Volume 44, Issue 2 - February 2009

From the Fabricator

It’s Real 
There’s No Escaping that Tough Times are Here
by Max Perilstein

I remember it well. It was my first International Builders Show (IBS) and I was there with my co-worker Scott Cook. Scott had been to the show in the past and warned me that it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. He was right. We walked in—well, actually we shuffled in because so many people were there you couldn’t take a full step. It was a sea of humanity for sure, and all of us were working our way into the heart of the hall. 

Every booth was bustling and at one stand they were giving away “Bob the Builder” dolls so they had a line around the block. It was insane. The booths overall were huge; many of them had two floors and every perk you could imagine. Heck, one window company was even serving everyone lunch! And if your booth was a bit off the beaten path, well then you hired models or, like one company I recall, midget versions of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Hard not to stop when you see that. 

Fast forward to January 2009. Everything was different. Walking in was a breeze. There was no one around me and I could go whichever way I wanted. The aisles were sparse. You could probably have rolled a boulder down a few of them and not hit anyone. And the looks on the exhibitor’s faces were of despair. They all had the puppy dog-at-a-pet store look; they all wanted you to come into their booth in the worst way. This was not the show that they all remembered. This was going to be tough.

Tells of the Trade 

Business now, as we all are experiencing on one level or another, is tougher. IBS is just one small example, if a telling one. A few years ago, if things were predicted to be down a bit or flat and you went to the show and it was packed then you simply could not believe the predictions. Three years ago when some markets saw the housing bubble start to burst this show was immune and the business ended up holding fine. But now the signs all point to a tough road ahead.

The comment I heard most frequently was: “Our business model has changed.” I heard that literally everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. The only booths that had consistent all-day traffic were the energy and vitamin drink companies. Those guys must love when times are tough because people will need all the energy and vitamins they can get. But outside of that, the need to adjust the business model was the foremost concern. Expenses need to be cut, marketing needs to be cut, focus needs to be changed and so on. The stark reality of tough times was clear on the show floor.

The upsetting part was seeing a few of the lending institutions still acting like nothing had happened. They had fun and games in their booth so I guess it didn’t matter how much money they lost or how many bailouts they had to take. Now surely I wouldn’t wish them doom and gloom, but I would’ve preferred them to be more “Spartan” and serious. Watching them have fun and play games when they’re partly responsible for the messes that are out there was kind of hard to take. 

What Happens Now? 

Walking out of the show I looked back wistfully. I could not believe how much it had changed and how much more “real” this all seems to be now. What happens now? We knew that 2009 was going to be rocky. We knew that residential was a mess and commercial was headed there quick. So all we can do is try and ride the storm out. We need to be smarter than we have ever been. We need to communicate better than we ever have and, quite frankly, a little luck would not be bad either. Hopefully by the time I walk the floor at IBS 2010 the show will start to return to its past glory. Will it ever be like it was? I don’t think so. I think when we do recover those times will seem a long way away from the shows of the past. But I do think better times will be back eventually and hopefully everyone will have learned from this experience and will fight to never repeat it.

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