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Advice — on the House

Andrew Crane holds up a prototype of one of the reusable bags attendees will receive at the 2020 Home and Garden Show.

By Mark Morris

Sometimes the online approach isn’t the most efficient way to tackle a project.

“If you’re looking to hire a landscaper, for example, you could look all over the internet and be dissatisfied,” said Andrew Crane, executive director of the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts (HBRAWM).

Instead, he suggests conducting a search at the Western Mass Home and Garden Show, where consumers can speak directly with local landscapers and myriad other professionals.

Crane’s organization sponsors the annual event, which is now in its 66th year. Held at the beginning of spring, this year’s edition is scheduled for March 26-29 at the Eastern States Exposition grounds in West Springfield.

Originally, the event served as a venue for tradesmen in the association to familiarize each other with their craft. Over time, the show evolved, putting more emphasis on consumers, and has grown to the point where more than 350 exhibitors reserve space every year.

Exhibitors at the show can help consumers with everything from replacing a faucet to building an entire home — and everything in between. Innovations in building products, as well as home-related services such as Realtors and insurance agents, all have a presence at the home show.

Todd Hickman, Steve Sgroi, and John Collins will use the show to introduce a new segment of their business, Home Service Electrical.

Regarding that landscaper search, at press time, four landscapers had reserved booths at this year’s home show. For landscape projects that involve ‘hardscape’ (incorporating stone work into a landscape design), 14 different vendors of this specialty have signed on.

BusinessWest caught up with several different exhibitors to this year’s show, representing a wide range of industries. Their home-show experience varies from nearly two decades to a couple of first-time exhibitors, but they all share an enthusiasm about the opportunity to connect with people during the event.

Room to Grow

Stuart Fearn, president of Safeco Foam Insulation, marks his 17th home show this year. “Since day one, the home show has proven to be a home run for my business,” he said, adding that he sees his main job at the show as educating people about spray-foam insulation, and it’s a worthwhile effort.

“We get a lot of business and awareness from the home show,” he noted. “It helps people know we exist, and we will often get calls up to six to nine months after the show when they need insulation.”

For nearly two decades now, remodeling has remained a strong trend in home projects. Whether someone is updating their current home or purchasing an older home to modernize, Crane said demand remains strong for windows, siding, and many other products that will fit into existing homes.

Scott Fleury, business development director for Kelly-Fradet Lumber in East Longmeadow, sees the home show as an opportunity to put consumers in touch with the best people for their remodeling projects. The current president of HBRAWM, Fleury has been a part of the home show for 10 years. Kelly-Fradet often displays kitchen, bath, and outdoor deck products it sells primarily through contractors.

Painters Christopher Grenier and Jillian Forcier inspect the results of their recent work in a Northampton home.

“Often a homeowner will come to our booth with a project, and we are able to walk them right to a contractor who is also at the show,” he said. “On the flip side, contractors will bring people to our booth to show them the products we carry that apply to their project.”

Lori Loughlin, showroom manager for Frank Webb Home in Springfield, has taken part in the show for the past five years. Loughlin, vice chair of the organizing committee for the event, said her company sees an almost immediate return on its investment.

“Initially we see a big spike in sales right after the home show,” she said adding that the impact of the event often continues throughout the year. “People will come in as late as Christmas time and tell me they saw us at the home show.”

Christopher Grenier, owner of Grenier Painting and Finishing, reserved a booth at the home show last year for the first time. He enjoyed the experience so much, he is now on the event’s organizing committee.

Grenier noted that customers who need painting services often ask him for referrals about flooring, plumbing, and other services. He gladly recommends other members of the association to help customers find the right person for the job.

“I’ve recommended other painters when a customer needs someone who specializes in painting cabinets, for example,” he said. “We’re not in competition; it’s more of a camaraderie.”

One of the key benefits he sees to having a booth at the show is the ability to give people individual attention for their projects.

“When I’m asked why people should go to the home show, my response is, you’re going to find local people you can trust,” he noted.

Loughlin agreed and said that, because people can touch the products in her company’s booth, it helps them recognize quality kitchen and bath fixtures. When products like these are researched and then bought online, there’s no tactile experience, and service after the purchase is often lacking.

“Our customers know they can call us if there is ever a problem,” she said.
“There’s no sending things in the mail; we’ll just take care of it right here.”

As in past years, most booths will be located in the Better Living Center and the adjacent Young Building. New this year, the space between the two buildings will be used as a “contractor’s village” for products that exhibit better outside.

Scott Fleury helps Kelly-Fradet Lumber get all decked out for the show.

PV Squared Solar, a residential solar-energy installer, will forego the traditional booth setup indoors and will instead set up a solar-powered trailer in the contractor’s village to run electrical devices off the grid.

