Markets and trade fairs have taken place throughout civilization, but the twentieth century's first House Furnishing Goods Exhibition was held in New York's Madison Square Garden in 1906. The modern housewares exposition was born in 1927 when members of the National Home Furnishings Buyers Club decided that an exhibit in centrally located Chicago would be the most efficient way to view the products of many manufacturers. The group convinced 115 manufacturers to display their wares at the Stevens (later renamed Conrad Hilton) Hotel on January 3-7, 1928. The newly established National House Furnishing Manufacturers Association (NHFMA) responded to their buyers' request for an annual exhibition, and for the next 10 years, shows including kitchenware and major appliances were held at the Stevens.
Meanwhile, seeing the success of the Chicago group, East Coast promoters mounted the American Housewares Exhibit at New York City's Hotel Pennsylvania on July 24-30, 1932. Two shows later, the New York group incorporated in 1934 as the New York Housewares Manufacturers Association. Unofficially the two groups agreed to a January show in Chicago and a July event in New York. This structure served the industry well until personal rivalries erupted in Chicago in 1938, splitting the industry. IHA's antecedent, the House Furnishing Manufacturers Association of America (HFMAA), incorporated in 1938 with offices in Chicago's Merchandise Mart and staged its first show the following year at the Palmer House. The two groups with similar sounding names staged two January Shows in Chicago in 1939 and 1940 at the Palmer House and Stevens hotels. With the howls of buyers and journalists ringing in their ears, the NHFMA joined the HFMAA and consolidated into a single nonprofit organization, the Housewares Manufacturers Association (HMA), with a unified Show at the Palmer House in 1941.
Just as the industry began to recover from the Great Depression, World War II radically changed housewares manufacturing and sales. Despite the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Show was held the following month at the Palmer House.
Unsuspecting of what lay ahead, Retailing magazine reported that fabricators whose civilian production had been sharply curtailed because their raw materials were necessary for the armed forces were already looking forward to the end of the war: "These makers are exhibiting here primarily to maintain close relations with dealers for they could easily distribute their limited stocks of finished goods without a show. They recognize that â€˜out of sight is out of mind' and therefore are using their display spaces just as they use advertisingâ€”to keep their names before the clientele."
In addition to the shortage of finished goods, manufacturers contended with lack of cardboard for packaging plus cutbacks in transport fuel and services. Deliveries could not be promised. Although metal products were scarce, sellers of flashlights, wooden stepladders, and shopping carts enjoyed brisk business. Manually operated products substituted for electrically powered conveniences.
The 1942 Atlantic City Show failed because of government-imposed travel restrictions, and for the next two years no shows were held. As manufacturers redirected their production to defense materiel, they worked at building brand awareness in anticipation of future demand.
The National Housewares Manufacturing Association (NHMA) IHA's predecessor, resulted from the 1946 merger of the New York Housewares Manufacturers Association and the HMA into one organization representing the interests of the trade nationwide. The new NHMA signed the Philadelphia Convention Hall for its first joint exposition from April 27-May 2, 1947, marking the end of the "hotel era" and moving into a true exhibition arena.
As soon as possible after World War II ended, manufacturers accelerated their return to civilian production, reissuing long-awaited (through pre-war) models into consumers' hands. Though enamelware, toasters, percolators, and woodenware were still on allocation, ferocious demand and buyer pressure clamored for more new goods, which began to appear in 1947. The trade press reported that "housewares were reasonably priced, but competed with high-priced food, which people must have, and high-priced automobiles, which they insist upon having."
By 1948 Americans were spending $1.5 billion for housewares and small appliances. (By comparison, 12 years later in 1960, NHMA estimated $5 billion in retail housewares expenditures.) New companies and new technology and inventions led to waves of product innovation. It was a seller's market, and buyers routinely grumbled about firm prices.
The Housewares Show grew swiftly. Exhibitors continually strained to expand their booth space, and would-be exhibitors battered at the doors. To accommodate the growing number of companies, the Show moved to Chicago's Navy Pier in 1949. At this time Navy Pier housed the University of Illinois's Chicago campus, not a comfortable situation for the institution or the Association, but the housewares trade adapted itself to the building and its limitations. All the same, there was time for fun in addition to business. Glamorous variety shows at the Palmer House, stag dinners, banquets, dances and bowling tournaments enlivened the Navy Pier years.
By 1949 the Show was an international marketplace hosting buyers from 11 countries. The Show narrowed its product categories, terminating the major appliance segment and changing its name from the "National Housewares and Major Appliance Exhibit" to the "National Housewares and Home Appliance Manufacturers Exhibit" in 1950. The 1950 event saw a greater number of new products, although many manufacturers still had not invested in new tooling. Uncertainties caused by the Korean War created a flurry of orders for products made of steel and rubber. (Some cookware manufacturers were out of stock or were rationing orders.) The situation tightened in 1951, with some exhibitors attending the Atlantic City Show for goodwill rather than because they had new products to display. Impending price freezes, new taxes, aluminum and steel restrictions, lack of shopping cartons and unknowns regarding military priorities caused confusion. Once again, the Show's primary importance was its abundance of personal contacts.
With new venues rapidly opening across the country, retailers realized that housewares built sales volume and traffic. So many new manufacturers entered the industry that many companies could not be accommodated at the Show. (The press reported that some exhibitors there were building "elaborate exhibits costing $10,000-15,000. [!]") At the Pier, television was used for the first time to display the exciting colors of the new plastic products.
As self-service stores became more popular, buyers encouraged manufacturers to develop attractive point-of-purchase displays. More types of retail outlets developed; drug stores and wholesalers complained that they could not make a profit with the prevalence of discounters. Buyers sought promotional merchandise to help bring in customers and contribute to more rapid inventory turnover.
