Dine al fresco while enjoying the breathtaking views at Apex Orchards. Farm fresh dinner prepared by Wheelhouse and paired with local hard ciders from Artifact Cider Project and Headwater Cider. Live music & tractor tours of the orchard. 21+ Only. All proceeds benefit The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Every $1 raised can purchase 3 meals for our neighbors in need.
A Shopping Evolution
Hampshire Mall has seen its share of changes over the decades, particularly in recent years with the onslaught of online retail that has severely challenged brick-and-mortar shopping centers across the country. But this complex on busy Route 9, in a largely affluent, college-dominated region, has recrafted itself as an entertainment destination, where people can do some shopping, yes, but also enjoy go-karts, bowling, laser tag, a movie, and more. The takeaway? Malls may be challenged, but they’re not obsolete yet.
When Bill Hoefler purchased Interskate 91 at the Hampshire Mall 19 years ago, the rollerskating destination had been open for several years, and the mall itself had been thriving, more or less, for two decades.
He wondered how that could be. “Hadley’s population was only about 3,800.”
But the commercial corridor on Russell Street had been growing for some time, he went on, serving as a bridge between Amherst and Northampton, two communities with eclectic, college-centric populations where it could sometimes be difficult to build.
“Walmart had just been built in ’98,” he noted, “and we knew the mall had plans to demolish the theaters and build new ones. Then you had Chili’s and Applebees just a half-mile away. Those companies usually will not build where there’s not a 100,000 population density within a five-mile radius. So why are they in Hadley?”
Fast-forward almost 20 years, and Route 9 is even more built out than before. Interskate continues to draw a loyal clientele, and Hoefler has expanded his adjoining laser-tag operation from 2,100 square feet to 4,500. And Hampshire Mall — at a time when malls, especially those not bordering major highways, have been rocked by the online retail revolution — is not just surviving in tiny Hadley, but bringing in new tenants, many of them entertainment-oriented.
“It’s a hotbed,” Hoefler said. “People in Western Massachusetts will drive 45 minutes to do what they want, but why not just go to Holyoke? Well, a lot of people north of Holyoke just won’t go that far; they stop here. Or they come in from the west. We even have people from Westfield who would rather come here than mess with the perception of the ‘city mall’ in Holyoke.”
Lynn Gray has a lot of experience at Hampshire Mall as well, starting her career in marketing there about two decades ago, when Kmart was still a thriving anchor, and Cinemark was turning the old six-screen movie theater into a 12-screen megaplex. After leaving to work at another Pyramid Management Group property a decade ago, she returned around the start of 2016 and now serves as the mall’s general manager.
“So I got to see where the center was 20 years ago and where it is today, and the changes in between have been really exciting,” she said, rejecting the idea that brick-and-mortar retail is in permanent decline.
“The word I like to use is evolution, because shopping behavior changes constantly,” she told BusinessWest. “What consumers want, how they want it, when they want it, how they want it delivered to them, or how they want to see, touch, and feel it has constantly changed.”
Many still desire that hands-on, instant-gratification shopping experience, she added, which explains why Hampshire has brought in new retail tenants in recent years, from chains like PetSmart to service-oriented shops like T-Mobile and Nail Pro & Spa to local favorites like Faces, which previously spent decades in downtown Northampton.
“Twenty years ago, there was a theater here, which is entertainment. We had rollerskating and laser tag, which is entertainment,” Gray said. “Over the last several years, as a lot of developers and shopping centers have moved away from big boxes and wondered what to do with some of the changes in retail, they’ve been introducing more and more entertainment. We’ve followed suit, but Pyramid has always been at the forefront of that anyway. Having a rollerskating rink at a shopping mall is not traditional.”
Not much has been traditional about successful malls in recent years, Hoefler agreed, but the business model is working in Hadley.
“When we got here, we saw it was the beginning of an upswing, and we made it our home,” he said. “We’ve been big cheerleaders for the property, and we love being here.”
Jake Savageau, general manager of Autobahn, feels the same way. The karting chain boasts 12 locations across the country and attracts a broad clientele, from parents bringing young children during the day to a college and adult crowd at night, racing electric karts that can reach 50 mph. The center’s oldest racer to date was a 95-year-old.
