by Steven Feldman
Chicago–If anyone needed more proof of the upswing in the commercial contract market, all he or she had to do was stroll the halls of NeoCon 2013. Not only was walking space at a premium, but talk to just about any exhibitor, particularly someone who leased permanent spaces, and he will rave about the traffic.
The resounding theme at the country’s premier contract furnishings event, now in its 45th year, was innovation across a multitude of platforms. In many cases, the use of color—bright and bold—took center stage. The consensus was that this color trend is indicative of the positive sentiment driven by a greater number of active projects than in recent years, coupled with the proliferation of neutral palettes to be simply bland.
While official tallies were unavailable at press time, Byron Morton, vice president of leasing, Merchandise Mart Properties, owner of NeoCon, told FCNews pre-registration was up 20% from 2012 and the hotel room block increased 15%.
Why? “First off, the overarching feel is that everyone is in a good mood,” he said. “That has everything to do with the state of the business. The corporate office segment is back. They are relocating or renovating as they prepare for the next generation of workers.”
Morton said exhibitors reported not only seeing more people, but large groups from the same companies. “We are back to the day where design firms would send a multitude of people,” he said. “And that’s really great news.”
And with that, manufacturers responded with what Morton described as “a ton of truly new products.” This was illustrated with the nearly 400 Best of NeoCon entries vs. the traditional 350-360, he said. “We are seeing new ways to think about the office and the workspace and many products that integrate technology into the solution—innovative ideas and methods of working and presenting information.”
Many of the new products displayed for the first time—flooring, in particular—showcased a spectrum of color. “It goes back to the mood,” Morton said. “People are feeling a little more bold, and color reflects that boldness and brightness in their outlook. We are seeing it in flooring, seating and wall covering.”
This could not have been more evident than at the Crossville booth, where the porcelain tile manufacturer took the wraps off Argent. “This product marks the return to our roots in these bright, bold and on-trend colorations,” said Lindsey Ann Waldrep, vice president of marketing. Twelve saturated hues highlight deep visual texture, and eight neutrals provide the perfect contemporary backdrops for design. Reds, greens, blues and even purple pop to make a strong statement with large rectilinear porcelain stone tile.
Over at the Mohawk showroom, Tom Lape, president of both the Residential and Commercial divisions, classified the company’s presence as “an edgier, bolder Mohawk.” The company utilized an industrial vision to develop colorful designs inspired by denim, street wear and graffiti. In particular, Street Thread offers a fresh take on urban trends from around the world and features bold motifs, abstract shapes and bright colors.
“We are seeing more and more of the locations tied to a little bolder expression than we would have seen in the past,” Lape said. “We didn’t see these brighter and pastel colors two and three years ago.”
But it wasn’t just about color at NeoCon. At the Shaw Contract showroom, the focus was on non-traditional shapes. Building on the 18 x 36 collection launched last year, the mill rolled out Hexagon, a collection of six-sided carpet tiles that annexed a Best of NeoCon silver award, its 12th consecutive citation.
“We received a great deal of excitement from our clients about how they think about a floor’s shape in a new way,” said Reesie Duncan, creative director. “Things aren’t as linear in society anymore. People work in communities and groups, and not in a straight line. Hexagon allows you to think of a workspace in a meandering way. We thought six sides move you through the space in a way that allows you to build color families or social hives, which define a particular space.”
If a new shape was innovative, then so too were a pair of fresh textile composite products from Bolyü and J+J Flooring Group. Bolyü, the commercial division of Beaulieu of America, took the wraps off Svelte, the first product from the company’s “next generation” of flooring, LVL. LVL (level) is billed as delivering all the qualities of a soft surface with the performance of hard surface. “It’s unlike anything in the carpet industry because it’s not carpet and not hard surface,” said David Vita, executive vice president. “It’s like felt.”
Svelte is constructed of a minimum of 70% post-consumer recycled content and is fully recyclable because it contains 100% PET in both the face fiber and backing, “so there is no need to separate the two, as is the case with nylon. This is Nexterra backing made from post-consumer recycled bottles as is the face.”
J+J Flooring Group was equally excited about the innovative textile composite Kinetex, which was about three years in the works. “We were looking to get into areas of the commercial market where carpet was being excluded because of the perception that it was difficult to maintain or had performance issues,” said Ross Leonard, vice president of marketing. “There’s a mindset that shiny is clean, like VCT, and I think we prove Kinetex is not only easy to clean but offers more benefits, such as slip/fall and noise abatement, than traditional hard surfaces.”
Leonard said Kinetex is appropriate in areas where carpet is “doomed to fail” and where hard surface may not be the answer, either. “We developed this hybrid product that provides the best of both worlds. It is slip resistant, but if there are falls, the severity will be a lot less because of the cushion backing. Also, roller mobility is a big issue in healthcare. Nurses could not push these heavy hospital beds on carpet, so Kinetex offers the roller mobility of a hard surface.” The product is certified to the NSF 140 platinum standard and offers no less than 50% recycled content.
Of course, no hybrid resilient conversation is complete without including one of the originals, Tandus’ Powerbond, which this year continued to build on its Sero design concept, a continuous flow of color and pattern. “We are building our entire portfolio around Sero design,” said Glen Hussmann, president and CEO. “We are designing around the entire floor plan and modularizing that as opposed to designing squares.”
Each flooring manufacturer seemingly came to NeoCon with its own unique platform. For example, Mannington focused on the integration of Amtico and, as such, its Made in the U.S.A. story. “We have on-shored a significant portion of our LVT business already,” noted David Sheehan, vice president, commercial hard surfaces. “Just by bringing over the Nature’s Path collection we increased our workforce by 30% alone. People talk about losing jobs to China; we are doing the exact opposite.”
Amtico’s penetration has dramatically increased since the Mannington purchase two years ago. Attribute that success to the growth of the LVT category as well as putting the brand in the hands of 100 more salespeople. Now there is the collaboration between the domestic Mannington design team and the Amtico designers in the U.K. “With synergies we can realize the U.S. and U.K. styling,” he said. “We are positioning Amtico as the creme de la creme of LVT.
On the subject of integration, with Centiva, Tandus continues to promote its carpet-resilient package to architects and designers. “Using our relationships and looking at hard surface opportunities we previously ignored,” Hussmann explained. “We can now work with that end user or designer and bring the entire Tandus and Centiva portfolio. The entire floor is in play for what was formerly a Tandus-only opportunity. Over time, all of our relationships will be built along that value proposition.”
Tandus also promoted its move toward additional U.S. sourcing of its hard service products. “Most of our competitors are waiting for a container from across the world,” he said. “More local sourcing will enable us to provide much better lead times and reliability.”