Monday, January 09, 2006

The Tucson Home Show

Yesterday morning my wife and I attended the Tucson Home Show at the Convention Center in Tucson. I normally don't go to these shows, but my son, Victor, had volunteered to run the booth for the Ki Center Martial Arts school He has attended this school for many years and has worked his way up to provisional black belt.

Victor got us a couple of free passes, so we got up early and drove him down in time to set up for the 9:30 opening. I was quite surprised at the large crowd that was already there when we arrived.

The show was quite interesting with a large number of vendors present. Given the current housing boom in Tucson, I was surprised to find only one realty company and no home builders other than a couple of small custom ones. There were also only a few mortgage lenders present.

Being Tucson, pool and spa vendors were well represented. Another big group were various home improvement companies, interior design companies and sellers of things like tile, doors and windows, roofing, etc. There were a couple of water softener companies but not the big numbers you would have expected a few years ago – that market must be saturated by now.

There was the usual collection of small home based businesses - people selling their crafts, people who have invested in little home based franchises or multi-level marketing operations, etc. - offering a variety of wares. This segment of the market seems to have matured and established itself because the people in these booths seemed very professional and their businesses seemed to be established and sound. All of them appeared to be serious businesses and not a hobby that pays for itself as many appeared to be in the past.

Among the small, home-based businesses were a number selling skin lotions. The dry climate in Tucson adds to the demand for products like these especially during the winter months when the air is both cooler and dryer. All of them were billed as containing only natural ingredients meaning that that the chemical compounds in them were created by Mother Nature rather than by humans in a lab. In addition to dry skin the products were billed as being helpful in curing psoriases, eczema, acne, burns, skin allergies and a long list of other skin ailments. Two that intrigued me were selling skin products containing emu oil as the main ingredient. Emus are a wingless bird found in Australia. The raising of emus was a hot business in the 1980s. Emu and ostrich enjoyed a wave of popularity at this time mainly as a beef substitute. As I recall, they were economical to raise as they had more meat per pound than cattle and the meat was leaner and lower in cholesterol than beef. Then the importation of ostrich was banned due to a disease which gave the emu an edge. For a while people were making good money by purchasing a couple of hundred dollars or so in a couple of emu eggs which they hatched and raised. They made money by selling the eggs laid by their emu and selling the meat and oils. Emu are supposed to be easy to raise as you just let them run loose in a fenced in area and provide some food. There was some medical research that showed that emu oil showed promise in treating arthritis.

It was interesting to see that emu and ostrich raising had moved from the get rich quick promotion phase in the 1980s to a serious and established industry. I was doing some business counseling at the Small Business Development Center in the early 1990s and had the opportunity once to review a business plan for a person who planned to raise emu. I also used to drive past a home in NW Tucson which had a few emu on an empty lot next to the home. Also, anyone who heads north from Tucson in Interstate 10 will notice the large Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch on the west side of road by exit 219. According to the web site for Laid in Montana Emu Oil Products, the emu oil products vendor whose booth I visited at the Tucson Home Show, emu farms are now well established throughout the nation from the east to the west coast and from the Canadian to the Mexican border.

We had intended to just take a quick look around and leave. However, we ended up spending almost four hours at the show which occupied both the ground floor exhibition hall and a large upstairs ballroom. All in all it was quite interesting and profitable as I came away with reservations to visit four timeshare sales presentations in the next month. Even though I told them that I had just purchased a one week timeshare last month and was not in the market for more at the moment they insisted and dangled sufficient monetary and other vacation packages to make it worthwhile. Not counting a 5 day and 4 night stay in Hawaii, a weekend in Scottsdale, dining certificates and other assorted goodies, I also have been promised a total of $300 in cash and gasoline gift cards.

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