Why would an exterior contractor from Minnesota make
attending the NAHB International Builders’ Show® (IBS) a priority year after
year? Isn’t the Builders’ Show for
Meet Tom Bennis. Tom is the owner of Minnesota Exteriors, a home exterior
improvement company, and North Country
Distributors, an exterior building products distributor, located in Osseo,
Minnesota. Minnesota Exteriors is a third-generation family-owned company that
has been serving the Twin Cities area since 1947.
Tom has been attending industry shows for nearly 40 years,
and he recently shared with us that he believes that the other shows “pale in
comparison” to the Builders’ Show. Because Tom is an exterior contractor, we
found this remark quite intriguing and wanted to dig a little deeper as to why
he makes attending the Builders’ Show a priority.
NAHB: Tell us
about your company, Minnesota Exteriors.
TOM: My grandfather
started the company in 1947 under Bennis Construction. Then in the mid-60s, the
company changed names to Suburban Aluminum, and it changed again in the
early-70s to Minnesota Exteriors. We also started a separate company in the
mid-80s, North Country Distributors, an
exterior products distribution company.
NAHB: How long
have you been attending the Builders’ Show?
TOM: I first
attended the show with my dad in the early 70s, but back in those days, we
didn’t go regularly. In fact, there was a time in the 80s and 90s when we
didn’t attend at all. But we started regularly
attending in the early 2000s, and we just decided to keep going.
sounds like you make attending the Builders’ Show a priority.
TOM: I do. We
missed a few years during the recession, but I get a lot out of the show.
NAHB: Do you
see the same vendors year after year?
TOM: Yes and
no. Yes, there are a core group of vendors that are there year after year, and they may not change their booth from one
show to the next, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn a lot from them.
You do need to know how to work the show a bit. If you
are simply cruising by booths, you aren’t going to learn nearly as much as if you go inside the booths and talk to the
vendors. A lot of times, vendors, even ones you deal with, have new products
that you don’t even know about. For
example, this past January, I stopped by the Marvin Windows booth, and I
learned about some new products even though we deal with Marvin Windows all the
For the guys who say it’s the same thing year after year,
well, then you’re definitely not doing
about the education sessions? Do you attend those?
TOM: Yes, in fact, that’s one of the main draws for me.
NAHB: Do you
agree with some who say the education sessions are the same every year?
TOM: Of course
there is a little repeat from year to year, but no, I don’t agree with them. My
take is that if [a session] is something I’ve seen before, I just go to
NAHB: As an
exterior contractor, what types of seminars do you gravitate toward?
TOM: I attend
the economic and financial ones, and I find that I always learn some stuff in
those and walk away with some tips. If you sit there the whole hour and you get
maybe two or three sentences the presenter says, then it was worth the whole
While I don’t attend the HR sessions personally, someone
on my team does, and I also enjoy the programs at the High Performance Building Zone—that’s always interesting to us.
NAHB: What do
you and your team do to get ready for the show?
TOM: We have a
pre-show planning meeting where we’ll look at everything the show has to offer
and figure out who’s going to what and when. For the first time we may be sending down a few guys to attend the pre-show
courses that happen the weekend before the show. We weren’t paying close
attention to those last year and a few of
the guys missed out, so we want to get a jump on signing up to those this year.
NAHB: Do you
attend other shows?
TOM: We did in
the past, but we rarely go to those anymore
because, in my opinion, those shows pale
in comparison to the Builders’ Show. Remodelers can find more products to use
at the Builders’ Show. Dead serious. In fact, that’s the reason why I quit
going to those other shows.
NAHB: In your
opinion, is there anything missing from IBS?
necessarily missing, but of course I am going to say that I’d like to see more
seminars on remodeling (chuckle).
closing, what are the biggest benefits you get out of attending IBS year-after-year?
we’ve already talked about the education and the products we see on the show
floor. Interesting story about the High
Performance Building Zone, one of the things we saw [at the last show] was
new house wraps and putting on the rain drains behind the site. It hasn’t really started [in Minnesota] yet, but this
year we are getting a few inquiries about
it. People call us and then call our competitors,
and because we know what we are doing, it gives us an edge—all because we saw
it at the Builders’ Show.
The other big benefit is face-to-face time with the
vendors over dinner. There, we get to discuss some serious business. That, to
me, is worth it to make sure I am at the show every year.
Join Tom at IBS 2018. Register for buildersshow.com.