June 9/16, 2014; Volume 27/Number 29
By Steven Feldman
Chicago—If attendance at NeoCon is the bellwether of the commercial contract industry, then floor covering manufacturers who play in this segment have much to smile about. By all accounts, registration and attendance were up, firms were represented with more designers, and those who came did so with a purpose.
“People are working on projects; there are real buyers here,” said Byron Morton, vice president of leasing for Merchandise Mart Properties, proprietors of NeoCon.
He added that the show registered about 25% more people on Sunday and Monday than last year, attributing the uptick to a few reasons. “I think a lot has to do with the economy—there are a lot of projects out there. There’s tremendous job growth again.”
Exhibitors with whom FCNews spoke were exceptionally pleased throughout the three days of NeoCon. For example, Michel Vermette, senior vice president of commercial and international business, Mohawk Group, said the showroom had been busy non-stop. “I’ve been doing this for seven years and this is the busiest it has ever been. People are starting to notice what we are doing. We have been getting an outstanding response to our new LVT as well as its integration with carpet.”
It was much of the same at the Tandus Centiva space, which, aside from celebrating three Best of NeoCon awards, was showcasing both soft and hard surface in its permanent space on the third floor. “This show has been fantastic,” said Glen Hussman, president. “Traffic is up, and the design community is just feeling better. More design firms are broadly represented here and are looking for inspiration.”
Milliken was echoing the sentiments expressed by Mohawk Group and Tandus Centiva. The company was featuring some of its latest innovations in pattern and texture while introducing the A&D community to new division president Jim McCallum, formerly of Lees and Interface.
John Wells, president and CEO of Interface Americas, said the show had been great. “I’ve been hearing that for some people it took 30 minutes to get on an elevator. I do know that companies are bringing more people per firm. That means there are more projects. But I think that is still regional.”
Bill Blackstock, Milliken’s regional vice president of sales, told FCNews that the 11th floor showroom had been steady with increased traffic for the first three hours of the show. “It hasn’t slowed down. We have seen almost every geographic area represented here today. Everyone has projects in the pipeline. The market is extremely busy right now.”
He went on to note the office market is extremely strong, and hospitality has bounced back from a challenging 2009-10 and is “on fire right now.”
What designers are seeking
The one commonality expressed by all exhibitors was that designers come to NeoCon seeking inspiration. “They are looking for fresh ideas and new textures,” Mohawk’s Vermette said. “They are looking for solutions from people who can give them an unbiased opinion of what is best for their space. People are also seeking transparency from manufacturers, which is why they have embraced our Declare process.”
Tandus’ Hussmann agreed. “People are looking for new. They are looking for inspiration and new ideas. Often, when these designers are trying to design or create a space, they are starting with the floor and are looking for inspiration from flooring manufacturers.”
Wells noted that designers no longer just want to see a twist on what everyone else has. This was the impetus for the introduction of Human Nature, which featured planks and unique visuals that bring nature indoors. “The most constant statement I heard was, ‘You have completely changed my view of what carpet tile is.’ It’s not carpet tile; its moveable, changeable floor covering that comes in pieces.”
Attendees found a number of enhancements at NeoCon 2014. One of the most noticeable changes was the reconfiguring of floors 7 and 8, which house the temporary exhibitors. “Our goal was to provide a more concise, easier-to-navigate show floor for the attendees. Floor 7 is focused on furniture and fabric with a specific floor covering area. That has gotten tremendous feedback both from exhibitors and attendees.”
Melissa Quick, marketing coordinator for Flexco, said being on the 7th floor made a difference. “This is probably the best NeoCon we’ve had in the last five or six years. People are ordering samples and taking things with them. I don’t know if it’s the location or that people are going up [the elevator] and stopping here first. But I’ve also noticed as I walked around that everyone has been pretty neutral [with colors]. We’ve tried mingling top-selling colors.”
Flooring suppliers across all categories were out in full force, showcasing everything from wood to ceramic tile to LVT. “The biggest thing I’ve seen is resilient,” Morton said. “Mohawk and Shaw have it in their showrooms, and Shaw has an exhibit on the first floor solely focused on [the category]. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen—everybody is getting into LVT.”
There were some enhancements to the education portion of NeoCon as well, as the program was broadened, Morton said. “We’ve always featured design luminaries and thought leaders, but we’ve increased the focus on thought leaders, the creative process, the business process. For example, Scott Barry Kaufman, author of the book ‘Ungifted Intelligence Redefined,’ does imperial research on the creative process in the brain.”