In 1956 no more than 649 exhibitors could fit into Navy Pier. The limitations could only be solved when the Show moved into Chicago's new exposition center, McCormick Place on the Lake, in 1961.
New Era On The Lakefront
More than 900 formerly "squeezed" exhibitors happily stretched into the comfortable 310,000 square feet of new space. Yet the grand facility was still too small for demand. The excitement brought 33,000 attendees to McCormick Place for opening day in 1961.
With the inauguration of the new hall, the Show bid farewell to Atlantic City and contracted for both semi-annual Shows in Chicago. The fortunes of the International Housewares Show were joined with McCormick Place for the next 36 years.
The Show's size and services continued to expand, improving its appearance and efficiency. In 1964 carpeting throughout the halls extended a welcome to buyers who rejoiced at the new walking comfort. That year also saw the first "air rights" booth as new cubic-volume regulations allowed double-decker exhibits.
The Show That Didn't Happen
Late Sunday night, January 15, 1967, 1,236 exhibitors finished setting up their booths for the 13th Show at McCormick Place, fully expecting to meet 15,000 buyers the next morning on opening day. Instead, the industry experienced its greatest catastrophe and the most strenuous test of its resolve.
Hours later, at 2 A.M., security guards detected a small fire; faulty electrical wiring had ignited storage materials in one exhibitor's booth on the upper-level main exhibit area. The flames spread rapidly through flammable exhibit walls and materials, and although firefighters responded within 10 minutes, the mammoth building's roof collapsed in less than one hour. Racing downward through other exhibit floors, the inferno spread throughout the building despite the efforts of 65 percent of Chicago's Fire Department working in 16-degree cold. By the time the fire was declared extinguished at 9:46 A.M., the country's largest exposition hall was a total loss.
In a few hours a year of work for the housewares industry went up in smoke. In dollar value the conflagration was more costly than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Had the flame erupted a few hours later when the Show was in progress, the loss of life would have been tremendous. Miraculously, only one person perished in this tragedy.
NHMA management convened at its Merchandise Mart office to mount a new Show as quickly as possible and to deal with the aftermath of the emergency. Aided by communications systems at hotels, radio stations, and TV broadcasts, buyers and sellers scrambled to find each other. Sales materials fortunately remaining in hotel rooms and product samples scooped up from Merchandise Mart showrooms and department stores had to substitute for exhibits worth thousands of dollars.
Several other cities stepped in to compete for the trade show, but only Chicago had enough hotel rooms and the transportation systems to move 60,000 visitors in and out. Within a month, NHMA announced the Show would go on, at the International Amphitheatre on June 12-16.
Estimates varied on how much the disaster had affected business, but it was clear that small companies suffered the most from the loss of sales contacts.
An Era Of Change
A new McCormick Place rose from the ashes of the old, and in January 1971, the 54th International Housewares Show "came home" to inaugurate the exposition center. Three levels of exposition space, 700,000 square feet in all, replaced the former facility's 480,000 square feet. Still, the Show needed to grow. In 1979 the West Building (Donnelley Hall) was pressed into service for new exhibitors with an extra day to attract buyers. During the 1980s, adjusting to the buying cycles of major retailers; the Association experimented with Show dates in spring in Chicago and fall in Atlanta. McCormick Place's new North building added 300,000 square feet in 1986 to a Show that occupied three buildings.
In 1991 NHMA moved to a new quarters in Rosemont near O'Hare Airport. The show changed its title several times, most notably from the "National Housewares Exposition" in the â€˜80s to the "International Housewares Show" in 1992, when it became a single annual January Show in Chicago. Other trade shows offered access to diverse retail channels for the great variety of housewares products. While the industry's need for a trade show venue was served by a single event per year, NHMA developed a menu of services assisting members in the operation of their business. By 1996 the International Housewares Show ranked as the seventh largest trade event in the U.S., filling 791,000 net square feet of exhibit space. In 1997 the International Housewares Show opened in the grand new South building of the McCormick Place complex. More than 2,000 exhibitors occupied space in the nation's largest convention hall, with newly-categorized displays in three buildings on Chicago's lakefront. In effect, the largest Housewares Show in the world had another new home.
In 1999 recognizing the inevitable globalization of the homegoods industry, NHMA became the International Housewares Association and early in the new century rechristened the Show as the International Home + Housewares Show whose goal as confirmed by IHA's Board and Retailer Advisory Councils is to be the complete homegoods marketplace.
Building A Strategic Vision
The IHA Board of Directors also confirmed a strategic vision that includes five key thrusts.
The first point of that mission is to create and build the premier global marketplace for home products, the International Home and Housewares Show. IHA identifies opportunities for growth by seeking out and responding to feedback from its buying audience, engaging exhibitors to make their Show more meaningful, employing technology to support buyer-seller communication and strengthening our international outreach.
The second goal is to understand and engage the global retail community. IHA is focused on seeking input from our industry's retailers globally, providing them with information and services, developing support for the gourmet trade and facilitating international trade development.
The third goal is to be The Home Authority. Through a variety of initiatives IHA is striving to develop meaningful industry data, advocating for the industry and providing business intelligence for members.
The fourth strategic goal is to provide business services and education. IHA offers members and partners access to savings on domestic and international freight, education through share groups, industry conferences focused on domestic and international business and a broad array of educational opportunities on IHA's website in the Knowledge Center, where visitors can listen to and download audio and video of all Show educational events.
The fifth goal is to be open to alliances that benefit the industry. IHA takes a proactive stance regarding alliances that would be of benefit to both the International Home and Housewares Show and the broader industry.