“So much entertainment is coming into malls,” he said, “so when people come in expecting to buy clothing and other items, they see us making a lot of noise, and it attracts their attention — ‘what’s going on here?’ It makes them stay in the mall longer and spend more money and have a good time at the end of the day.”
PiNZ, a small, Massachusetts-based chain, is another recent addition, bringing bowling, arcade games, and a full restaurant and bar to the mall — plus the most recent attraction, axe throwing. General Manager Jessica Ruiz said PiNZ attracts the same kind of crowd flow Autobahn does — younger kids during the day, college students and adults at night.
“They love it,” she said of the axe-throwing room. “For the most part, people are surprised they like it as much as they do. Everyone’s looking for an experience now. And that’s what we give them, with all the activities we offer here.”
The mall has begun installing ‘patios’ outside the PiNZ eatery and nearby Arizona Pizza, offering a sort of sidewalk-café experience that connects diners to the mall as a whole. Speaking of connecting to the mall, neither PiNZ nor Autobahn has an exterior entrance — the idea is to bring people into the mall to see what else catches their interest.
The Cinemark theaters still do well, Gray said, and continue to invest in the space, including new seating last year and updates to the HVAC system to become more energy-efficient. “They’re making a lot of changes and reinvesting because this is a great, desirable location for them, too.”
Pyramid has made capital investments as well, she added, not only in space improvements to attract new dining, shopping, and entertainment options, but efforts over the past decade to install new lighting, new flooring, restroom updates, and seating modifications to make the center more attractive to both customers and retailers.
“The food court was redone, we have new digital display directories … it’s been really nice to see,” she said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago when I came here, it was the cobblestone and a sort of ’80s-’90s vibe, and today, it’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s bright.”
With new retail and entertainment tenants in the fold, she would like to see more dining options come on board — perhaps some locally owned eateries, or even a brewery. The idea is to constantly evolve the mix to transform what was once retail-dominant into a center where people can have a diverse experience and spend plenty of time — and money.
“Twenty years ago, people wouldn’t have thought they’d see a Target in a shopping center, and the next evolution is that people wouldn’t have thought a gym would be in a mall,” she said, noting the presence of Planet Fitness. “But that’s here, and go-kart racing is here. So it constantly changes.”
Malls aren’t done evolving, Gray said, noting that even online retailers, like Warby Parker, are showing up in malls.
“Even Amazon is doing pop-ups inside shopping centers. The online world and the e-commerce world does still look to brick and mortar to enhance their brands as well. While you can buy things on Target.com, people still want that experience and that instant gratification, while other people can wait for their product. A lot of people still want to come into a mall, into a setting where there’s more than one option, to see, touch, and feel their products before they make their purchase.”
That said, no one managing malls today is downplaying the impact of online retail.
“Your online presence is always going to be there — that’s the wave of the future,” Gray told BusinessWest. “But by introducing an entertainment component, it’s about the experience — and we’ve taken that experience to a new level. With the collection of all these experiences all under one roof, the goal for us is to make sure we’re all things to all people and we provide the customer with what they want, when they want it.”
Hampshire Mall is well-positioned to roll with changes in shopping habits, Gray added, because of its community demographics and the economic vitality of Route 9 in general.
“Retailers are looking for population density, but they’re also looking for household income thresholds, and this area offers so much. It’s a very affluent community, the crossroads between Northampton and Amherst,” she explained. “But we’re also in great proximity to a wealth of the college student population, which definitely is a driver for this area.
“Twenty years ago, this section of Route 9 was completely different than what it looks like today,” she went on. “There wasn’t a Lowe’s, a Home Depot, a Starbucks. Now all these things exist here, and this becomes a very desirable area for a lot of different uses. LL Bean is moving across the street; Autobahn is open here. A lot of people see this as valuable real estate because of its access to the affluent community and the college students.”
Faces is a good example, she said. “It’s traditional retail, if you will, but with a non-traditional flair,” she said of the quirky store that opened in downtown Amherst in 1971 but recently ended a 33-year run as a downtown Northampton mainstay.
