By David H. Martin

This year’s National Hardware Show, though still the main event in the U.S. hardware industry, was a mere shadow of its former self in Chicago. In 1999, at the Hardware Show’s peak, exhibits occupied about 1.25 million square feet with 5,000 exhibitors. In contrast, this year’s show—Aug. 10-12 at McCormick Place—occupied slightly over 450,000 square feet with 2,000 exhibitors.

Industry members say the show has become less relevant as continuing retail consolidation has steadily eroded the traffic count that once included thousands of small independent hardware and home center dealers. It has become apparent that the show needs fixing. Still, there’s no agreement between the American Hardware Manufacturers Association (AHMA) and the show’s owners, Reed Exhibition Services, as to what should be done. In February, when Reed announced its intention to move the show to Las Vegas, the AHMA (Hardware Show sponsors for 28 years) announced it would host its own competing show in Chicago, April 18-20, 2004. Meanwhile, the Reed show will be held May 10-12 in Las Vegas.

This year’s Chicago event saw the weakest participation in memory from water equipment marketers, some of whom expressed uncertainty over the twin shows’ futures. “We are confused,” said David Farley, president of Sprite Industries and an exhibitor. “Las Vegas would sure make life easier (as Sprite’s base is in southern California). But I don’t know which one we will go to. You really have to make a decision to go to one or the other.”

Can two separate hardware shows survive beyond 2004? Few industry members think so. With the Chicago-based Housewares Show moving to new spring dates, only three weeks earlier than the scheduled AHMA Hardware Show, someone is sure to ask why those two wouldn’t merge at some point. The two industries share much the same consumer and retailer bases. But in the highly political world of trade show wars, logic often gets thrown out with the bath water.

Omnifilter, of Marietta, Calif., added a floor height water cooler to its line of point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) filtration products including undercounter reverse osmosis (RO) and twin-canister undersink filtration units. The Sta-Rite retail filtration unit’s new packaging and merchandising support were shown for the first time in Chicago. Omnifilter products were shown in the Flotec water pumps booth, another division of Sta-Rite Industries of Delevan, Wis.

Campbell Manufacturing Inc., of Bechtelsville, Pa., exhibited its comprehensive range of filter housings and cartridges engineered to meet specific filtration needs including sediment, taste and odor, and special applications. The company also showed stainless steel filter housings, an undercounter RO system, and an undersink two-stage filtration unit to reduce a wide range of chemicals and cysts.

Star Water Systems, of Kendallville, Ind., showed compact and full-size water softeners, an RO system and filters. The company also makes utility, sump, sewage, effluent and well pumps.

Anaheim Manufacturing, of Anaheim, Calif., has, over the last 18 months, developed an instant hot/cold water dispenser with undercounter water filtration, a chiller and non-pressurized holding tank. The twin filters are rated to NSF Standards 42 and 53 and feature a quick-change dry cartridge system, said marketing communications manager Tim Shockley. The company showed a broad new line of faucets in various configurations, colors and operating systems including a new single-lever model combining hot/cold water dispensing. The compact 8” round chiller uses thermoelectric technology to cool without a condenser.

Shie Yu Machine Parts Industrial Co. Ltd., of Taiwan, ROC, exhibited for the first time in the United States, showing its lines of 10” and 20” filter housings. Boshart Industries Inc., of Milverton, Ontario, Canada, showed a wide range of water well accessories, fittings, clamps and gauges.

WEDECO Ideal Horizons, of Charlotte, N.C., exhibited its 40-gallon per minute (gpm) Model DLR Series of ultraviolet (UV) systems for homes and commercial applications. Units are electro-polished stainless steel with UV sensor and selective UV monitoring system; audible alarm and visible LED display to indicate lamp failure, according to WEDECO’s Kim Schultz.

Crystal Mountain Water Cooler, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, exhibited at the Hardware Show for the first time, according to salesman Rej Tellier. The company showed floor model water coolers and a freestanding undercounter chiller with conventional compressor used with POU water filtration systems. One cooler has an optional conversion kit for adapting to POU filtration.

