Home Special Report: A Transformed International Housewares Association Takes Shape
August 10, 2021
Special Report: A Transformed International Housewares Association Takes Shape

By Peter Giannetti

Editor-in-Chief

HomePage News presents a special report examining the International Housewares Association’s response to the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic and how it inspired the Association to build a more expansive, omnichannel, year-round service platform for the home and housewares industry. This opening installment looks back at how the anguish of canceling The Inspired Home Show 2020 set the stage for a transformed IHA.

To understand where the International Housewares Association is today, one has to start by looking back to March 2, 2020, inside the IHA offices in Rosemont, IL.

That was the day the IHA executive team, with sorrowfully unanimous authorization from its board of directors, made the stunning decision to cancel The Inspired Home Show 2020. It was the first of what would be widespread domestic business event cancellations as what was still then a relatively unknown yet deadly novel coronavirus began its global scourge.

IHA places a high priority on re-imagining and re-introducing a thoroughly engaging and productive home and housewares trade show, set to return March 5-8 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Today also finds a thoroughly transformed association equipped with several new programs that aim to bring year-round, value-added balance to IHA’s full-service industry service mission.
An expansive new platform of IHA digital events under the IHA Connect banner was built form the ground up in short time and launched this past spring. This includes the first Connect SPRING industry education and new product launch event; Connect GROCERY in partnership with GMDC to match grocery retailers with home and housewares vendors; Connect 365, a next-generation, in-depth online product discovery resource for IHA members; and Connect COMMERCE, a breakthrough B2B e-commerce platform developed in partnership with Brandwise.
IHA also moved quickly to fill a void in the housewares B2B news space after the downsizing and closing of leading industry trade publications. IHA since April has developed and introduced HomePage News, an industry news and information platform that recently launched a website – HomePageNews.com – with plans to provide a wide range of digital and print editorial products.
It sets up a busy fall 2021 agenda from IHA, including Connect DIGITAL, a virtual conference (September 21-22) covering e-commerce development; Connect FALL, a virtual conference (September 27-October 1) showcasing industry education and special trend and new product spotlights; and Connect GROCERY, another matchmaking collaboration with GMDC. IHA also plans an October 5-6 in-person return after a year hiatus of CHESS (Chief Housewares Executive SuperSession), the Association’s long-running networking and educational conference for home and housewares industry leaders.
It is with no shortage of irony that IHA’s expanding industry service portfolio and strategic mission rose from one of the darkest moments in its 83-year existence: the cancelation of The Inspired Home Show 2020.
Derek Miller, IHA president and a 21-year veteran of the Association’s management, and Leana Salamah, IHA vice president, marketing since 2018, recalled the emotional weekend leading to the March 2, 2020 vote by the IHA board to cancel the show just days before it was to begin.

“The (IHA) VPs were huddled in my office,” Miller said of the fateful board vote over a conference call. “We went from one board member to the other: ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes.’ No one was talking. The motion passed unanimously.”

“There was no playbook for this; we were the first out of the gate,” Salamah added, pointing to how The Inspired Home Show was the first major B2B show in the country to cancel because of the mounting pandemic.
Derek Miller, President, IHA
The party was ready to start, but we didn’t get to go on stage. We had to go from that emotion to telling the staff (about the canceled show) to immediately telling the industry.

-Derek Miller, President, IHA

“It was the hardest thing we’ve ever gone through,” Miller added.

“We put our hearts and soul into the new show branding,” Miller continued, referencing what was to have been the debut of The Inspired Home Show rebrand in March 2020. “The party was ready to start, but we didn’t get to go on stage. We had to go from that emotion to telling the staff (about the canceled show) to immediately telling the industry.”

That meant regrouping to deliver the upsetting news to some 2,000 exhibiting companies, McCormick Place management, Show contractor Freeman; 52 hotels, some 50,000 expected visitors and myriad other vendors and constituents.

The refrain from many upon hearing the news, Miller said, was as expected as it was previously unfathomable: What do you mean you’re canceling the show?

“We had no choice to do so for the safety of our industry and visitors from 130 different countries,” Miller said, underscoring the global impact of the Association’s responsibility at a juncture where the ramifications of the COVID outbreak were impossible to predict.