“They relocated to Hampshire Mall because they saw the collection of entertainment and dining and all the uses they wanted to be around to support their business for the long term,” Gray noted. “I think that’s a testament to how, when you put the right people under the same roof, people are more drawn to come in, and businesses are more drawn to open new locations.”
Hoefler has certainly seen his share of mall evolution, but continues to draw families to the uniquely shaped skating rink above the food court and his new, cutting-edge laser-tag center downstairs. “We didn’t just want to move; we wanted to do it bigger, better, with the latest technology.”
The skating business ebbs and flows, he added, but in perhaps unexpected ways; when the economy is good, he sees new faces, but he typically does best when the economy is flat, because he has a loyal clientele, largely middle to lower-middle class, that appreciates an affordable entertainment option. “Even when times are tough, they still come skating.”
Now that those entertainment options have expanded, Hampshire Mall’s target audience — a mix of college students, factory workers, agricultural families, and more — have additional reasons to make their way to the mall.
“We’re proud of our history,” Hoefler said. “We’re proud to be in the mall. We’re glad to be part of the mix that keeps this funky and eclectic. It’s a good time.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]
A photo essay of recent business events in Western Massachusetts / May 2019
Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]
Meeting the Class of 2019
Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, one of the sponsors of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty program for 2019, recently staged a cocktail party for the class of 2019 and their guests, providing an opportunity for the soon-to-be members of an exclusive club to meet and get to know one another. Here, honorees gather for a class photo. They’ll be together again on June 20 for the 40 Under Forty Gala at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.
Trees into Cartons, Cartons into Trees
Fourth- and fifth-graders from the Ludlow Community Center/Randall Boys and Girls Club recently gathered to learn about the environmental benefits of trees, paper, and recycling from staff members of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), a national trade association, headquartered in Springfield, for the manufacturers of paperboard boxes. The presentation was part of PPC’s educational outreach program, TICCIT (Trees into Cartons, Cartons into Trees), which teaches students that trees are a sustainable crop, highlights the many uses for trees and paper, and underscores the importance of recycling. The students also planted tree saplings in paperboard cartons to take home. The carton, when planted directly in the ground, provides protection and a natural water funnel for the new tree. As the tree grows, the carton will break down and complete the TICCIT cycle. PPC also donated a young weeping cherry tree that was planted near the front entrance of the community center.
Investment in the Future
Aerospace Components Manufacturers (ACM), a nonprofit regional network of independent aerospace companies, recently announced a four-year, $180,632 pledge to Asnuntuck Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center. The center’s CNC machine-technology lab was also named in honor of ACM. “By ensuring that more students gain access to careers in this exciting industry, these funds will aid in both the realization of individual educational and career goals as well as helping to satisfy a dramatically increasing demand for a technologically skilled workforce,” said Asnuntuck President Frank Lombella, pictured at right with ACM President Pedro Soto (left) and ACM Executive Director Paul Murphy. See story on page 21 for an broader look at the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center.
Marking a Milestone
The Edward P. Boland VA Medical Center in Leeds is marking its 95th anniversary this year. It is marking this milestone in a number of ways, including a ceremony, complete with a large birthday cake, at the facility on May 15.
Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]
A photo essay of recent business events in Western Massachusetts April 2019
Dress for Success staged its annual Common Threads gala on April 25 at the Sheraton in Springfield. The event, described as a ‘celebration of women,’ inspires supporters with stories of success and empowerment as recent program participants speak of their achievements and successes.
Bay Path University staged its third annual President’s Gala on April 27 at the Sheraton in Springfield. The gala, which raises money for scholarships, again featured a Dancing with the Stars format that had a team of judges — and the audience — struggling to determine who should take home the coveted President’s cup. After audience voting, that honor eventually went to Julian Jusko, a community partner and long-time supporter of the gala, who earned three perfect 10s from the judges, as did fellow competitors Erin Hornyak.
The Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Initiative (GEI) staged its annual awards banquet on April 24 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. The well-attended gathering featured an Entrepreneur Showcase featuring students attending 14 area colleges and universities, an elevator-pitch competition, the presentation of awards, and keynote speaker Wombi Rose, CEO and co-founder of Lovepop.
