Home Builders ready to show
Picture acres of picket fences, wet bar sinks, solar shingles, hot tubs, outdoor kitchens and gender-neutral man caves for Millennials and you have the Portland Spring and Fall Home & Garden Shows.
The twice-yearly ritual at the Expo Center in North Portland gives homeowners the chance to dream and plan. It also gives contractors the chance to eyeball prospective customers.
The shows are now fully-owned by the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland, which represents the housing and residential construction industry and puts on Street of Dreams and other tours of remodeled and new homes.
PHBA CEO Dave Neilsen announced in January that the trade association has bought out the remaining 50 percent stake from O'Loughlin Trade Shows.
The spring shows were started in 1940s by the grandfather of the O'Loughlin family, and were focused on allotments. The HBA started working with the O'Loughlins in the 1960s. The Fall show was added in the 1980s.
Neilsen said the O'Loughlins have managed the shows until now. "They've done a great job," he told the Business Tribune. "We have a team who will be taking over and changing things up."
The HBA will take over operations and sales of the shows for the Fall 2018 show.
"Street of Dreams exposes people to ideas but in a grand environment," he said of the annual mega-home show which is usually in a suburban cul de sac. The Expo Center is more accessible to all classes of people, and will showcase more than just luxury products.
"Whether it's a sport court or an outdoor living area, people will be able to talk to contractors and suppliers one-on-one."
One of the signatures of the Home & Garden Shows is the garden displays. This spring there will be 13 of them — gardens made of real grass and shrubs and small trees — made in conjunction with the show's landscaping partners.
"It's about landscape and the built environment. You'll see fire pits, gazebos and patio areas. We ask, 'What are the different styles people can create outdoors?'"
Neilsen says that the show is thriving despite the rise of ecommerce and the decline of regular retailers.
"We're excited because there are two things you can't do online: touch and feel a product to get a feel for the quality, and meeting a subcontractor who is going to do the work. There's something to be said for meeting them and shaking hands, face to face."
The occasion also affects the imagination as well as the senses.
"People come to be inspired. They can see a variety of external or internal finishes, and they can see all sorts of products like appliances and hot tubs. That's the draw — to be in one place and see it all."
The shows generally attract couples and try to be kid-friendly.
They also tend to be people in their 30s and older, says Neilsen. "Most people spend two to three hours there."
Typically, there is not entertainment at the shows, but with the rise of TV shows about home improvement, they try to bring in a TV-based celebrity. Neilsen is not saying who that might be in future.
This year there will be a partially-built home, the better to show off materials, with some rooms fully decorated.
"We're taking full management of the shows and we're thinking what more can we do to create more of that 'Wow!' factor."
Neilsen stressed that the shows are intended to be "profit-oriented." They are not considered loss leaders or a marketing cost for the HBA. "We're responsible for protecting the interests of our members. This is one of the ways we can provide opportunities to our members to get in front of consumers."
He thinks there are opportunities for the shows to grow and expand to other markets. "First we have to make sure we do them well. The O'Loughlins have done them well."
The shows are held in the spring and fall because Oregonians are notorious for preferring to be outside in summer and for being disinclined to make big homemaking decisions in winter.
"Summertime is a glorious time in Oregon, and not a great time for people
being inside. November to January they are a hunkered down. It's early spring when people start looking at outdoors stuff. Fall too is a good time to be starting conversations and preparing for the spring.
Especially when the economy is like it is now."
He adds, "Also, by the end of February people have been inside their home for two or three months and they're painfully aware of improvements that need to be done!"
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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