Neocon 2023 shines as commercial rallies

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NeoCon 2023Chicago—The 54th edition of NeoCon, the commercial design industry’s premier tradeshow event held here earlier this month, was alight with enthusiastic optimism and collaboration as the show truly emulated its 2023 theme: “Together We Design.” Numerous exhibition spaces and private showrooms touted new flooring lines based around collaboration from both a design and narrative perspective.

That feeling of togetherness was also represented in the number of attendees that visited the show this year. Show organizers agreed attendance was up—nearing pre-pandemic numbers—and the energy was representative of the commercial industry’s stellar year so far. Attendance clocked in well above the last two years. While 2021 saw about 40,000 people converge on the Mart—an increase from the year prior—Byron Morton, vice president and co-head of leasing, NeoCon, said the 2023 show welcomed more than 50,000 attendees.

“From the standing-room -only educational programming to the thousands of innovative product launches, events and activations, this year’s edition underscored that NeoCon is a powerful platform and community hub that is essential to the industry’s ecosystem,” Morton told Floor Covering News. “There was quite a lot we were excited about ahead of this year’s NeoCon. Products, programming and people are integral to NeoCon’s DNA and we think all three elements were super strong this year.”

Exhibitors agreed that visitors to the show trended higher than in previous years but, more importantly, there was a positive outlook among them. “[Monday] was great—very, very busy,” said Whitney LeGate, vice president, commercial LVT & sheet, Mannington Commercial. “I was talking to someone who walked through the showroom and said it feels happy; people are looking for positive. It’s been a hard few years—we want to feel some happy; we want to feel some hope and some inspiration. I think design follows that. It feels like certain things are very divided and I think this is an area that brings people together.”

Ian Burt, director of sales and marketing at Aquafil USA, agreed the show kicked off to a roaring start. “[Monday] was an awesome day. We had [more than 260] people through [the showroom]. We had a lot of overseas visitors, both from Asia and Europe, which was great. We also reached out and visited a lot of our customers here at the show. Those meetings were all really positive as well. The energy is really great this year.”

For some, the energy and excitement emanating from within the Mart was a signal 2023 would continue to shine within the commercial market. “The crowd we’re seeing at NeoCon 2023 is an indicator that people are becoming a little less worried about a recession,” explained Natalie Jones, director of marketing, Shaw Contract. “There’s a lot of energy and people coming in talking about projects that are happening.”

Jeff West, vice president commercial of marketing and product development at Shaw Contract, added, “They are sending more people, too, and honestly, you’re not going to send more people if you don’t feel good about the balance of the year. So, I will leave very encouraged about people’s perception of what’s to come in the next six months. Not only do people invest to send more people here but people are very positive.”

Commercial market outlook

While the residential market went gangbusters in 2020-2021, the commercial market found its groove in 2022 and into 2023. Registering gains due to a variety of economic and industry factors, exhibitors at the show said they were happy with 2022-early 2023’s performance and expected similar results for the rest of 2023 and beyond.

“The momentum did carry over from 2021,” said Jeremy Whipple, vice president of commercial business, Novalis, at NeoCon 2023. “I think the recession talks and interest rate increases might have scared a few people, but there were still so many pent-up projects from the pandemic and the funding was still there—we’re not seeing the funding stop. 2023 so far, I would say growth is the same as 2022, maybe even a little bit more because you have these other segments that are starting to increase—healthcare and education. We think our category, LVT, is going to have sustained growth for quite a while. We’re very bullish on the forecast for 2024.”

Hard surface, including LVT, did have a stellar year in 2022, especially when compared to its soft surface counterpart. Floor Covering News research shows commercial resilient flooring alone accounted for $2.231 billion of the overall $7.34 billion commercial market in 2022. The resilient subcategory of LVT (including flexible click, glue-down, loose lay and rigid) accounted for more than 75%, or $1.667 billion, of that $2.231 billion. Of that, flexible LVT (including glue-down and loose lay) brought in $1.446 billion in sales and 758 million square feet.

Even rigid core remains relevant within this market. Floor Covering News research shows rigid core represented 10%, or $222 million, of total commercial resilient dollar share ($2.231 billion) in 2022. Commercial rigid core flooring is mostly specified within the hospitality and multifamily segments where SPC’s performance features shine.

The market segments that suppliers say provided the best boost include hospitality, education and healthcare. “Hospitality continues to do extremely well,” Shaw Contract’s West said. “Education seems to be doing really strong as well, but overall, we’re not experiencing the growth we experienced last year. But hey, it’s compared to the year we had last year—still being at similar levels or even experiencing small growth, we feel really good about that situation.”

