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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Vendors at Tampa home show benefit from improving economy

Curt Ramage milled about Florida’s Largest Home Show on Sunday, gathering ideas on home improvements and more than a few business cards. He hadn’t planned to actually buy anything on Sunday or order any services to improve the house he’s building in the Lakewood Ranch subdivision in Sarasota County.

“But,” he said, “I never walk out of anywhere empty handed.”

The times are improving for people who want to invest in home improvements, he said, and more disposable income is loosened up by a slowly, but steadily improving economy.

“It’s a timing issue and right now is a good time to plan home improvements,” Ramage said.

“It’s much better,” said Craig Araujo, owner of Outdoor Kitchen and Grills, which held a prime spot at the home show, right in the front as people streamed in the doors of the Tampa Convention Center’s second-floor exhibition room.

“We do every home show and you can gauge the economy,” he said. This weekend, “we’ve seen countless people saying they are buying or building new homes.”

Homeowners dumping hard-earned cash into home improvements, such as new floors, granite counter tops, hot tubs and bathrooms with Italian tile is on the upswing, market analysts say.

The Home Improvement Research Institute said that in 2012, homeowners spent $275.6 billion on home improvements, an increase of 5 percent from the year before.

“We expect stronger growth of home improvement sales averaging 5.9 percent in 2014-2015 with a deceleration in the following two years as the housing market cycle runs its course,” according to the institute’s website. Still, analysts predict that by 2017, homeowners will spend $346 billion in home improvements.

Homeowners who have lived in their houses for three years or less accounted for $19 billion of that chunk, according to Scarborough Digital, which tracks consumer and market trends.

Research shows that these “new homeowners” are spending lots of money on a variety of home improvements, “from heavy remodeling projects to buying new furniture,” Scarborough Digital consumer analysts say.

If you have disposable income, why not spend it on something totally out there, like a pinball machine or an old Ms. PacMan video console?

That’s what Jim and Vickie Feutz of Tampa did. He said timing was key in making the expenditure, but not necessarily the timing of the economy.

The grandkids, he said, are finally old enough.

“They’re at the age where they can have fun with this,” he said, standing next to the Florida Amusement Brokers booth, chatting with Randy Lebedz, who sells pinball and video games along with old-style jukeboxes; definitely items that sell only in good economic times.

“We sell everything people don’t need,” said Lebedz, who has a storefront in Largo and markets his wares exclusively to homeowners.

“For the home environment, pinball machines are really taking off,” he said.

Within the things-you-don’t-really-need category, is the Grillbot, a smallish gizmo that rides on whirring wire brushes that cleans the top of grills. The idea belongs to Ethan Woods, who designed and is marketing the Grillbot around the country.

“This feeds on the fact that maybe one in 20 people on the planet likes to clean a grill,” he said. “It’s a feel-good item.”

He can’t say if sales this year will top sales from last year, because the Grillbot is not on the market yet, with orders being taken in home shows around the country, Woods said.

Frank Licek and his wife, Naomi, watched as the hypnotizing Grillbot whisked back and forth across the top of the demo grill.

Licek opted not to plunk down the $100 for the gadget.

“I’m just getting some ideas here,” he said.

He just completed a major home improvement project last year, chopping half his 1948 Palma Ceia house off and rebuilding it. It’s a project that a few years ago, he might not have been able to afford, but prospects are better now.

“I’ve survived the economy,” he said.

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