CHICAGO — The National Hardware Show makes even the sprawling Windy City look normal-size. The show, which began in New York in 1946, has centered on McCormick Place for the last 25 years, probably because it won’t fit anywhere else.

It takes up a million square feet of space and has some 3,000 exhibitors. It is the largest show in a city known for its large conventions and trade shows, and brings more than $80 million in business to the local economy.

The show drew more than 62,000 “key industry professionals” in mid-August and is not even open to the public. It covers a wide range of products, from paint, gardening tools and bug zappers to faucets, hand tools, air filters, adhesives, insulation and welders. There were 61 vendors listed under the hvac category alone.

Still, there are cautionary trends that have led show organizers to announce, among other things, a 5% reduction in all show-related advertising and media costs for next year, and a one dollar reduction per square foot in exhibit space costs for all exhibitors who reserve for the 2002 show by October 15. There are also savings on hotel packages, booth packages and lower overtime rates for material handling to encourage attendance.

While industry growth has been strong at 6%, many experts agree that fewer new housing starts and a decline in the do-it-yourselfer market will impact the industry in the years ahead. An aging population and more dual income families (more money but less time) are increasing the market for installed sales — a boon for many contractors.

Tom Capes of American Air Filter showed off four new products AAF is launching in its new Breathe Right series. The company teamed up for marketing purposes with Breathe Right, a maker of nasal decongestant medicine, to the tune of $23 million in brand advertising support. The two companies will target the estimated 50 million allergy and asthma sufferers in the U.S. with their products.

Decline of DIY

Robert Nardelli, ceo of Home Depot, in his keynote address said the changing market means his company will concentrate on increasing its share of installed sales. There will be more emphasis on selling services, not just products, aimed at the “more discerning do-it-for-me consumer rather than the do-it-yourselfer.”

Carpeting and hvac were two areas he mentioned specifically for increasing installed sales. Nardelli also spoke about the pending rollout of more smaller, neighborhood-type Home Depot stores, as well as the continuing rollout of nationwide Home Depot PRO stores which will concentrate on selling to contractors and other professionals who, he said, spend $3 to every $1 spent by the do-it-yourselfer.

Commenting in the press on the company’s second quarter financial results, “Numbers for Home Depot look very good,” said Danielle Fox, a retail analyst at J.P. Morgan. She said the improvement in same-store sales from the first quarter to the second quarter was “substantial” and the company “did better than anticipated on expense management.”

Robert Besser and Aimee Audette of First Choice/Midwest Snips, Sturgis, Mich., shows off the colorful new packaging of snips at the show.

Among the new products seen at the show:

  • Klein Tools presented several new products on view at the show’s New Products Exposition as well as at its booth, including its Journeyman 2000 Series side cutting pliers built for heavy duty cutting; diagonal cutting pliers; long-nose pliers; high leverage cable cutter; and a Klein-Kurve wire stripper/cutter. The Aviation Wire Twisting Pliers features a diagonal nose design for hard-to-reach areas, and a secure slide lock with a spring return twist rod.

  • Indoor air quality continues to be a hot topic. Honeywell showed several air cleaners, including a new, mini “enviracaire” plug-and-clean air cleaner that plugs into a wall outlet. It has an activated charcoal filter and, according to the company, “is the only air cleaner of its kind certified by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers with a Clean Air Delivery Rate.” Honeywell also showed two new electronic digital thermostats, a Professional Model Programmable thermostat and a Digital Manual thermostat. The latter is described as entry level with a suggested retail price of $29.99.

Uniweld Products Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., showed a new “Tuning Fork” tip “designed to assist the service technician in the removal and replacement of a heat pump reversing valve.” Replacing a reversing valve has always been a difficult and time-consuming job. The tubing is so close together that the only way to remove it was to cut the tubing away from the valve and retrofit the replacement valve with numerous fittings. The “Tuning Fork” tip allows you to heat up all the fittings at once and remove the valve without altering the original copper tube and fittings.