Anna Mannello, marketing coordinator for PV Squared, said that, as a first-time exhibitor, the home show presents a great way to connect with people in the community.

“PV Squared Solar is based in Greenfield, so we’ve done most of our business in Franklin and Hampshire counties,” she said. “While we’ve done a few installations in Hampden County, this will be an opportunity to increase our exposure to lots of new people.”

Mannello hasn’t yet finalized what appliances they plan to demonstrate, but during the four days of the show, attendees will be able to connect to PV Squared’s trailer to charge their phones using solar power.

It’s one thing to be a first-time exhibitor, and it’s quite something else to launch a new business at the home show. That’s how Todd Hickman, president of Hickman and Sgroi Electric, is approaching his inaugural exhibit.

While his company is an established residential, commercial, and industrial contractor, he and his partner, Steve Sgroi, are introducing Home Service Electrical, a membership-based, comprehensive approach to homeowner electrical needs. Instead of waiting for an emergency, Hickman said the service starts with a full inspection of the home’s electrical system to prevent familiar problems, such as losing power while cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

When a service call is needed, a professional technician in a fully stocked van will be expected to solve most problems in one visit. Each service has a standard price, so the consumer knows upfront what the job will cost. The home show represents an opportunity to introduce this different concept for electrical service.

“We’re creating a brand, so it’s important to educate the public on who we are, the image we present, and to assure people that we plan to be here for generations to come,” Hickman said.

Sgroi, vice president of Hickman and Sgroi, said their goal for the home show is simple, and it’s one shared by many, on one level or another.

“We hope to schedule inspections and grow the business until we are overwhelmed,” he said, while Hickman quickly added, if that happens, the business will gladly expand to meet the demand.

The Finish Line

For many years, HBRAWM provided plastic bags for show attendees to collect information from exhibitors. Crane proudly noted that the plastic bags are gone and have been replaced this year with reusable cloth bags, similar to those found in supermarkets.

“It’s one small way our members can be part of the solution to improving our environment,” he said. The bag will include a map showing all booth locations and a guide with contact information on all the HBRWM members.

“If you have a specific project, the map and guide will help you navigate the show to get the information you need,” Crane said. “If you don’t have any projects and you want a social experience, then you can just walk around, and you’ll have a great time.”

He concluded that other home shows have come and gone in the area, but ‘the original’ home show is here to stay. “After 66 years, it’s now a piece of Western Mass. history.”

The Western Mass Home and Garden show will be open Thursday and Friday, March 26-27, from 1 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, March 28, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, March 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free. Veterans and active military with ID are admitted free on Thursday only. Discount coupons for every day of the show are available at www.westernmasshomeshow.com.

Home Improvement

Foundation to Roof

The Western Massachusetts Home & Garden Show may last only four days each March, but Lori Loughlin says vendors reap the benefits all year long.

“The exposure at the show is tremendous,” said Loughlin, manager of Frank Webb Home in Springfield. “It pays for itself within the first week after the show closes. In May, June, July, people are coming in saying, ‘I was at the home show, and I saw this showerhead.’ They come back six months after and want to buy something they saw there. It’s nice.”

Loughlin, who serves as the event’s deputy chair for 2019, said her company, the showroom division of F.W. Webb, offers such a wide variety of products and services that it’s a no-brainer to participate in the show, which, in its 65th year, will feature more than 350 vendors displaying at more than 700 booths.

“You’ll find landscaping, appliances, hot tubs, bathrooms … you can go from foundation to roof and everything in between,” she said.

The Home & Garden Show, slated for March 28-31, is produced by the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts (HBRAWM), whose 500-strong membership reflects the variety on the show floor, with roughly 90 categories on display from builders, remodelers, kitchen and bath specialists, landscapers, painters, roofers, financial institutions, pool companies, and more.

“We can give you a snapshot of what’s out there, of what’s new,” said Andy Crane, HBRAWM president. “The key word is local. Almost every business in there is local; these are the people who managed to stay in business through the ups and downs of the economy, and they’re there to show their wares.”

“The key word is local. Almost every business in there is local; these are the people who managed to stay in business through the ups and downs of the economy, and they’re there to show their wares.”

Crane said 2019 has been one of the show’s better years, with fewer than a dozen booths left to sell two weeks before the event was set to begin. In short, it remains the association’s signature showcase.

“People are going to see companies and meet owners that they probably wouldn’t be exposed to by word of mouth,” Loughlin said. “I can’t believe how many companies are involved in this home show. It’s huge. And we get such a rebound on this.”

While recognizing the show’s potential to connect businesses with homeowners, she said the cross-promotion that goes on is just as valuable as the visitors who walk through the door.

Andy Crane

Andy Crane says the 2019 Home & Garden Show is shaping up to be one of the strongest, if vendor commitments are any indication.

