Despite banner year, home improvement companies still seek trade show exposure

May 23—CUMBERLAND — The pandemic has, by and large, been good to the businesses that crowded the Cobb Galleria over the weekend.

Landscapers, cabinet-makers, window-installers, mattress sellers and more flocked to Cumberland for the Atlanta Home Show, billed as "your source for home improvement ideas, project inspiration, and expert advice."

Most saw business boom during the pandemic, as white-collar workers sheltering at home, flush with cash they would have otherwise spent at bars, restaurants and movie theaters, sought to upgrade the space in which they were, all of a sudden, forced to spend the majority of their waking hours. Almost six months into 2021, the boom shows few signs of slowing down.

And yet, business owners manning booths and chatting with potential customers Saturday said they were grateful for the opportunity to attend trade shows again.

Josh Ellis, owner of Kennesaw-based Joshua Cabinetry LLC, said the Atlanta Home Show was "very important" to his business in its early years. At the event, he could book enough clients for the remainder of the year.

As his business grew, he came to rely less on the show and stopped attending. But when the coronavirus first began to spread in the United States, he was worried about the impact it might have on consumer demand and booked a spot at the 2020 show.

That event was, of course, canceled. But Ellis was wrong about the coronavirus.

"Our business probably doubled during the pandemic because we diversified," Ellis said. "We started doing a lot more commercial work as well."

Joshua Cabinetry had, for example, built sneeze guards for the DeKalb County court system, something the system hoped would allow it to safely reopen for jury trials.

The event's organizer wouldn't refund the money Ellis had spent for a spot at the 2020 show, so he decided to attend this year. And he is "absolutely" worried about the return to normal.

"The residential work ... has been easy to find. But maybe it does dry up some," he said. "As it gets back to normal, are we going to get the same phone calls?"

Carissa Young, of KMT Systems, a McDonough-based home security company, said business has boomed "like never before." And with the frothy real-estate market, it shows no signs of slowing down.

"Keeping our name out there," she said when asked why she had come to the trade show. "It's all about the image, you know, like everybody knows that we're still here, we're still doing what we need to do on a daily basis to take care of everybody."

Douglasville's Lisa Waldron, owner of Zen Zaia Candle Co., said the Atlanta Home Show was the first event of any kind she had attended as a business owner. She said she has been very careful during the pandemic, rarely leaving her house, and was pleasantly surprised so many people had come out.

Nicci Choukair, of Gwinnett, said she has had trouble finding contractors to remodel her home; some never show after she books an appointment, others tell her they're already fully booked. Talking to them in-person, she figured, might prove more effective.

Kendra Richard and Vigeana Sanon both bought houses in the same Atlanta neighborhood recently and were looking for inspiration for their homes. Both said they were comfortable attending a crowded, indoor event, having been vaccinated.

"It does feel good to get some type of normalcy," Richard said.

She wasn't the only one who felt that way. Arch Winston, owner of Winston Removal and Landscaping, said his business had also done well during the pandemic. But "it feels good to meet new people." And this year has proven more challenging than the last, with supply chain issues raising the price of raw materials, such as lumber and the amount of time it takes to receive them.

Bob and Raelinne Bartlett, of Bartow County, said they had a number of projects to complete, and explaining them to contractors face-to-face was much easier than doing it over the phone.

Plus, "they can't run away when I'm standing in front of them," Bob Bartlett said, only half-joking.