Quality information — just when it is needed most

I’ve been in the home improvement industry for 25 years, and I cannot remember a time with so much divergent information on where we stand and where we are heading. 

In late July I read a projection from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, which reported that annual remodeling spending through the first quarter of 2012 will be down 4.0%. That is not encouraging for the industry. Then in mid-August I read a release from BuildFax saying that remodeling in June was at the highest level since it started measuring it in 2004, and it grew 23% year over year in July. Now that’s a completely different picture! What should one make of this and, more importantly, what are the opportunity areas?

Just in time to provide information in this period of great uncertainty comes the 2011 HIRI Home Improvement Industry Summit. The event will be held in Chicago Oct. 19 to 20. It will be a very different experience for those who are used to going to a typical industry show with some seminars added on. For attendees at this year’s summit, it will be a day-and-a-half immersed in important insights into the industry, where we stand and where we are going.

My take on the industry is that we have moderate growth in 2011. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau show retail sales for building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (NAICS 444) to be up 5.1% through July. This is somewhat higher than HIRI’s current forecast for the year (soon to be updated). Are we declining? Probably not. Are we growing at a rate of 23%. Almost definitely not.

So where in this environment do companies turn for growth? It comes down to understanding where there is demand and how customers are changing so you can meet their needs. That is where this year’s industry summit will help greatly. Included on the agenda for day one are:

• An update on the housing market from Zelman and Associates;

• Insights on the direction of the economy and its implications for home improvement from UBS;

• The current pulse of consumer plans for home improvement activity, primarily based on a proprietary monthly HIRI study done by NPD;

• The latest trends driving home improvement based on a HIRI study done by The Futures Company;

• The impact of the aging baby boom generation from data gathered by AARP;

• Changes to how consumers approach home improvement projects from before the downturn until today, as learned in a HIRI study done by Synovate research;

• The latest on how the Internet is being used within home improvement, from HIRI studies done by Decision Analyst; and

• A detailed look at what the various generations are buying and how they do their shopping from TraQline - The Stevenson Co..

Day two (morning) is equally packed with great information. Two tracks will be running simultaneously one with content coordinated by Home Channel News and the other by Hanley-Wood. Day two’s highlights include:

Not only will this be the premier event for information on our industry, it will also be a chance to celebrate an important milestone for HIRI: 30 years of service to the industry. As a nonprofit member organization, HIRI has and continues to pioneer vital research into how homes are maintained, repaired and improved. A celebration dinner will be held the first night of the summit at the beautiful Chicago aquarium.

More information and registration is available at www.HIRI.org.

Hope to see you there.

A 24-year industry veteran, Fred Miller is the managing director of the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI). He can be reached at ConsumerSp@aol.com.

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