This year’s Metalcon International is aiming to reassure an industry hit hard by tough economic times with its “Focus Forward” theme. The annual event, which will take place this month at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. And while it brings a solid history of growth and expansion, veteran show director Claire Kilcoyne of PSMJ Resource Management, Newton, Mass., sees this anniversary’s intersection with the start of a new decade as an opportunity to look ahead.
“Out with the old and in with the new,” says Kilcoyne. “We’ve seen a lot happen in the past 20 years … it’s time to leave the past behind us and move forward.”
But don’t let that fool you. The components that have made the show an annual staple for industry professionals throughout the past two decades won’t be disappearing. The success of Metalcon has been two-fold: its ability to look to the future for innovations in the field while simultaneously resting on a foundation built from years of industry experience.
When the Glenview, Ill.-based Metal Construction Association put out calls for proposals for a trade show 22 years ago, PSMJ applied for, and was awarded, the partnership. Following the first show in 1991 in Washington, D.C., Metalcon jockeyed between major cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Las Vegas and Tampa. With Kilcoyne at the helm from the beginning, the number of exhibitors and visitors to the show grew steadily. New features were added that paralleled industry trends and kept the show in sync with its growth.
In 1994, Metalcon introduced the construction of a steel home as part of an instruction course detailing roofing and wall installation. The finished product then was donated to a nonprofit agency. In 2006, Metalcon and the 501(c) (3) non-profit, Taunton, Mass.-based Homes for Our Troops joined forces, building and dedicating a steel-framed home to a wounded member of the U.S. military service as a part of the STUD University course offering. The 16-hour, cold-formed steel framing course debuted at Metalcon in 2003.
The show also has incorporated a variety of ways to display products beyond single-company exhibitor booths. Green Island, introduced in 2006, and the more recent Gutter Pavilion and New Product Harbor, both debuting in 2008, have provided a venue for companies and visitors to display products with a specific focus, often modeling industry trends. Last year, the show introduced Solar Bay, an area displaying different ways solar technology can be integrated with metal roof and wall systems.
But as the show has grown, so have the interests of the industry representatives in attendance. The show’s educational programs remain well-attended but have had to adapt based on industry preferences.
“The education is what drives the quality audience,” says Kilcoyne. “Those who are coming striving for the education are your key buyer potential as well. So a strong education program is vital and we focus every year to get at least half of the program new, but yet not overlooking our repeat performers for the past 20 years.”
Rob Haddock, president and chief executive officer of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based S-5!, is one of those repeat performers. His metal roofing educational session has been the top-attended program at Metalcon since its inception in 1991.
“I’m a consultant to the metal roofing industry so I see a lot of things out on jobs and take a lot of photographs and incorporate both good and bad things in my presentations,” says Haddock. “I’ll show how something is done right and then I’ll show disasters too, when things are done wrong. People relate to that; they like to see the contrast, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
But recently, the growing metal-architecture and -building industry has been affected by a slumping housing market and wide-reaching recession. With employment having fallen and now remaining stagnant alongside diminished demand for private and commercial construction, Metalcon has had to diversify its offerings. From the beginning, the educational programs have been of value to participants, but the current economic climate has required Kilcoyne to expand the curriculum.
“We used to offer straight technical programs on metal, metal, metal and more metal,” she says. “But now in times like this, people are looking for marketing strategies and business strategies, so we’ve introduced the marketing management track.” That joins the solar, energy efficiency and sustainability tracks added last year alongside Metalcon’s staple cold form steel framing, roofing and retrofit tracks.
Peter LoCascio of Trade Show Consultants, Salem, Ore., agrees on the importance of making the show relevant to participants. “From the exhibitor’s perspective, the people they work with on trade-show management, those people are vendors and a vendor becomes an associate when the vendor’s activities help the exhibitor or advertiser to do the best they can with what they have.”
According to Kilcoyne, these efforts are intended to keep the show fresh and useful to the Metalcon exhibitors and attendees. This year, 28 companies will celebrate alongside the MCA and show management as 20-year exhibitors. This year’s show is expected to draw nearly 8,000 visitors within the metal construction industry and 300 companies exhibiting products.
Mark Engle, executive vice president of the MCA, has noticed a surprising trend in Metalcon’s ability to combat a faltering economy and welcome visitors and exhibitors each year.
“We’ve been hit like most other construction shows, although interestingly, our data for metal in construction is that we are taking away market share from competing materials,” says Engle. “So while we have been hit as all other construction shows have, I don’t think we’ve been hit nearly as hard as a lot of them. Certainly in becoming a bigger part of the material market share in construction, that’s been important growth, and I think Metalcon has a lot to do with that.”
A large part of the positive outlook given to this year’s Metalcon is due to metal’s increased use in residential and commercial applications. Metal roofs increasingly don private homes, educational facilities and places of worship. Metal paneling is more commonly part of the aesthetic of office buildings and commercial venues. And as the use of metal has proliferated across the construction industry, the means of fabrication and installation have become more efficient.
Architects, building owners, contractors and manufacturers increasingly want to make their buildings sustainable, often quantifying their efforts. According to the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council, as of June 2010, there were more than 27,000 commercial LEED registered projects and 5,707 commercial LEED certified projects comprising 1.04 billion square feet.
“Metal has been and always will be a sustainable product,” says Kilcoyne. “…Metal is coming to the forefront [and] is showing more and more credit with even energy saving costs and rebates and tax incentives, so there are so many more directions and education to show that.”
According to Engle, embracing sustainable building and design practices could give the show the edge it needs to launch into a new decade.
“I think it’s going to [be labeled as] as one of the energy and sustainability shows in construction because of the unique elements that metal provides in that whole sustainability environment,” he says. “If you’re going to put something on the roof for photovoltaics, you’d be foolish not to put it over metal because of the characteristics of metal, of the life cycle and everything. We have a great story and a great venue to share that at Metalcon.”