The National Kitchen and Bath Association had a monumental year in 2022. It kicked off with the first in-person Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) event since 2020. Last year also marked the 60th anniversary of the association and the 10th year since KBIS and the International Builders’ Show (IBS) joined forces to create what is now known as Design and Construction Week (DCW)’s NAHB Builders Show. Lastly, in October, NKBA moved from Hackettstown, New Jersey, to its brand-new headquarters in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The move was initiated with a bike ride from the old headquarters to the new.
2022 also marked Bill Darcy’s 10th anniversary as the CEO of NKBA. Since his tenure began, NKBA has benefitted from his proactive, risk-taking nature as he spearheaded a new governance structure, new sustainability initiatives, the merging of KBIS/IBS and several other key programs within NKBA.
According to Darcy, the key to launching these changes while increasing NKBA membership retention and revenue growth was “bringing a for-profit business mentality to a non-profit organization.”
Prior to joining NKBA in 2006, Darcy spent most of his career in motor sports marketing, holding responsibilities such as event production marketing and corporate sponsorship for NASCAR. Although the two industries couldn’t be more different at face value, Darcy’s experience in a fast-paced, for-profit structure was exactly what NKBA needed.
“I’m sure when I first joined there were questions about what a ‘car guy’ was going to do for the bath and kitchen industry,” he says. “But I believe business is business and if you put passion and energy behind hard work, you can succeed at whatever you’re doing.”
Increasing the pace
In 2011, five years into his work with NKBA, Darcy was promoted to executive vice president. He would go one to be promoted to CEO in 2012. One of the most notable changes he implemented was reworking the governance structure of NKBA.
“I noticed there was quite a bit of opportunity that was unrealized within the association,” Darcy notes. “I felt NKBA was already a great place to work and a good association, but it was operating a bit outdated. So, I first identified technology and for-profit mentality as two areas where we could improve.”
Each year, KBIS features numerous educational sessions including the popular NKBA Global Connect programming, designed to connect the international bath and kitchen community.
Darcy says focusing in on these two initiatives led him to re-think how the governance structure should operate. “I became frustrated by the lack of control I had to do some of the things we needed to do,” he says. “NKBA was functioning as many trade associations do, but it was in a way that limited the leadership team, holding back the ability to get things done.”
Essentially, NKBA’s board of directors had gotten too big. According to Darcy, this type of structure with so many seats at the governance table leads to micromanaging and difficulties moving the needle.
“I’ve always said: If I’m not doing a good job, fire me and hire someone that will do better,” he explains. “But don’t micromanage someone who is doing a good job. This isn’t a recipe for success.”
In order to see NKBA evolve in the way it needed to, Darcy knew a governance disruption was needed. “I was by no means a governance expert, but I read a lot of books and understood that a disruption was needed in order to get the energy back into NKBA and allow the visions I had for its growth the work.”
Now heading into the eighth year of it new governance structure, Darcy says it has been life-changing from an association standpoint. “Now, I am able to be responsible for the things I am supposed to be responsible for, while the board has fiduciary power to oversee and ensure we stay in our lane.”
Darcy adds that some of the most influential people in the bath and kitchen industry are on the NKBA board, making it an incredibly impressive group of strategic leaders.
NKBA’s old structure included 29 board members. “Anytime you get past 12 people, it’s nearly impossible to make a decision,” Darcy notes. “Today we have a board with nine members. I truly believe the package we have now of working hard and innovative vision, all supported by the executive leadership, is why we’ve seen so much success.”
Darcy takes tremendous pride in the NKBA team. “We’ve built and maintained the best team through all of these changes,” he says. “With this team and our ‘BeTheBest’ culture, we’ve succeeded with more than 90% retention of our membership that’s growing each year, along with continuous growth in revenue.”
No fear of failure
Something else Darcy has brought to NKBA is a love of change and disruption.
“I love change, disruption and I even love failure,” he says. “I’ve tried to instill in our culture not to be afraid to fail or make mistakes. The only way we are going to get better is by trying something new and taking risks.”
One example of Darcy’s lack of fear to disrupt was when he brought Suzie Williford, now NKBA’s chief strategy officer and executive vice president of industry relations, on board. Williford was a longtime patron in the bath and kitchen industry with decades of experience running showrooms. She was also a volunteer member of the NKBA board, meaning hiring her could ruffle some feathers in the sometimes-political association world.
Darcy says that Williford held a ton of respect and influence in the bath and kitchen industry, so it made perfect sense to being her on board, but the multitude of face-paced changes coming to NKBA since he took over as CEO could have led to some spectating.
“I was actually just seeking out Suzie’s experience and expertise for advice about NKBA’s governance, but it turned out that she wanted to be a part of what I was doing,” Darcy says. “At the time, I told people this would either be the best thing I ever do or the worst, but I’m going to take the risk because it feels like the right thing to do. And it was; Suzie has been an integral part of NKBA’s evolving success over the past several years.”
What better way to celebrate a big anniversary than to move into a fresh new facility?
Last summer, NKBA moved from its longtime home in Hackettstown, New Jersey, to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“When we thought about how quickly our world has changed in the last two years, the shift to a work-from-home mentality, the rapid embrace of everything digital and the emphasis on flexible space, I have to say a light bulb went off,” Darcy says. “We looked at our building and recognized that we didn’t need that type of space anymore…and discovered along the way that we needed to change how and where we operated to fit the new paradigm.”
After noting all of the changes in operations since the digitization of the world through COVID-19, Darcy had the idea to sell the association’s old building and move. At the first in-person board meeting since COVID-19, Darcy went for it and proposed the idea out of the blue to his team. To his surprise, everyone was on board with no hesitation.