Shannon Cochran, vice president of marketing and design, Patcraft, also said education has been a bright spot. “I would say coming into the year, we’re up against a very strong 2022 but, overall, we’re happy with where we are. We have seen some momentum in May, and a lot of that has been driven by education. In hard surface we’ve seen a lot of momentum. We had a lot of demand coming in from the 2022. That gave us a lot of push in the first half of the year.”

Mannington Commercial had a smiliar experienced coming into 2023, according to LeGate. “Overall, last year was a very good year, so coming off that, this year’s been very strong,” she said. “Supply chains aren’t quite as difficult, production’s better, you’re not under as much of a labor crunch as you were last year. The school season’s been good. Healthcare is certainly a bright spot.”

While suppliers agree that healthcare, education and even hospitality helped boost the commercial market, the talk of the town at NeoCon also included workplace. The market segment has been hit hard since the pandemic began in 2020 and today remains in flux. Office space continues to feel the impact of the work-from-home and even hybrid phenomena. However, that didn’t stop suppliers from continuing to innovate in the space.

“Workplace is still evolving,” Shaw Contract’s West said. “If you look in the cities, there’s still more space available than there are occupants. But I‘ll tell you one thing: We are seeing more people changing their space because now we work differently. I think in the last year more people have come back to the office and most have settled into some rhythm of two days, three days. And because of that, people are using spaces a little differently. They might use it more for collaboration. They might use it more for meetings. Even within our office, we’re thinking about how we can maximize the space we have. So, where I don’t see rapid growth in terms of adding new space in the workplace, I do think there’s opportunity, as space is being reconstituted, to have a solid year over the next two or three years.”

Mannington Commercial’s LeGate agreed, noting workplace’s shift toward a more hospitality feel. “I think there’s a thread that seems to be woven throughout a lot of the segments, which is hospitality, and we’re seeing it in workplace a well. People are used to being at home. They want their space to feel comfortable and warm. And at the end of the day, people want things that feel fresh and new in corporate. We see a lot of color, more warm colors, too—not cool grays as much. And performance. We’ve got a lot in the pipeline for that.”

Mohawk Group has also been following the evolution of the workplace. “We are hearing a lot of customers say that they want their spaces to be a magnet and not a mandate,” Elizabeth Bonner, the company’s director of design, told Floor Covering News. “So that idea that collaboration happens better when we’re in person, I think we’re finding that out. Collaboration happens when you get people together, so how can we make spaces a magnet and not a mandate? A lot of that is refreshing the space to make sure people are energized and just feeling great about where they are.”

Innovative solutions

While each supplier showcased vastly different creative concepts at NeoCon 2023, one similar aspect among them shone through: collaboration. True to the theme of NeoCon 2023, commercial manufacturers pulled out all the stops to bring new products to market that focused on their individual idea of togetherness and connection.

Mohawk took a cerebral approach to its offering for NeoCon 2023—focusing on three main pillars that would guide its design strategy. “This is based on the Grown World, the Built World and the Meta World,” explained Julia Deaton, digital content manager, Mohawk Group. “Those are very complex, big ideas, but we’ve found they really all come together and have really inspired our designs for all of our collections here.”

Representing the Grown World, Mohawk launched collections like Wild Dyer, a 24 x 24 carpet tile designed to celebrate the unexpected richness and beauty of dyes from the often-overlooked mushroom. From the Built World, Mohawk Group unveiled Art Alliance, a plush broadloom carpet collection inspired by community, resilient and inclusion. From the Meta World, the company showcased Mohawk Go, a high-definition, augmented reality product visualizer and more.

NeoCon 2023
Patcraft’s Shannon Cochran (right) and Erin Helms showcase the company’s latest product initiative, Material Edit.

Patcraft’s Material Edit collection of soft and hard surface started as an exploration of the synergies between process and product design. Designers Erin Helm (hard surface) and Amanda Hopkins (soft surface) were on divergent paths, which soon came together. “We were really taking separate paths before we realized, ‘Oh, we see some common ground here,’ and decided to collaborate. We were both really talking about our lost arts and what that means to us.”

The soft surface collection offers a multi-priced solution with a tiered approach, while the hard surface features three resilient styles available in 9 x 36 planks and five complementary colors.

Shaw Contract focused on connecting people with planet and bringing forward the idea of diversity within the commercial space. “Our design philosophy is all about learning from different cultures,” Jones said.

Shaw Contract unveiled three new collections at NeoCon 2023 driven by that philosophy. The Mike Ford + Shaw Contract collection is a unique rug offering to mark hip hop’s 50th anniversary and encapsulates five distinct patterns, each representing a vital facet of hip-hop culture. The Cultura collection, a carpet, rug and LVT line, is inspired by Oaxaca, Mexico’s, cultural richness and artistic heritage. The carpet tiles are optimized for low embodied carbon and utilize a 100% recycled content nylon fiber. Dappled Light is a PVC-free, carbon-neutral resilient sheet and tile collection designed to create a sense of calm by capturing the soothing effect of sunlight through a forest canopy.

