claim of “20,000+ professionals,” it appeared to us (and others) that attendance was down this year. There are several reasons for the decline. Increasingly, for example, companies are using the internet to showcase and promote their products, and taking a hard look at the costs and ROI associated with trade show participation. For new companies, however, these shows can be a great way to build brand awareness and establish relationships with retailers.

Industry Consolidation– Perhaps the most significant change we witnessed at the show involves the industry’s ongoing consolidation of brands, on a domestic and global basis. The brand portfolio of Black & Decker (now Stanley Black & Decker), for example, now includes more than 20 other established brands such as DeWalt, Craftsman, Bostitch, Sonitrol, Irwin and Porter Cable. We anticipate that private equity firms and foreign companies will continue to acquire and sell hardware brands, driven in large measure by new Chinese manufacturers in this vertical, that have rapidly improved their product quality and marketing sophistication.

Electrification– Automotive is not the only industry that’s replacing fossil fuel engines with re-chargeable electric motors. Notably, yard maintenance equipment – for commercial as well as home applications – are now being “electrified” to reduce operating costs, and improve air quality and noise pollution levels. Significant improvements in battery-based technology – thanks to car companies such as Tesla, GM and Toyota – are benefitting heavy-duty power equipment manufacturers and driving significant product innovation. Although the performance characteristics of cordless electric yard appliances are on a par with their gas-fueled competitors, their costs remain higher by that gap is closing.

The Color Orange– Although we’re doubtful this trend is based on the popularity of the “Orange is the New Black” series on Netflix, we saw the color orange everywhere we looked at the show. Orange has long been a common color for power tools, both for safety and to help users keep them from getting lost, but now we’re seeing the color applied to a much broader range of products.

Blowing Off Steam– In the “home improvement” category, we’re noticing that consumers are increasingly interested in creating interior and exterior environments that better enable them to simply relax, and blow off steam. Perhaps it’s the nation’s overheated political climate, or a just desire to return to their carefree, younger years…but people are looking for no-frills comfort and manufacturers are responding. Here’s an example (photo above): a back-yard patio set, based on a Margaritaville™ / Parrothead theme, that Motiv recently designed for our client Rio. It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, and consumer demand for this fun outdoor furniture appears to be growing.

Grass Roots Innovation– There’s always a healthy representation of new products at the Hardware Show, and this year was no exception. What’s a bit different, however, is that most of the industry innovation appears to be driven by tradespeople: the carpenters, plumbers, contractors, electricians who’ve earned a first-hand understanding of their respected trades, and are seeking entrepreneurial success by building a better or more innovative product solution. Some of the ideas we saw had high potential, while others were whacky, with little chance of gaining market traction. Either way, this grass roots level of enthusiasm and risk-taking is what fuels growth in any industry. It was one of the most encouraging signs we saw at this year’s show.