“I wanted to provide a place that people wanted to be in and felt inspired and energized while they are here,” Darcy says. “In our design-focused industry, we need to have a place we are proud to bring people that is aesthetically pleasing and up to date.”
Darcy says the goal is to host people not only in the building, but also in the surrounding area of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Hotel Bethlehem was just named the Number One Historical Hotel in America by USA Today and downtown Bethlehem made the Top 10 list of best downtowns from USA Today.
“After COVID we needed inspiration and action,” Darcy says. “I want to be in a place that inspires people to connect and spend time both inside and outside of the office in the community.”
The new location is part of an 11-floor building with other tenants surrounded by colleges, great restaurants and hotels. The office space has a modern industrial design that the NKBA team is thrilled to enjoy.
KBIS 2023 returns to Las Vegas
Ten years after Darcy and his team succeeded in the hefty undertaking of combining the KBIS and IBS, the enormous design industry trade show returns to Las Vegas Jan. 31-Feb. 2.
Popular KBIS programs such as NKBA Voices of the Industry, the KBIS NEXT Stage and NKBA Global Connect are all slated to be back and better than ever in Las Vegas. New this year is that the Las Vegas Winter Market (LVMKT) and the National Hardware Show (NHS) are co-dated with KBIS/IBS, meaning one registration gets attendees access to four industry trade shows.
KBIS/IBS 2022 in Orlando, Florida brought about 72,000 people. Darcy says NKBA wasn’t sure what to expect since the world was on the heels of dealing with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but the attendance blew them away.
Although the numbers were fantastic, attendance was down about 20% in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic years. Darcy says the goal for 2023 is to be back to the way things were pre-COVID.
“We’re back,” he says. “We’re back, and ready for 2023 to be our biggest event yet.”
Darcy adds that although inflation and a slight slowdown in demand may affect the kitchen and bath industry in 2023, NKBA still holds the importance of dealing with the two most vital rooms in the home.
“We will feel the effects of some of these challenges, but as an industry we were so incredible successful during a time when unfortunately so many other industries lost businesses, I expect that momentum to continue,” he says. “We are essential and the focus on the home is not going anywhere. I anticipate the energy and passion to be evident at KBIS 2023 and we are ready to a record setting show.”
Many of the bath and kitchen manufacturers exhibiting at this year’s show are looking forward to the event.
“KBIS brings together a network of designers, contractors and professionals, serving as a meaningful way for us to form and maintain connections,” says Jason Keller, marketing manager, kitchen and bath, for Kohler. “Each year we look forward to showcasing our latest products. This year is particularly special as we’ll be celebrating Kohler’s 150th anniversary and will pay homage to our past and look to our continued innovations in the kitchen and bath industry. We don’t take this milestone for granted and pay homage to the trade professionals who helped make this landmark possible.”
Keller adds that Kohler is seeing an increased interest in moody tones, such as the continued popularity of black faucets and darker-toned fixtures in kitchen and bath spaces. Kohler will be hosting panels and events in its booth where tastemakers and industry experts will discuss industry trends and design.
KBIS offers a unique opportunity for attendees to experience new products and innovations firsthand through working demonstrations and the ability to connect with manufacturer teams directly, notes Kevin Campbell, president of Moen.
“Our goal is to have attendees come to our booth and leave feeling energized and inspired by what’s to come in 2023,” he says. “In addition to new styles and innovation to improve how our customers enjoy their kitchens and bathrooms, we’ll have a focus on smart water innovation and solutions that can help homeowners achieve even more customized experiences, and enhanced security and efficiency. Moen is making water work smarter for homeowners by allowing them to specify their smart water ecosystem with the products, features and benefits that matter to them most. This year, we’ll be taking the Moen Smart Water Network even further and we can’t wait to announce what we’ve been working on.”
Campbell adds that Moen will also be sponsoring a BrandTalk in the DMM Talks Lounge at KBIS, featuring insights from Moen Principal Industrial Designer Jessica Birchfield, focused on how firsthand trendspotting and research informs the design of Moen products, including the style inspiration for their latest kitchen faucets. The talk will take place on Feb. 1, at 3 p.m. Additionally, Danielle DeBoe Harper, Moen’s senior creative style manager, also will be participating in a panel focused on “The Rise of Multi-Generational Living” at 4 p.m. on Wednesday in the DMM Talks Lounge as part of the Happy Hour Trend Talks series.
"We feel like tradeshows are back post-COVID! We really look forward to getting input from the design and trade community about our latest products as well as learn more about their ongoing challenges, projects, etc." – BARBARA KRATUS STARK
“It should be a perfect opportunity to share insights from our team with show attendees,” Campbell says.
Barbara Kratus Stark, sales and marketing director for Infinity Drain, agrees that KBIS is an important audience for bath and kitchen manufacturers to connect with — from trades to specifiers, showrooms, builders and more.
“We feel like trade shows are back post-COVID!” Stark says. “We really look forward to getting input from the design and trade community about our latest products as well as to learn more about their ongoing challenges, projects, etc. The conversations, ideas, projects, networking all contribute to our business and to their businesses ongoing.
“Infinity Drain continues to support the trades with advances in the engineering that goes ‘under the floor,’” she adds. “We are constantly looking for ways to make it easier for installers to spec the drain from our next day custom program that makes wall-to-wall-flush-against-the-wall(R) possible to universal parts that support multiple waterproofing methods from traditional to modern.”
For more information on the KBIS 2023 line up, visit www.kbis.com.
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