Little Burros Hardware Show Booth
May 16th, 2016

Why I Feel Good About US Manufacturing

News Flash: The National Hardware Show has a whole new energy. I’ve been attending the show for 40 years. In the 70s and 80s it was much larger. From there it began to go downhill. Most of the large brands pulled out, and it went from two times a year to just one. The show looked like it might go under.

Then in recent years it stabilized. Even began growing. And this year it was actually exciting again. The energy was high, and traffic around the show and in booths was strong and vibrant. Here’s a snapshot of what I experienced.

The three-day event was held May 4-6 and showed improvement in all areas: suppliers, speakers, support for exhibitors, and attendees specific to the business categories.

I was impressed with the quality of the speakers. Topics included industry trends and best-in-class business building techniques. The inventor section featured a speaker from the USPTO discussing the importance of patent protection, complete with a walk-through of how to obtain a patent.

Real product innovation could have been stronger, but “new and improved” is alive and well. While battery-run outdoor power tools have been available for years, progress in Li-Ion batteries have made the new generation tools legit.

Solar cells have made outdoor lighting and other products much easier to install, supporting the whole outdoor living trend that’s been growing for several years.

Gardening, homeowner DIY projects, smart technology, outdoor living, and products that help people age in place continue to be powerful trends.

It was disappointing to see that, in many cases, brands are following rather than leading. I saw no real emphasis on strong brand creation or brand building. A missed opportunity in resurgent markets where brand can offer a critical point of differentiation and value.

There’s also a growing emphasis on Made in the USA, which was proudly displayed on many products and packages. Several presenters who study home products industry trends said there is a growing consumer preference for made in USA products. Their opinions are based on Consumer Reports’ high ratings of products manufactured in the USA.

The outdoor tailgate and backyard barbecue area was just plain fun. Music, grilling, tasting, and delicious smells everywhere, capped off by a late afternoon happy hour each day.

My take away from the three-day event was a very positive feeling about the hardware industry and U.S. manufacturing overall. Increased traffic, overall show energy, improvements to the show itself, and an impressive stream of new product offerings.

The National Hardware Show show is once again very much worth attending. For new products, for educational seminars, and for connecting with other professionals.

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