This year probably more than any other, all eyes will be on Surfaces, the industry’s premier trade show. The economic downturn has impacted attendance over the last few years, but the consensus is that worst is in our rearview mirror. There has been more optimism at the buying group conventions and manufacturer markets than in recent years, and retailers have been illustrating that optimism with their wallets. How that will play into the final numbers is anyone’s guess. What we do know is preregistration is up, exhibitor count is up, and the Surfaces team has intertwined more value into the show than ever before. It also remains to be seen what impact, if any, the move to the Mandalay Bay will have on the numbers. The world is watching.
Surfaces show director Dana Teague recently sat down with FCNews editorial director and associate publisher Steven Feldman to discuss the expectations and enhancements for this year’s show.
What are you personally expecting from Surfaces 2011?
Like last year, I think it will be a very strong show.
Attendance will be up. People are ready to start doing business again. Our attendees are ready to look for new products, new technologies and new services to get 2011 off to a strong start. They are looking for things to set them apart from their competition.
Talk a little about what’s new this year.
We actually have a lot of firsts. The most obvious is Surfaces’ new home; this is our first year at Mandalay Bay after 20 years at the Sands. Our attendees and exhibitors will find it to be a beautiful facility.
Another first is co-locating with StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas. That is going to expose our attendees to the world of natural stone and give them another option to diversify their product assortment. StonExpo has approximately 300 exhibiting companies from around the world.
Next, for the first time we offer our educational conference [sponsored by Floor Covering News] at no charge for those who registered before Dec. 16, and even after that date it is highly discounted from previous years. That decision has been a tremendous success: 10 classes are already sold out and eight others were within single digits of being sold out two weeks in advance of the show. So we expect many to be standing room only.
Another way we are offering value to our attendees is staging a private sale for the first time. We offered this opportunity to our exhibitors who contracted for at least 800-square-foot spaces and agreed to offer a special only for 90 minutes, Wednesday morning between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. These exhibitors can invite their customers so they can be on the show floor before the masses to view these special deals. People are coming to Surfaces to make money, and this is a great way to accomplish that, especially in a more intimate setting.
This is also the first time we have had a celebrity keynote speaker, Aron Ralston, the author of “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Ralston is the mountain climber who amputated his right arm to free himself from an 800-pound boulder when trapped in a canyon in Utah. They’ve recently released a movie, “127 hours,” depicting his ordeal.
Will the education program be offered at no cost again next year?
Given the high response program this year, it’s obvious our retailers are looking to learn and see the value of education. So I think we would offer the same incentive again. The price tag may have deterred them from participating in previous years, but this is another way Surfaces adds value to the experience.
Tell me something we haven’t yet discussed that you are excited about this year.
One thing is our Trends Hub, which is a chic area on the show floor where attendees can meet, relax and get an overall view of what’s going to be hot in the design world for 2011 into 2012. We also will have a Designer Day that will include a walking tour of the show floor, visiting exhibitors who are showcasing design-oriented products. Then they will visit the Aria Hotel at City Center where they will get an up-close look at the different surfaces used in its construction.
Is the design community an increased focus?
We are making a more concerted effort to attract designers to the show. We are also doing reciprocal badging with the Las Vegas Market, so if someone registers for one show he or she will have full access to the other at no additional cost. There will be shuttle buses running between the two events.
How heavily involved are you in social media world?
We only do Twitter. We find it’s the best way to get your message out in a timely manner. We have about 1,000 followers, and we follow about 1,200 people. We are able to run promotions very quickly, and it’s a good way to disseminate any and all information about the show. We promote housing discounts, registration discounts and our speakers. Sometimes we just post random things.
We also have our blogs on our website that feature postings from our speakers. This is a diverse platform to keep our attendees informed. These are leading experts talking about the most relevant topics in the industry and hit on all areas of floor covering, whether from the retailer, installer, design, consumer or business point of view. It’s not just about the show.
How are trade shows changing, and what is Surfaces doing in response?
I think they are becoming much more interactive 365 days a year, culminating with a three- or four-day show. Our website has turned into a 365-day resource for exhibitors and attendees with blogs, industry news and product news.
One of the specific things we are doing this year is launching a virtual event in the spring of 2011 which will highlight new products and manufacturers. We will also be highlighting some of the popular educational programs at Surfaces 2011 and introducing new educational topics for Surfaces 2012.
We also encourage our exhibitors and attendees to “Connect” prior to the show by setting appointments and emailing. This helps them make the most of the time they spend in Las Vegas. They can do that six weeks before the show and up until 60 days after the show.
Connect is our networking tool where exhibitors can search attendees targeted to their business model and vice versa.
What is the long-term viability of Surfaces?
I think any trade show mirrors its industry. As the flooring industry starts to come out of this downturn, we think the show will as well. Just to illustrate, Surfaces is already larger than last year in terms of number of exhibitors and square footage sold.
How do you get the people back who have taken a pass in recent years?
We felt that this year by offering free education, we showed we are interested in their businesses. It’s a good way to give back to both the people who have not been coming and those who have been. Aside from that, we need to convey all the benefits of the show. For example, the fact that by co- locating with StonExpo attendees can think about diversifying their businesses. That was a big message last year. Our demographic research shows that 25% of people coming to Surfaces were also interested in countertops and wall coverings, so that shows they are already diversifying.