Every other year, ISH, the world’s largest PHC trade show is held in Frankfurt Germany. In contrast to U.S. trade shows, exhibitors at ISH will show prototypes. This means the show gives attendees an early look into the coming changes in the plumbing industry. Here are five trends the Service Nation team noted in the 2019 show.

It should be noted that these trends are based solely on anecdotal impressions from the Service Nation team, select contractors and vendor partners who attended the show. They reflect new trends and changes from trends in prior years.


1. Natural is the new black

There is an ongoing effort to incorporate natural wood and fiber into plumbing products. In some cases, this occurs as natural products surrounding traditional porcelain and composites. In others, the wood and natural fibers were incorporated into composites and laminates. 

What does this mean to you? Expect these products to begin appearing as high end options in the U.S. over the coming couple of years. If you can source them early, you can market the products as bath redesign options. Suggest bath remodels.


2. Toilet talk is talking toilets

The buzz about the Internet of things (IoT) was notably muted in 2019 vis-à-vis 2017 everywhere except the bathroom. Manufacturers are building connected bath packages that reside in their own IoT silos that reside on their own smart phone apps. IoT silos are popping up in the U.S. as well. They are unlikely to succeed due to consumer demand for simplicity, not more apps.

Consumers will be able to set their own bathroom “scenes” where lighting, water temperature and music are all adjusted by voice to pre-set configurations. This was hyped in 2017. What is different in 2019 is the amount of water leak and water quality alerts. IoT will let people know about issues that previously went undetected.

The greatest near term applications for IoT in bathroom products may be in commercial applications where tangible savings occur because maintenance personnel are not dispatched to the bathroom to check on available tissue, soap levels, amount of waste is disposable cans, and so on. In addition, leaks are immediately pinpointed allowing for preventative maintenance. This improves service while reducing costs, a win-win.


3. There’s growth in aging

Aging-in-place or, better stated as living-in-place is a growing market in Europe and the United States.  More living-in-place products were on display at ISH than prior years.

On both continents, this is being driven by simple demographics. The population is aging, making the retrofitting of homes to defer assisted living for a few years smart economics. Impeding living-in-place strategies domestically is a dearth of attractive design options. Consumers do not want industrial looking kitchen and bath products.

More attractive living-in-place design options are appearing at ISH and it is only a matter of time before they reach the United States. These include more attractive wheelchair compatible sinks and walk-in tubs. Subtle changes to faucet designs make the handles easier to reach and turn.

Plumbing contractors should begin sourcing these products now and assembling print and web living-in-place design brochures. This market is guaranteed to grow.


4. Quiet green

Greenwashing, or creating the perception that your company and its product offering are environmentally friendly had increased every ISH show — until 2019. In 2017, the greenwashing reached a point of ridiculousness. To prove they were green, companies would build backdrops in their booths that included a koala, or butterfly, or whale, or orangutan, or gecko, or some other creature. 

In 2019, some green marketing was present, but by and large, the green creature of the show was a cricket. Compared to prior shows, the green chatter had all but ceased. This might be because environmental concerns have been incorporated into their products and practices or it might be that green marketing is beginning to run its course. 

Instead, manufacturers discussed water quality and health and safety, often to the absurd. There are anti-bacterial coatings, bacterial resistant valves, new toilet systems, and more. The type of drops from a sprayer can impact personal cleanliness and comfort. 


5. Pushing pastels

Color themes are another shifting trend. In 2017, pastels began appearing at ISH. In 2019, pastels were much more prominent. Traditional colors were predominant, of course, but pastels represent the leading alternative. It might be time to source some pastel plumbing products and let your customers know about the options.


Differentiation is hard

One thing that stood out in the mass of plumbing manufacturers was the fact that almost none of them stood out. With products that looked like every other manufacturer’s products, exhibitors attempted to differentiate through booth design and product displays. 

This is the same challenge plumbing contractors face. In a sea of superficial sameness, it’s important to present yourself extremely well. This includes vehicle wraps, consumer collateral material (e.g., invoices, brochures, newsletters, price books, websites, etc.), uniforms, physical building appearance, and signage.