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The Winners and Losers of IBS/KBIS 2023

Fresh off the plane home from the 2023 International Builders' Show, Zach, Beth and Steve talk about their initial thoughts and feedback of the event overall. They also name their biggest winners — and losers.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

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The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Beth, Zach and Steve go over what they thought about IBS and KBIS 2023: what people did right, what people did wrong and who blew them away.

Beth’s Initial Takes & Winners

“I think this was the best Builder's Show in recent memory,” Beth says. Venveo is a big advocate for exhibitors to let booth visitors experience your product, not just see it, and this year, exhibitors really showed up. “I think it had a really big impact. There were booths that were doing an incredible job without having really highly-aesthetic products,” says Beth.

One of the big booth standouts when it comes to experience was the Huber/ZIP System/AdvanTech booth. “Their booth was a 10 out of 10 when it comes to experience,” according to Beth. “They have a hidden product in the completed-built environment. You could never see it. It was so, so revolutionary about how they were showcasing a hidden product.”

There were so many great booths that Beth couldn't pick just one favorite. “There were just a ton of non-aesthetic products that really went the extra mile of showcasing how they impact the built environment and giving their customers a very cool experience that was memorable and not a commodity.”

Steve’s Initial Takes & Winners

Steve loves going to IBS every year because of the energy. With almost 70,000 attendees and over 1,300 exhibitors, there was a lot of energy to be had. But IBS also gives Steve a great feel for where the industry is currently.

“When you talk to that many people in that short of a time — sales reps, organizational leaders, even the builders themselves, the architects — you get an idea of how people feel and then how companies are actually doing,” Steve explains.

Having walked by every booth at least once, and most of them twice, Steve knows what goes into a good booth. While there are common factors such as visual appeal and branding display, the most important factor for Steve is engagement. “I like to just walk through the booth — just walk through the middle and see if somebody reaches out to you.”

There are a few other factors Steve looks for:

  • Are the booth and product catered towards the audience that’s at the show?

  • How are they making their brand and products stand out from the crowd?

  • How are they positioning themselves within the marketplace at this show?

  • Are they creating buzz?

Kohler is a great example of a company doing it right. While their booth was branded, you could have removed their name and still would have had a popular booth — it looked like a party was happening within the booth. “You want to be in there. It's shoulder to shoulder. There's not only espresso and chocolate but there's all the other neat features [like] water features. You can hear the water from four or five booths away, which is quite a lot of square footage.”

Zach’s Initial Takes & Winners

According to Zach, the brands that won are the ones where you could walk into the booth and experience an “aha” moment without having to talk to a single person. For example, GAF’s booth.

“They had this really neat display of how they're recycling and reusing a lot of the materials to create a more sustainable roofing industry. And hearing them talk about that was really neat, but you could walk and be thinking like, ‘Oh yeah, I see what they're doing,’” Zach says.

The best part of the booth was that you didn’t have to explain the point of the booth. “It's like an advertisement,” Zach explains. “If I have to sit over your shoulder and explain the advertisement to you that's on a piece of paper or in a magazine, it doesn't work. And I think that sometimes manufacturers miss that — if I have to explain what it is, you're going to lose people.”

Another thing many companies did great was demos. One of Zach’s favorites was the booths that turned demos into competitions. Instead of showing you that their product could be installed quickly, they made it a competition for the audience.

203 IBS Kohler 2023 Pastel Toilets

Kohler was a favorite of Zach’s as well, especially their toilet voting. At the edge of their booth, they had toilets in bright pastel colors in a line. While waiting in line for coffee at the Kohler booth, Zach was given a sticker and got to vote on the color of toilet he liked the best. The woman working the voting explained that whatever color got the most votes, Kolher was going to actually put on the market. Even if the winning color was only 0.001 percent of their revenue this year, it was a great way to get people talking about the brand.

Several other booths also had eye-catching displays, but to Zach, the point was creating moments with the audience that would extend past the end of the show because attendees would want to share them with other people.

