NHS wrap-up: The ‘I’s’ have it

Inventors – like Derry and his caulk caddy – and in-person interactions, define 2022 event.
Inventor Derry
Inventors, like Derry, brought the buzz on stage at Habitat Next where they showed off new idea and brought back a sense of interaction at NHS.

He’s a builder in blue jeans, and looks like he’s come straight off a jobsite. He’s Derry Griffin. And he’s the epitome of the hardware show spirit. But more on him later....

With an “everything-old-is-new” feeling of getting back out and mingling with each other – a combination of hardware innovations and attendee-vendor interactions came together nicely at NHS recently.

The National Hardware Show was bigger – or condensed for a big effect – and busier this spring. The aisles were, at times, clogged with attendees and the show had a new-old buzz to it – from educational sessions to inventors.

Duke Cannon booth Kyle
Vendors at booths like Duke Cannon and Kyle Degoey here showed off an array of products at NHS in Las Vegas.

At one booth, which makes unique soaps, some with beer flavors, Kyle Degoey director of sales for Duke Cannon said, “The hardware channel is steady for us. We are constantly innovating. You must keep fresh. We developed our products for the ‘regular average joes.’ This show is full of connecting and of getting people involved.”

And the feeling was not just indoors on the show floor.

Outside in the NHS Backyard area, almost every booth was grilling in the open air, and two giant big-top tents were crowded with a mix of chatty attendees and vendors, exchanging ideas, listening to conference speakers, getting hands-on with products, and watching events like the grill-off competition.

NHS Backyard grilling
Seems as if every grill maker out in the NHS Backyard area was busy grilling and interacting with attendees.

The interactions between vendors, stepping out of their booths to connect with each other and with attendees all throughout the Backyard area, was noticeable – and refreshing.

The topic of ‘people’ also flourished in panel sessions on stage and in discussions in the aisles – it was all about hardware stores needing to find, onboard and continually train its people – and it was a message that echoed distinctly across the hardware event.

At a session titled “Hiring Strategies,” the panel’s messages to the audience were simple: “The top challenge is in hiring quality employees; and the #1 investment today for retailers is in employees.”

NHS Customer Experience panel
Panelists, from left, Rodney Bullion at TAL Holdings, Ned Green at Weiders, and Darryl Zunker at Pintura Paint & Supply discuss the Customer Experience.

At another panel session titled “Creating the Ultimate Customer Experience,” three panelists discussed the importance of your hardware team today.

“Customer service is a big deal,” said one of the panelists, Ned Green, owner of Weiders Paint & Hardware with three stores in New York state.

“The training for employees is constantly changing,” Green said. “We use a mentor to walk the new person through everything. This takes weeks. Training is critical. Our mentor program has been fabulous.” The other two panelists agreed that training was essential at their retail businesses and ongoing training for employees even more critical.

NHs Roger Levine
It was great to be back, said attendee Roger Levine, reflecting a sentiment many held at NHS 2022.

Over in the aisle closest to the show stage, B&B Hardware & Rental store owners and Do it Best and Orgill dealers Reed and Helen McDaniel said, “we have 14 employees, we’re always looking to add a core employee to the team. We have to check their Facebook page first to see if they fit, we’re a family business.”

They move off to check out booths, happy to be at the show and in-person again. Reed said: “People need people. It’s great to just get out again.”

Roger Levine, of The New Haven Companies, paused from checking out booths and said, “I’m always looking for new ideas and I’ve already found two vendors to do business with. This is my first time back in three years. It’s so great.”

NHS Matey Measure inventor Steve
The show was a big hit for Steve Capon, demonstrating his measuring tape clamp in the inventors aisle.

In another aisle, Matey Measure, a small device to hold your measurement tape so it doesn’t snap back on you, is drawing quite a crowd. “We’re having strong response at this show,” said Steve Capon, owner inventor from Sussex, UK. The flow of attendees past us feels normal, a bit crowded, I hear a few “excuse mes” from attendees passing each other – and that’s a good sound.

Along with aisles full of booth activity, special new product zones on the show floor such as Habitat and Made in USA drew a stream of attendees.

Backyard stage Kevin, Robert
The Backyard stage saw this celebrity host from TV show This Old House, on right, announce the NHS Made in USA honorees.

Attendees are checking out products in Habitat, one is called Root Quencher, which basically plugs into a lawn and delivers subsurface water. It was also one of six products honored on the Backyard stage by “This Old House” host Kevin O’Connor as being Made in USA.

Next door at the Made in USA area, father and son team Kevin and Connor Weinacht, viewing products, said “this is cool stuff and unique. We’d like to see more of it too.”

NHS Taking on Tech panel
Panelists, from left, Eric Hasset of Hassett Ace, Adam Gunnett of Busy Beaver, and Jade Haynie of Northwest Hardware.

Future now arriving

Technology was also a feature of the NHS 2022 spring event.

At the session titled “How Retailers Are Taking On Tech,” panelist Adam Gunnett director of IT and marketing at Busy Beaver Building Centers said they are using “Electronic Shelf Labels to handle price updates anytime.”

These ESLs “update several times a day, and with labor shortages this is a big advantage, and a morale booster as well,” he said, “since staff don’t have to do price tag changes manually. This is the way of the future.”

His company also rolled out the Sensource People Counter at their new Delmont location. The system uses multiple cameras to detect groups coming in and detects “dwell time” to phase-out employees from the data.

“It’s more detailed than just people breaking an invisible laser beam as they enter a store,” said Gunnett to attendees at a crowded stage area. “The conversion rate shows about 40%. We’re not sure what else to do with the data yet.”

NHS tech panel ESLs
Electronic Shelf Labels, or ESLs, automated price updates – just one technology for hardware owners to figure out how best to make use of.

Eric Hasset of Hassett Ace, another panelist on stage, said “we use a Theatro audio system that can reach select groups, individuals, whole-store, and store-to-store. It can also do recordings. And we’re also using apps for ordering and fulfilling.”

Hassett said his customers can request a product through text function and a store associate can take a photo of the product, what’s in stock, and text back including quantity and price.

“We’re also trying out lockers in front of our store. Customers receive a pass code, and the order is picked and placed in their locker, which they can access 24/7.”

The third panelist in the technology session, Jade Haynie of Northwest Hardware said, “We use a system called the Dexter employee portal to view business operations and tasks across all stores.”

The over-reaching theme of this session: Lots of technology today. Lots of options. Lots of data. And now hardware owners must figure out how best to make use of it all to help their business.

Inventor Derry and assistant
Back-to-back and thriving! Derry the inventor and his assistant Paulina Regagnon, repping their product at NHS 2022.

….And now back to Derry

Derry Griffin calls his inventions Painters’ Pals, and they include a wearable caulk gun caddy and an attachable caulk gun tip stopper. They draw lots of looks and inquiries from attendees near the Habitat Next stage area.

“We’ve put our message on Tik-Tok and we’ve received responses from all over the world,” said the owner of his company, Erin Innovations. “Talk about marketing,” he said in a thick Irish accent, nodding to his marketing assistant, then they posed for my photo. A bit brash. A bit bold. Alotta personality.

The I’s came back out to NHS this spring. They invented. They innovated. And best of all – it was in-person.