As best I can remember, I attended the very first Uponor convention in the early 2000s at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. I recall a couple hundred dedicated radiant contractors who always made for interesting copy to any trade editor, a small display of Uponor products and a modest closing party, as Vegas parties go, at one of the hotel’s outdoor pools.
Back then, it was a small but vocal band of contractors ready to change the way Americans thought about heat. Radiant “pirates” is how I thought of this bunch of renegades at that point in time. Did we also talk about PEX for plumbing or fire protection, too? Maybe, but radiant heat was the big draw, the main type of work the contractors in attendance installed. Commercial PEX? Could be wrong, but I don’t think that had been invented yet.
While I knew a lot had changed for Uponor in the intervening years, I never had the chance to appreciate it with my own eyes until I spent a couple of days in the company of 1,007 customers, mostly contractors but also specifiers and reps, at the 2016 Uponor Connections Convention, March 30-April 1, spread out over 13,000 square feet of space at the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas.
The get-together even came with its own social media hash tag: #Uponor2016. I doubt I even had a cellphone back when I checked into the Rio when “social media” meant I shared a cab with another editor, and the symbol meant either a number sign or, worse, a game of tic-tac-toe.
It was the biggest gathering yet for the company’s every-other-year meeting. Rather than a handful of products, Uponor organized a veritable trade show with a comprehensive range of PEX applications on display, along with key companies that have aided in growing the market, such as Milwaukee Tool, Taco, Grundfos and Holdrite, to name a few.
Milwaukee Tool is a particularly noteworthy PEX partner, and it had its M18 Force Logic ProPEX Expansion Tool on display for three-inch commercial PEX jobs. However, the company also had another piece of equipment on display that Milwaukee hinted about at its 2015 Tool Symposium. Connection attendees got the first glimpse of the company’s 10-pound Drain Snake, designed to clean sinks, tubs and other small drain line up to 25 feet long.
For education, attendees had a choice of more than 30 concurrent breakout sessions to attend, broken down into business, residential, commercial plumbing, piping, commercial radiant and emerging opportunities, plus a few general sessions bracketing the days.
Residential radiant? Sure. But a better gauge for me, who covered the plumbing and heating business for 20 years, and only returned one year ago, was the growth in PEX for plumbing.
The company continues to push ahead with commercial PEX installation and offer help along the way. One of the breakout sessions, for example, was called “BIM Me: Building Information Modeling Trends for Commercial PEX Plumbing Systems,” featuring Don Rasmusson, an MEP applications engineer with CAD Technology Center, (and also one of the trade show exhibitors) with advice on utilizing BIM.
Rasmusson threw in a few more acronyms to look for in the continuing evolution of the BIM philosophy:
BAM: Building Assembly Model that will be used for prefab.
BOOM: Building Operation Optimization Model, which seeks to address the decades of MRO once new construction becomes “old.”
Another interesting aspect of the show were discussions on repiping homes, a tremendous potential growth market for PEX. In a morning general session, Dale Stroud, Uponor’s senior director of marketing/offerings, discussed the state of the national housing market and mentioned that two-thirds of the housing inventory is 30 years old — with half that stock at more than 50 years old. That’s a lot of old pipe, which Jeff Butler, president of Re-pipe Specialists, in a latter breakout session, put at a $2 billion market — significantly larger than the anemic new home-building market.
In other convention matters, the convention began with presentations by Bill Gray, president of Uponor North America and Jyri Luomakoski, president and CEO of Uponor Corp. Both discussed the continued globalization of the business and the advent of digital commerce.
Millennial Ryan Avery gave an engaging keynote presentation on Millennials, essentially those in the workforce who are in their 20s. Avery did certainly mention specific characteristics among this demographic that make them “different,” but also closed out his comments by adding that generations are generalizations — and that what works for many older workers also works for millennials.
On a related note, Ellen Rohr, a columnist for our sister publication PHC News, was also on hand to present two education sessions, one of recruiting, developing and keeping employees, and another on how to run a simple, uncomplicated business.
The show wrapped up with a tremendous rooftop party at the nearby Cosmopolitan Hotel. Here’s one more big change: time was when an after-hours party took place by the pool; this time around, the pool was inside the nightclub.