Getting ROI from a Trade Show

Last year, Steve and Beth did an episode on how to get the best return on investment from a trade show.

Unfortunately, Beth saw a significant amount of name brands who spent a lot of money on the large booths, the setups and the sales staff — these booths got a lot of traffic but that traffic was only because of their name. Getting a large booth at a trade show like IBS doesn’t come cheap.

“That's a large upfront investment to not be really thoughtful and intentional about the why we're here and what we want our customers to walk away from, and how we're bringing them something in this moment that is different, better, more elevated, more intentional and thoughtful than what we do in our relationships with them throughout the rest of the year,” Beth says. And that’s where some of the booths missed the mark.

While those booths may not have lost in the traditional sense, they did lose in opportunities — to gain new customers, gain new presence, elevate your brand or even grow your footprint. “Even if it's a rather large market share, there has to be more of a reason to go to a trade show and spend, quite literally, millions of dollars than just, ‘this is what we do’ — because if you've got to be there, you have to make it worth it.”

Steve agrees. “I feel like a lot of companies need to understand that the perception of their brand is malleable, and you can craft the perception of builders and how they perceive your brand.” You can use your booth to show them you’re innovative so they want to work with you. Or, as some of the non-impressive booths did, you can become just another place where they can look at the same products in the same way they’ve looked at them all year.

“Brand perception is malleable, and that is a major opportunity to change how the market perceives your brand, and I think that's where a lot of companies won, and that's where a lot of companies lost.

Intentionality at IBS

Zach saw a lot more intentionality this year about focusing on where brands spent dollars at IBS this year. “I think that the biggest winners were companies that really understood, ‘What am I trying to communicate? What am I trying to make people feel? What do they want to walk away with? And then I [have] also got alignment across the entire organization to make sure that that message gets delivered to anybody that walks through the booth.’”

It’s not an easy thing to pull off, according to Zach. “I was talking to a door handle company, and the salesperson was like, ‘Here's all of our new different lines and our different shades and our different finishes.’ And he's like, ‘And here's all of our new experimental stuff. Half of this is going to get discontinued and somebody is gonna complain to me about it because they did half their house in it, and now they want to do it later.’ And he was being jovial and funny, which I appreciated, but I was like, ‘Wow, man. Tell me how you really feel.’”

The salesperson wasn’t bought into the company’s message, which affected how their message came across to visitors in the booth.

“When I think about losers, it's people that positioned the show around, ‘Come see our products. I am here. You should want my products,’” explains Zach.

But when it comes to the winners, they won big. There was a shelving company, Kesseböhmer, that several of the Venveo team members went to, and Zach was so impressed, he brought Beth back later. “We were in some other booth in KBIS, and Zach is like, ‘You need to come see this shelving company. It blew me away.’ And I'm like, ‘Okay, that's a very weird statement, and I highly doubt it.’ And then we got there, and I was like, ‘Okay, no, this is super freaking cool.’”

This company won because they focused on experience. They made sure to give visitors a wow moment by solving problems and then letting visitors experience the solution.

Steve loved the company too, but he was impressed by the sales reps. “I noticed the sales reps for that company. They were literally standing back with a smile and watching. So they didn't interrupt. They were letting us have that experience with the product, and I never talked to anybody in that booth. Now, if I needed to, he was right there, and he was standing there and he was willing to talk. They're enabling me to have that experience with the product, which was good booth design, but also they're letting me define how I want to interact with the product, and I think that's very important.”

Want Even More Insight?

The Venveo team was blown away by IBS 2023. It was arguably the best IBS/KBIS we’ve been to. “I'm just gonna go on record and say, that was the best one," Beth says. “You can fight me, try to change my mind, but I think it was the best.” We can’t wait to see what’s in store next year.

We want to hear who you thought the winners and losers of IBS were. Email us at [email protected] with your thoughts and takeaways. We’d love to hear what you thought worked and where brands fell flare.

To learn more about IBS 2023’s winners and losers, listen to the entire episode here.

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