NeoCon 2023
AHF showcased each of its three commercial brands at the show: AHF Contract, Armstrong and Parterre.

AHF Products showcased connection via several of its new collections including Natralis, a homogeneous vinyl sheet collection inspired by the landscapes of North America and the connection between humans and nature. “You have pops of color, which you can use, for example, in education where students have to be ignited and inspired,” said Oxana Dallas, principal commercial designer. “And these pops of color can maximize that, but it also represents a connection between these materials and the people who live with them. You can see these spot patterns in the night sky or a cactus in the ground or even the freckles on your face.”

Mannington Commercial showcased the idea of connection with its New Composition collection. Inspired by Wassily Kandinsky, a pioneer of abstract art, the imaginative modular and broadloom carpet collection turns flooring design into artistic play, aiming to craft harmonious spaces that are engaging, creative and warm. The arrangement of shape and color is designed to speak directly to our emotions and creativity. The collection is a 2023 HiP Award winner. The company’s Roby Isaac, vice president of commercial design, also took home a HiP award, winning for Manufacturing— Creative Director.

NeoCon 2023
Aquafil focused on the circular economy at its booth this year, with an emphasis on early conversations around recyclability.

Aquafil focused its NeoCon 2023 showroom on its new approach to the circular economy. “The theme for the broader NeoCon show is ‘Together We Design;’ For us, it’s ‘Together We Reimagine,’” Burt said. “One of the discussions we’re trying to have with our customers is we need to start—early in the design process—talking about how we’re going to repurpose these products at their end of useful life. And the most effective way to do that is to get recyclability into the conversation at the beginning of the design cycle, not as an afterthought.”

Aquafil’s Econyl nylon was also used in several new collections at the show via their partners Bentley (Modern Curator); Interface (Lost Palms); Venture (Haute Couture) and more.

NeoCon 2023
Bjelin’s Zack Adams and Kelly Owens are all smiles amid the company’s Best of NeoCon award for its Hardened Wood Flooring.

Bjelin took on its inaugural event with NeoCon 2023 this year (its commercial division was launched just six months ago) and reaped the rewards. The company’s Hardened Wood flooring took home a Best of NeoCon award in the Hard Surface Flooring: Natural Materials category. Bjelin’s line of hardwood is unique in that it features Class 33 durability, which makes it suitable for medium to heavy commercial applications. “We’ve already gotten a number of great projects and [the commercial business] is growing quickly,” said Zach Adams, president of North America. “A lot of designers and architects are really gravitating toward [Hardened Wood]. They’ve been wanting to use wood for years but until we created this product, they really didn’t have an option other than vinyl.”

Bentley’s Culinary Collection is inspired by the world of food. The line comprises three signature carpet styles: On the Block makes a mark with deep texture, evoking the random nicks and grooves that line well-used butcher block, while From Scratch brings spice to any space with its large-scale, multi-directional pattern. Serve It Up is more accessible in style, pattern and price—a good reminder to savor simplicity. “I think [creating connections] has always been in Bentley’s DNA,” said Victoria deVuono, vice president of product and marketing. “I think the story is that extra element that engages the creative. It’s a really interesting way to reach across and get someone’s attention and maybe inspire others in this space.”

Interface unveiled several new collections offering rich material experiences across its brands—from carpet tile to LVT to rubber. One such offering is Woven Gradience. “This is all about texture and color,” explained Mindy O’Gara, director of product and learning experiences. “A lot of our customers use texture to bring warmth to a space. What we’ve introduced that’s new is this interesting way that we’re transitioning color. Here we’re going from a neutral to an accent color, but we are doing this in a way that emulates the way nature can transition color. A sunset, for example, you’ll see that gradient happen.”

Kährs showcased its Aware collection, which is billed as a new kind of PVC-free hybrid flooring. The collection is made with bio-based materials such as HDF from recycled wood, recycled wine cork material and natural fibers and fillers. “It’s in between an LVT and a laminate,” said Sean Brennan, president – Americas. “It’s a commercial product with a wood print and it’s a 100% biodegradable product. It’s a niche product, but it’s getting a lot of buzz because of its environmental attributes.”

Fulton Market

Just over a mile from the Mart is a burgeoning new center for the design community. This year, Fulton Market launched its inaugural Design Days event, meant to draw attendees of NeoCon 2023.

Two flooring suppliers have made the move from the Mart to Fulton Market: J+J Flooring and Tarkett. The latter, which opened its showroom last year, featured its new Collaborative collection of soft surface and LVT designed to provide inspiration and connection.

J+J hosted visitors for the grand opening of its new showroom this year and featured several new collections across its soft and hard surface portfolios.

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June 19/26, 2023

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