Square One staged its fourth annual Kentucky Derby fundraising gala on race day at Mercedes-Benz of Springfield. More than 210 guests turned out to watch the Running of the Roses, do some networking, and raise nearly $30,000 for early-education provider Square One.
In Good Company
The 100th Anniversary Gala for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts will have a decidedly ’20s flair — as in the 1920s. In fact, the theme is “The Roaring ’20s are Back.”
Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to come in period dress, a challenge that Jennifer Connelly, executive director of the local JA chapter, met (with considerable help from her daughter) by doing a hard search online that yielded the appropriate dress as well as a headband with a feather.
“I’ll have the long gloves and the long cigarette holder — a full outfit; it will be very interesting to see what people come up with to mark the ’20s,” she said with a trace of understatement in her voice.
But while the gala will amount to an effort to turn back the clock in many respects, Junior Achievement, and especially its Western Mass. chapter, have been turning the clock forward, focusing on the 2020s — and the decades to follow — with a host of programs that are seemingly far removed from the organization’s original mission to introduce young people to the principles of business — but then again, not very far removed at all.
Programs like JA Inspire.
Created by a coalition of education and industry leaders led by JA of Western Mass., this endeavor is designed to introduce young people to industry sectors and careers, and also provide awareness of what skills will be needed to thrive in those settings.
At the heart of the initiative is a massive career fair set for May 28 at the MassMutual Center that won’t follow the typical model for such events.
Actually, it will, but the audience will be decidedly different. Instead of people looking for jobs they can enter in a few weeks or even a few days, those roaming the aisles will be middle- and high-school students gaining information on jobs they might fill sometime in the next decade.
“We’re going to have representatives of a number of industry clusters, and we’ll also have representatives of the post-secondary schools in this area,” said Connelly, “so students can understand that there is a pathway to a career that they might be interested in.”
In many respects, JA has always been about identifying and illuminating pathways, and JA Inspire is just one example of how this nonprofit has stayed true to its original mission while also evolving over the years and expanding into programs, 23 of them in all, for students in grades K-12, said Connelly.
These programs provide lessons in everything from how government works to how large a slice of one’s paycheck the IRS takes; from how global the global economy truly is to the all-important difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ when it comes to how one spends their money, she said, adding that, to get these messages across, JA relies (as it has throughout its history) on volunteers.
“We try to make that match between what they’re learning and why it’s important, and it’s very rewarding work.”
People like Sharon Dufour, chief financial officer at Ludlow-based LUSO Federal Credit Union and a JA volunteer for more than 30 years, 20 of them in this market. She has been instrumental in bringing JA programs into schools in the Wilbraham/Ludlow area, and also in moving beyond traditional school-banking initiatives — where students learn the basics of banking — and into financial literacy.
She’s taught at all levels, including seventh grade and a program called “JA is My Future,” which helps students understand the value of what they’re learning.
“It helps them understand the skills they’ll need for specific jobs,” she explained,” adding that, in the last full school year, LUSO helped coordinate 130 classes for Junior Achievement, reaching 2,810 students. “We try to make that match between what they’re learning and why it’s important, and it’s very rewarding work.”
Julie Ann Pelletier agreed. A retired transplant to the Berkshires just over a decade ago, she was looking for volunteer work to take on and certainly found it with JA — she now coordinates the agency’s programs across the Berkshires.
One of them is an initiative to promote entrepreneurship in high-school students, for which they needed a product that students could design, make, market, and sell. Pelletier helped inspire one — crocheted hats (she teaches that art).
Fast-forwarding, she said she wound up teaching a number of Putnam Vocational Academy students that skill, and a few of them went on to start their own businesses and eventually win business competitions as they moved their ventures forward.
“I’m 72, and they’re 17, so they called it ‘Twisting the Generations,’ — it was the old school teaching the new school,” she said, summing up quickly and efficiently what JA, and its volunteers, have been doing for the past century.
For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, BusinessWest examines all that JA is celebrating as its marks an important milestone — 100 years of not only teaching young people about business, but preparing them for all that life can throw at them.
