The annual Neocon Show in Chicago is the North American equivalent of Orgatec in Cologne but it has a quite different atmosphere in the vast Merchandise Mart. When it opened in 1930 it was the largest building in the world.
with 4,000,000 square feet (372,000 m2) of floor space. Since 1969, the Merchandise Mart has been home to neocon with over 1,000 exhibitors of contract and commercial furnishings, and 50,000 attendees, it is the largest trade show of its kind in North America
It would take a whole volume to review what was good at the show because there was so much of it – but let’s also wonder just for a few moments about the rubbish or as they say in those parts “trash”.
The main showrooms at the Merchandise Mart had some fantastic products with presentation of the highest order. When you moved to the open exhibition floors on 7 and 8 there were also some outstanding things to see and even if many of these companies don’t have the scale or budget of the larger businesses they certainly did themselves proud. Innovation is so very difficult particularly in the furniture sector so it’s not surprising to see some familiar reflections that had their inspiration from other sources.
Then we have the trash trailblazers. Twenty year old design and some pretty scary interpretations of design. Dare I say the impetus for this, as seems to be the case at many shows, comes from lands outside the US. Of course there is still a huge market for run of the mill product and no harm in that, respect to those who effectively satisfy customer demand where price is key but we do have to move on, not just in quality and function but also in sustainability terms.
The industry has always been on the move too and 20 years ago it was to address new ways of working so product innovation made it an exciting time. Since then the big change has been to acknowledge the demand for greater sustainability, the resulting tightening of standards and the whole escalation in the eco philosophy of product design.
Right enough of that. Neocon is a truly super-sized portion of US office furniture. Low calorie it is not and for those who have become a bit too thin during the economic recess experiencing the buzz at the Mart must be very welcome. The huge number of visitors is testament to the success of the event and on each day the “big blue” territory on Floor 3 was a sea of people flowing through Steelcase and Herman Miller. For me, although a close thing, Herman Miller won the corporate arm-wrestle as there was a very clear message which was in tune with how the office really needs to work. When you understand how a business and their employees work the solution is of course a series of products, but it is the empathy between the customer and the company that really counts. Building confidence on competence.
Neocon is a broad canvas and although office furniture is a strong focus there are many other products included, such as surface finishes and flooring that makes it a very interesting mix. Is it a place for UK businesses to be? There are some who have taken the cross Atlantic step to be there – permanent showrooms are a big step but to exhibit during the show and test the water, well why not. The dates for 2015 are 15 – 17 June.