W&WP July 2002

Green’s the Theme at NeoCon

Many exhibitors touted the environmental qualities of their products at North America’s largest contract furnishings show.

By Greg Landgraf and Bernadette Freund

While the contract furniture industry continues to face a depressed market, NeoCon exhibitors put their best face forward with a gaggle of new designs.

Nucraft’s Origin system won Best of Competition in the 2002 Best of Neocon Awards. Origin was designed as a hybrid of case goods and system furniture. It features an Activity Console, where electronic tools can be stored and locked when not needed, and a pivoting or flip-down Tech Wall that provides easy access to power and data connections.  

According to Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which produces the show, NeoCon 2002 drew a total of 40,000 registrants, a figure that includes both exhibitors and attendees. That number is more than 23% lower than the 53,677 registrants claimed last year. MMPI said the show had about 1,000 exhibiting companies, the same as last year.

Trends from the Showrooms

Powder coating on MDF furniture, which debuted with a splash in 2000 but seemed to scale back a bit in 2001, returned in force. Herman Miller, for example, displayed a clear powder coating on MDF parts as an option for its Ethospace and Resolve lines. Numerous other manufacturers, both large and small, showed powder-coated MDF furniture, often pointing to powder’s environmental qualities as a selling point.

Environmental issues as a whole seemed to be a bigger part of the sales pitches in the showrooms this year than they did in 2001. KI, for example, pointed to a new UV-cured finish on its library furniture, while Virco said it planned to be largely waste-free by 2003. Virco also said it had replaced all wet paint lines with powder; its wood products use traditional finishes but are outsourced. Dar/Ran Furniture Industries offered a variety of environmentally friendly options on its Capella tables, including tops made of sunflower seeds, recycled metal shavings in a hard plastic resin, or powder-coated metal.

Office Furniture Makers Endure Business Drought

Teknion announced its entry into the custom market with its new Teknion Custom Solutions division. The company says the new division will offer a full range of office furniture from reception stations to private office suites, made in wood, metal, stone and glass.  

Office furniture shipments will probably not make a strong rebound until office construction substantially picks up, according to Allen Gutheim, principal of DRI - WEFA Consulting Group.

Speaking at the annual membership meeting of the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn. — International, held June 12 in Chicago, Gutheim said the current U.S. office shipment decline “is the worst in 30 years.” He noted that while home construction has held its own during the economic slowdown, construction of office and institutional buildings is down 20 percent. “I see this office building construction decline continuing for the next few quarters.”

Gutheim, whose company tracks and forecasts office and contract furniture shipments for BIFMA, said office furniture shipments fell 17.4 percent last year and are on pace to decline by an additional 13.3 percent this year. If office building construction picks up by next spring, Gutheim says office furniture shipments should rally by 8.8 percent.

In other business, Bill Rubino, president of Jofco Inc., was elected 2002-03 BIFMA president, succeeding Jack Michaels of HON Ind. Tom Sehrer of Magna Design was elected treasurer, replacing Tim Schad of Nucraft Furniture. Steve Gane, president of HBF, and P. Daniel Miller, president of Kimball Office Group, were each elected to second terms as BIFMA directors.

— Rich Christianson

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