Getting Down to Business
Connelly told BusinessWest that JA’s 100th birthday bash will be a year-long celebration, one that has a number of goals, from honoring the past to raising awareness of its many programs and initiatives in an effort to ensure sustainability.
It will be capped, in most respects, by a series of events on Sept. 28, when JA National, as it’s called, which is based in Colorado, will stage JA Day at the Big E, home to the first Junior Achievement building ever erected — funded by Horace Moses, president of Strathmore Paper Co., and one of three men who founded JA in 1919. There will be a parade, speeches, and a dinner, and Connelly is expecting representatives from many of the 107 JA chapters nationwide to be in attendance.
Locally, the immediate focus is on the May 4 gala, to be staged at MGM Springfield, an event expected to draw more than 300 people. The list of attendees includes two descendants of U.S. Sen. Murray Crane of Massachusetts, another of the founders (the third was Theodore Vail, president of AT&T), as well as a representative of Strathmore Paper.
So there will be significant ties to the past, said Connelly, adding that the gala will honor the agency’s founders, but also all the change and evolution that has come over the past century, and there has been quite a bit of both, as her quick history lesson shows.
“When they founded JA 100 years ago, it started off with what they called the company program,” she explained. “Students came together, formed a company, and sold a product; they envisioned a way to help young people transitioning from an agrarian-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy.”
A glass display case in the front lobby of the JA’s offices on the second floor of Tower Square holds artifacts that speak to those early days of the company program, everything from ribbons awarded at a competition in the mid-1920s to a wooden lamp built by area high-school students to later sell. (Connelly isn’t sure of the date on that item, but guesses it’s from the mid-’70s.
The student-company initiative continues to this day, she said proudly, noting that a number of area high schools run the program after school, during the summer, and as part of the regular school day.
Pathfinder Regional High School, for example, has expanded its program to includes a Facebook page, she said, adding that one class is enjoying success with selling a brush designed for pets called Brush It Off.
But over the past 30 years or so, JA has taken on a broader role, one certainly in keeping with the founders’ intent, especially within the realm of financial literacy. And that role will likely become deeper still following the passage of a bill in January that allows state education officials to establish standards around financial literacy, which schools could incorporate into their existing curricula in subjects like math, business, and social sciences.
The standards will be guidelines, not a mandate, said Connelly, adding that, for those schools who wish to adopt these guidelines, JA could become a partner in helping to bring those lessons home.
The agency already provides a wide array of financial-literacy programs to students in grades K-12, she noted, citing, as one example, something called the Credit for Life Fair, staged recently at Elms College, a program created for high-school students.
Students essentially choose a field, are given a budget, and are presented a number of options on how to spend their money — from investments to essentials like housing, a car, and groceries, as well as ‘fun’ items. They then visit with a credit counselor to review their choices and discuss the consequences of each one.
“These are great learning experiences,” Connelly said of the fair, several of which are conducted each year. “They actually get to see that, even if they get a good job and make a lot of money, that money doesn’t go too far. And they learn about the importance of having a good credit score; they can be a doctor and make a lot of money, but if they have a bad credit score, that’s going to hurt them down the road.”
The Job at Hand
While JA is providing young people with a look at life in a chosen profession through these Credit for Life programs — well, sort of — it is also introducing them to industry sectors, career paths, and specific jobs through initiatives like the JA Inspire program and the aforementioned event at the MassMutual Center.
The formal name of that gathering is the Inspire Career Exploration Fair, and that’s appropriate, because that’s what the attendees will be doing — exploring. And while they’re doing that, area employers might be getting some help with the biggest problem they face these days — securing a workforce for the future.
“Every employer in every industry sector is experiencing workforce shortages,” said Dawn Creighton, Western Mass. director for Associated Industries of Massachuetts, which came on board as a sponsor of the initiative early on and has been encouraging its members to take part. “People are not ready for the workforce, whether it’s vocational skills, technical skills, soft skills — they’re not ready.”
The career-exploration fair was conceived to help ensure that the next generation of workers is more ready, she went on, by not just introducing young people to career possibilities they may or may not have known about, but also spell out for them what it will take to land such a position in terms of skills and education.
