By Melissa McGuire
BALTIMORE—The premier design exposition for commercial interiors on the East Coast returned for its 10th year to the Baltimore Convention Center on Oct. 17 and 18 with 272 exhibitors, 30 continuing education unit- (CEU) accredited programs, and the latest in the most on-trend, cutting-edge products.
“In our 10 years of NeoCon East, we’ve seen a steady growth each year,” said Mark Falanga, president, Merchandise Mart Properties, the show’s owner.
After an initial stint in New York City the first two years, hosting the show in Baltimore was no accident. “NeoCon East is very important,” he explained, “because this region, in general, and Washington D.C., in particular, has a high turnover as a result of government election cycles, lawyers and consultants that come and go, and agencies that shrink and expand from year to year. These people need offices and work spaces.”
NeoCon East focuses on interior design, and architectural and facility management industries in the Mid-Atlantic region with a special spotlight on the federal design community. “Of the 272 exhibitors we’ve had this year, 191 are on a General Services Administration (GSA) contract and could sell to the federal government,” Falanga said. “This show becomes extremely important as a means for a lot of manufacturers to reach the government buyer.”
According to Falanga, at the conception of the show, the exhibition hosted between 70 and 80 companies on GSA schedules with the government more or less an after thought in regard to interior design. “After the dot com bust in 2001, and with the U.S. hitting a recession, many manufacturers focused on [the government] segment for their business; a lot of manufacturers understood the federal government to be a steady buyer of office furnishings,” he said, noting the federal government spends between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion a year on office interiors. “Because of this, the government now accounts for 10% to 15% of many manufacturers’ business.
“There was a time when the government purchased products purely based on the lowest-priced provider,” Falanga said. “What we’ve seen at NeoCon East is a wholesale upgrade with the type of design many of the government facilities endorse. Their perspective and evaluation on what the value is now is broader than simply looking at the price. We’ve seen government facilities becoming high-design, with great furniture spec’d into them because the government has begun competing with the private sector.”
And Falanga resounds this shift in high design has been, in part, due to the show. “They want good design, like anyone else. What we’ve seen [at NeoCon East] is that the government has become less reliant on its own employee design staff. It has outsourced many of its projects. A lot of design firms who have previously only been engaged in the private sector are now also designing for federal government facilities.”
Because of this, Falanga believes NeoCon East has played a role in upgrading the design of federal government facilities. “Now there is a greater awareness of available products, a broader spectrum of products to select from, and more companies are on GSA schedules because there is a vehicle for those manufacturers to reach their customer base more efficiently.”
The flooring industry has not only become a player, it is a major player. Falanga told FCNews, “The flooring industry is the second-largest sector we have [exhibiting]. It’s always been a commodity, but with everything the industry is doing in terms of design and sustainability, it’s now a hot commodity. And designers are noticing.”
Sustainability and flooring are now hand-in-hand and Falanga recognizes green has become a significant aspect of the show. He credits the flooring industry for creating the awareness of sustainability and green building throughout the entire commercial furnishings industry. Along those same lines, “NeoCon has provided awareness for the government to become a leader in building and renovating LEED-certified facilities and is now a strong proponent for sustainability and clean energy,” he said.
From the exhibitors
Although the traffic wrapping up the 2012 show may have seemed light to some manufactures, the final tallies boasted approximately 7,000 attendees and spirits were high, even with a fragile economy and the upcoming election.
First time exhibitor American Biltrite was positive about the outcome of the market. “We were happily surprised how busy we were throughout the show, and the quality of leads we received is promising,” said Mélanie Morier, director of marketing. “We are still in the midst of launching our new revolutionary AB Pure rubber flooring collection so NeoCon East not only allowed us to showcase the collection, but also gave us the opportunity to exchange with a high-quality audience in an unexpected way by having an artist on site creating a live mosaic using pieces of our product. We will return again next year, for sure.”
Glenn King, vice president of marketing for Bolyü, the commercial division of Beaulieu of America, said, “We were very pleased with the traffic this year. The caliber of the attendees, both from the design and government communities, exceeded our expectations and we plan to return in 2013 with a larger presence.”
Altro, maker of safety floor and wall systems, said the show was, once again, beneficial for them. According to Greg Veale, president, “Traffic might have been slightly down this year, but we use this event to support our local distribution partners and repeat specification and end-user customers in the Mid-Atlantic region, and to make new contacts. While Altro is involved with a lot of government work, it is just as important to be present at this show for the healthcare, hospitality and education segments.”