Canvassing the International Builders Show (IBS) usually is like drinking water from a fire hose. Fortunately, this year’s version was easier to ingest.

Unlike the last time IBS was in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center, the 2011 Expo consumed just the West Hall. There were fewer and smaller booths. Unofficially, attendance seemed to be about half of its 100,000 peak.

For me, a smaller IBS was a relief. At past shows, I had to allow 30 minutes to get from one corner of the show to the other. It was a nightmare for anyone with a touch of claustrophobia.

This year’s IBS was highly manageable and frankly, more enjoyable. Exhibitors had time to talk. Attendees could thoughtfully examine displays, test products, and ask questions.

So what trends were evident for construction and maintenance pros?  Following is a completely unscientific analysis based on two measly days of IBS wanderings.
  1. The industry is more confident. OK, this is really subjective, but my conversations with a couple dozen building product manufacturers were substantially more positive versus the last two years. There was no fear in their eyes, no hints of hidden turmoil, and no ominous laments regarding personal job security. The people I spoke with were enthusiastic, yet realistic, about 2011.

  2. The industry’s favorite color is still green. The environmental focus remains a key driver for many manufacturers. Many manufacturers introduced or retooled their product lines to make them more eco-friendly. Sustainability is huge.

  3. The industry is finding pockets of opportunity. No where did I hear that business is booming. And yet, nearly all manufacturers had identified niches that were producing steady sales. Some mentioned government or institutional work, some focused on remodeling, and a few tapped into luxury homes. Apparently, some people still have money and are spending it.

  4. The industry is starting to embrace solar energy.  While solar products have a long way to go to become mainstream, more companies keep entering the market.  Builders have more options than ever, from rooftop photovoltaic arrays, to solar/geothermal combination water/air heating systems, to solar shutters.

  5. The industry is stable and primed for growth. A sad benefit of the building slump has been the resizing of the market. Manufacturers have merged and/or cut unprofitable product lines. Builders have pared back to swat team-sized crews. Everyone appears hungry and ready to pounce on even small opportunities. Because the industry cut costs so dramatically, it is poised to make 2011 a profitable year.

  6. The industry has ramped up R&D. OK, it never really went away, but many companies were forced to delay the launch of new product lines. This year’s IBS booths featured many product introductions. My personal observation was that the launches appeared to be a little simpler, more practical and fundamentally strategic. I saw little that looked faddish.
In my next blog, I’ll share some of the products that caught my attention at IBS. Stay tuned.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit We have posted 30 first-person success stories from construction/maintenance pros.  Learn how other pros have survived the building downturn and found ways to prosper.  You can even submit your own story by clicking on the “submit story” bar.