And that’s why the event has caught the attention of businesses in several sectors, from manufacturing to healthcare to financial services, and from every corner of the 413, said Creighton, adding that all see a chance to open some eyes.
“All too often, these types of career days come during the spring of senior year, and by then it’s often too late,” she told BusinessWest. “We need to introduce young people to all the career opportunities out there, and we need to do it earlier.”
Thus, the fair, as noted, is an example of how JA’s mission has evolved and the agency has moved beyond the classroom in many respects. But area schools are where most of JA’s life lessons are delivered, a tradition that began a century ago and continues today through the work of teachers and especially volunteers.
Dufour has worked to recruit them for years and said more are always needed to help JA reach more young people.
“I tell every volunteer I know that it’s the most rewarding experience you can imagine,” she said. “The kids see you; they remember you. I once had a kid come flying across the Stop & Shop to give me a big hug. Her mother said, ‘my daughter does not stop talking about you.’”
Pelletier agreed, and said the rewards from volunteering come in many flavors, especially the satisfaction that comes from seeing a light go on in a young person’s eyes as they realize their potential to take an idea or a skill (like crocheting) and run with it.
“Once people get the basics, they fly,” she said, referring specifically to crocheting, but also to the many principles of business in general. “And it’s incredibly exciting to watch it happen.”
Past Is Prologue
“The future of our country depends upon making every individual fully realize the obligations and responsibilities belonging to citizenship. Habits are formed in youth. What we need in this country now is to teach the growing generations to realize that thrift and economy, coupled with industry, are as necessary now as they were in past generations.”
Theodore Vail spoke those words a century or so ago when JA was in its infancy. But they certainly ring true today, especially that part about habits being formed in youth.
Helping young people develop the right habits has been JA’s informal mission for 100 years now. There are now more ways in which in that mission is being carried out, but it’s still about pathways and putting people on the right ones.
And that’s a proud history worth celebrating.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]
A photo essay of recent business events in Western Massachusetts April 15, 2019
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Women’s Leadership Conference
Bay Path University staged its annual Women’s Leadership Conference on March 29. The theme for the day was “Why Not Me,” and a number of keynote speakers and focus sessions addressed that broad topic.
Cutting the Ribbon
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were conducted on April 5 for a new medical/professional building at 15 Atwood Dr. in Northampton, a project led by Development Associates and Northwood Development, LLC.
Partnering with the Sox
As part of its ongoing Worcester expansion, Country Bank is teaming up with the Worcester Red Sox as one of the team’s 21 founding partners in anticipation of its move to Worcester in 2021. The bank’s recent annual annual meeting in Worcester featured a keynote address that included a video of the site of Polar Park narrated by Worcester Red Sox President Charles Steinberg, along with remarks regarding the team’s decision to relocate to Worcester.
Show of Support
The YWCA of Greater Springfield recently hosted a somewhat unusual, but important gathering — a show of support for Cheryl Claprood, the recently named acting police commissioner in Springfield, a role she assumes at a time of considerable controversy within the department.
Visit from the Earl of St. Andrews
Elms College recently received a visit from the Earl of St. Andrews, a senior member of the House of Windsor, the reigning royal house of the United Kingdom.
Degrees of Progress
Elms College President Harry Dumay, left, and Springfield Technical Community College President John Cook shake hands after signing a partnership agreement to offer accelerated online degree-completion programs in Computer Science and Computer Information Technology and Security. The bachelor’s degree programs are completely online and accelerated, which means students can earn their degree in 14 months after obtaining an associate degree from STCC.
Berkshire Blueprint 2.0
1Berkshire recently launched the implementation phase of the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 at ceremonies at the Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield. The event was the culmination of more than 100 interviews, thousands of hours of work, and more than 20 months of planning and design. 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler kicked off the primary outline during the launch by recognizing that $1 billion in regional investments have been made in the Berkshires in just the last three years, noting that investment in the Berkshires is “a good bet.” (Photos by Kara Thornton)
Peter Pan Bus Lines recently hosted its annual Safety Awards presentation at the Student Prince and the Fort. A total of 175 drivers were recognized for completing 2018 with no accidents, and the company also recognized drivers, operations, and maintenance departments for outstanding customer service and performance.
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.
“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]