“The networking between companies has been great for our company,” she told BusinessWest. “We tie in with the tile people and kitchen-design people, who send people here to find sinks. It’s nice to create relationships with other vendors.”

Something for Everyone

The home show started as a way to generate revenue to support the association, but it also provides member companies with a chance to market to an audience — and a big one, with around 20,000 visitors over the four days in a typical year — that might not otherwise see their name. Conversely, it gives attendees, many of whom simply come to the show for fun, a host of concrete (or hardwood, or tile, or whatever) ideas for home improvement.

The exhibitors run the gamut from inspection services to security and alarm systems; Internet and communications to moving and storage; duct cleaning to pianos and organs. Meanwhile, show attendees fall into one of several categories, the association notes, including:

• People planning to buy or build a new home, who may visit with builders, real-estate agents, financial institutions, and sellers of component products, such as hardwood flooring, tile, and appliances;

• People planning to remodel or renovate, who may want to check in with all of the above, plus vendors of replacement components such as windows and doors, as well as appliances, wall treatments, and home furnishings;

• Yard and garden enthusiasts, who tend to be interested in lawn and landscaping services; wall, walk, and edging components and materials; and trees, shrubs, flowers, and seeds;

• Lifestyle-conscious individuals, who like to check out trendy, high-tech, or time-saving products; home furnishings; and products focused on self-improvement, fitness, and health;

• Committed renters, who have no plans to own a house, but may be interested in space-conservation and space-utilization products, as well as home furnishings;

• Impulse buyers, who flock to vendors of home décor, arts and crafts, cooking and baking products, jewelry, and personal goods; and

• Those who attend the show purely for fun, who may arrive without an agenda but often develop ideas for future purchases and home products. “More than any other group,” according to the association, “these people are the ones who have come to rely upon our show on an annual basis and who perhaps have the greatest impact upon our vendors.”

Indeed, Crane told BusinessWest, “it’s not just about coming to the show and spending money with the vendors, even though we hope that’s the case. It really is a social event. That’s the mindset — it’s a nice evening out, and people walk out of the show with ideas of their home.”

Once again, visitors will see the LIXIL Beauty in Motion 49-foot mobile showroom in the Young Building, showcasing an array of American Standard, DXV, and Grohe kitchen and bath products.

“We have a mobile showcase with active and working plumbing fixtures, the newest and greatest features in plumbing, from toilets to water-saving showerheads,” Crane noted.

Also in the Young Building, chefs from across the Pioneer Valley will create some of the signature dishes they serve at their restaurants. Visitors can see how they prepare some of their favorite dishes and perhaps ask how to tailor those dishes to fit their own family’s taste. This popular area, hosted by WMAS Radio, will also include cooking seminars every day of the show.

“It’s not just about coming to the show and spending money with the vendors, even though we hope that’s the case. It really is a social event.”

The Young Building will also be home to several kids’ and family activities, from the Melha Shriners clowns to Thousand Cranes Studio, which will be on hand to show off the creative talent of their students, as well as conduct hands-on activities with show attendees. Other attractions will include live butterflies from Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens, taking pictures on one of the go-karts from Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting, science experiments at the Rolling Acres Outdoor & Science Summer Camp, a Springfield Thunderbirds booth, face painting, and Looney Tunes characters from Six Flags New England. On Saturday and Sunday, the West Springfield Police Department will be on hand to fingerprint children and offer safety tips, and the Chesterfield Fire Department will give out hats and coloring books.

“There are a lot of different things to do, so you don’t have to come only for a siding or roofing job,” Crane said. “You can go have a nice, inexpensive time in a warm, dry facility.”

Business and Pleasure

In addition to Loughlin, Gisele Gilpatrick of Pro-Tech Waterproofing in Chicopee will serve as Home Show chair, while other committee members include Lisa Grenier of Market Mentors, Joe Mole’ of C.J. Carpentry, Josh Nolan of Fuel Services, Tom Silva of Triple S Construction, and Brian Zippin of Contractors Home Appliances. All are ramping up for what most in the home-improvement world say looks to be a strong year (see related story, page 24).

“This year, as every other year, the home show is a spring kickoff to the building season,” Crane said. “It’s the perfect time of year when people are thinking about projects both inside and outside the house. The show gets their minds moving a little bit.”

Again, though, he stressed that show organizers also want people to have fun.

“Take your wife out to dinner and swing by the home show, or call your brother or your neighbor. You can get out of the house and look at 700-something booths with different products — maybe something you’ve dreamed about.”

This year’s show hours are Thursday and Friday, March 28-29, 1-9 p.m.; Saturday, March 30, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, March 31, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $10 for adults, and children under 12 are admitted free. Discount coupons are available at www.westernmasshomeshow.com. Veterans and active military with ID receive free admission on Thursday only.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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