Royal Sovereign International, of Englewood, N.J., showed its line of three floor water coolers and a countertop unit, all imported from China. One has a mini-refrigerator. All feature a drip-easy spout and manual shutoff switch to deny access to hot or cold water. Suggested retail prices are from $109 to $169, said Royal Sovereign’s Brian Murphy.

Sprite Industries Inc., of Corona, Calif., showed its ergonomically designed filtered shower handle called EuroCurve with an SRP of $44.95. It also exhibited solid-brass shower filters for upscale bathrooms with prices starting at $34.95. Sprite filters feature patented Chlorgon media to reduce chlorine for health and beauty benefits. Company president Farley reported that Sprite’s products are currently undergoing NSF certification to the new Standard 177 for shower filters. The company expects to be shipping NSF-certified products by the end of the year, Farley said.

Two other specialty showerheads seen in Chicago included the Hyperionic shower filter, a Japanese import that incorporates powdered vitamin C in a special cartridge said to remove chlorine. The handheld unit is stainless steel. The Oxygenics SkinCare shower unit by Energy Technology Laboratories, of Modesto, Calif., is a patented system said to enrich shower water with oxygen to promote healthier skin.

Pond treatment products
A recent hardware industry survey indicates that water gardening is a strong trend in backyards across America. Specialty pumps, filters and other products were a growing category in the home and garden section of the Hardware Show. Here are just a few:

Laguna Water Gardening (Hagen USA), of Mansfield, Mass., showed a consumer-friendly line of water gardening products including specialty pumps, filters, UV lamps and special filter media including Biomax ceramic for bacteria, zeolite filter packs for ammonia remediation, and carbon/zeolite combination pads.

TetraPond, of Blacksburg, Va., exhibited pond and waterfall pumps, filters, UV clarifiers and TetraPond test kits. ClearChoice biofilters use the venturi principle for aeration that promotes growth of ammonia-consuming bacteria. GreenFree UV clarification provides permanent control of suspended algae that causes green water. Five-watt, nine-watt, and 18-watt models maintain water clarity and reduce pond maintenance. Aqua Safe chemical water treatment eliminates chlorine, chloramines and neutralizes heavy metals.

Wayne Water Systems, of Harrison, Ohio, introduced its new line of low-voltage pond pumps for ponds up to 1,200 gallons of water pumping at 550 gallons per hour.

The company also introduced a line of environmental-friendly waterfall pumps, capable of pumping up to 3,100 gallons per hour, and lifting it up to 20 feet.

Alumin-Nu, of Cleveland, introduced a new pond remediation product that fights mosquitoes, often blamed for outbreaks of West Nile disease in various states. Nice n Easy Mosquito Free is formulated to naturally remove water tension from pond surfaces, the company claims. Water tension gives mosquitoes the ability to land on water and lay larvae. By removing water tension, the biologically safe additive makes it impossible for mosquitoes to live. Instead they sink and drown, as do their larvae, making it impossible for them to reproduce new adult mosquitoes.

Fun products that conserve water and catch the eye
This year’s Hardware Show included a number of water-related items that save valuable water while performing other useful functions. Here are a few:

Water Dog by Contek Electronics Inc., of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, is an automatic outdoor fountain for dogs. When the dog approaches, an electronic sensor turns on the water. When the dog is through drinking, the water turns off automatically, conserving water that might otherwise evaporate from the dog’s bowl in an arid climate. The same company makes a motion-activated animal control product for gardens. When an unwanted animal intruder approaches the garden, The Scarecrow turns on a sprinkler designed to chase the animal away before it does damage. SRP for either product is $79. Think of them as exciting new sales closers.

DriWater, of Santa Rosa, Calif., is a new kind of drip irrigation that comes pre-packaged. It’s a patented time-release water for individual house plants. Pellets in gel form, DriWater releases water gradually upon contact with naturally occurring enzymes in the soil. The resulting capillary action in the soil causes the water to form a moisture pocket around the root zone, extending no further out than one foot. Think of it as an exciting water-related “door opener” at just $1.69 a tube for a 30-day supply of water. Cool!

Conclusion
So, the Incredible Shrinking Hardware Show will divide into two competing shows next year. It’s hard to imagine that any exhibitors asked for this. Once again, politics prevails over common sense.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water
improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: dmartin@lenzimartin.com or website: www.lenzimartin.com

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