Nor, perhaps, could anyone predict what would come next for IHA.

“We knew we had to change, but it wasn’t entirely clear how,” Miller said.

Seeds for more frequent off-show engagement with the industry had been planted long ago by IHA through such programs as CHESS, CORE regional networking meetings, International Business Council, Global Forum, trade missions, government affairs, Association and industry updates for members and new product media events.

“We already had many of the tools,” Miller said.

He noted, for example, how CORE meetings were quickly moved to Zoom last year at a time when industry executives were frantic for information and direction.

IHA moved fast to develop digital re-creations of seminars and other educational programs originally set for the 2020 show. Among them was a special digital video series last summer to release findings of the first-ever IHA Market Watch, a comprehensive home and housewares consumer trend report developed under Salamah’s direction with contribution by the NPD Group and Springboard Futures. Trends spotlighted by IHA Market Watch 2021 were presented this past March in video segments that aired during Connect SPRING, and a follow-up Market Watch video series is planned.
IHA MarketWatch 2021
IHA plans to expand and amplify its year-round delivery of industry content, research and analysis through additional digital, print and in-person platforms, Salamah said.

As IHA pours more developmental strategy and resources into facilitating industry engagement throughout the year, it has not neglected what remains its most valuable industry platform: The Inspired Home Show.

The Association’s sales, marketing, show operations and member/buyer service teams are collaborating to create what Miller describes as a compelling in-person show experience that renews productive B2B connections, new product discovery and growth planning across the highest levels of industry and retail management, while also serving the industry’s need for progressive operating and strategic leadership solutions.

To that end, The Inspired Home Show 2022 will offer two new exhibits— a pavilion for third-party industry service providers, including specialists in e-commerce, fulfillment, logistics, content and more; and the co-located Tastemakers Conference for influencers and bloggers. This joins such special exhibits and programming as Discover Design,  Innovation Theater, Student Design Competition, gia product and merchandising awards; the Pantone Color Display; the Inventor’s Corner; and independent retailer events.

We recognize that people want to get back together, and to do so under the safest, most appropriate circumstances. They also want a vibrant show, where they can renew face-to-face business relationships while discovering new products, new solutions, new ideas and new inspiration.

– Leana Salamah, VP Marketing, IHA

Leana Salamah, VP Marketing, IHA
“We recognize that people want to get back together, and to do so under the safest, most appropriate circumstances,” Salamah said. “They also want a vibrant show, where they can renew face-to-face business relationships while discovering new products, new solutions, new ideas and new inspiration.”
The anguish inside the IHA offices on March 2, 2020, doused so much optimism by the Association staff ahead of what would have been the launch of a comprehensive 2020 rebrand of what previously was known as the International Home + Housewares Show.
The Inspired Home Show debut now has to wait until March 2022 after the IHA cancelled the 2021 Show that was rescheduled to run in August in hopes that the pandemic would have receded by then. The decision in February of this year to cancel the August Show, while very difficult, was met with widescale industry and retailer understanding at a time when there was no clarity as to when travel and convention centers would reopen, Miller said.
The March 2022 Show will unveil much of The Inspired Home Show branding and updated programming originally set to debut in March 2020. The 2022 Show will look and feel fresh and progressive even without the backdrop of all of the new initiatives from IHA since the pandemic struck, Miller noted.
The March 2022 Show will unveil much of The Inspired Home Show branding and updated programming originally set to debut in March 2020. The 2022 Show will look and feel fresh and progressive even without the backdrop of all of the new initiatives from IHA since the pandemic struck, Miller noted.
Many of these new IHA programs were borne out of necessity, but they now are being cultivated and advanced through a new strategic lens, Miller said. That, he added, has equipped the Association to be better prepared and able to confront the next industry challenges and opportunities.
“We had to make decisions that were best not just for the Association, but for the industry,” Miller said. “We lived to fight another day. And today we are on the verge of tremendous prosperity.”

And it all started on a sorrowful March 2, 2020, even if no one at IHA at the time could see how much good would rise from that fateful day.

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