By Wade Vonasek and Matt Warnock

NeoCon 2007 broke attendance records as more than 1,200 exhibitors introduced new products and materials.


The Merchandise Mart in Chicago not only hosts NeoCon, but many exhibiting companies also have permanent showrooms at the site.

Chicago’s Merchandise Mart was more crowded than ever June 11-13 as the 39th annual NeoCon World’s Trade Fair broke attendance records for the second consecutive year. Wood & Wood Products was at the show to take it all in and speak with some of the biggest names in office furniture about trends, their success at the show and the importance of NeoCon.

“Attendance definitely rose from last year,” said Susan Koole, corporate communications associate for Herman Miller Inc.

“Attendance was definitely up from 2006,” agreed Allsteel’s Vice President of Marketing, Brandon Sieben. “This year our showroom was always crowded, as were many others at NeoCon.”

“With overall attendance exceeding 50,000, which is above pre-9/11 levels, NeoCon 2007 was a very good show for the industry,” added Norman K. Nance, vice president of marketing, A&D, Environmental Initiative for KI. “Attendance in our showroom was up over 2006, and represented a range of specifiers and end users from our core markets: healthcare, education and business.”

According to show management, 52,362 individuals attended what was the largest NeoCon to date. Additionally, pre-show registration was up 46 percent from 2006, and attendees were able to choose from 123 continuing education unit seminars and association forums, three keynote speakers, three luncheons and two panels.

In addition to a record number of attendees, more than 1,200 exhibitors introduced new products and materials.

“Every square foot of exhibit space at the historic Merchandise Mart was sold out — and packed tight — with people from all over the world for the 39th annual NeoCon,” said a press release from Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., the trade show and property management firm that manages NeoCon.

“We were extremely busy in our showroom, more busy than I had seen in years,” said Kevin Kuske, general manager, wood for Steelcase Inc. “It was also great because the folks there had real, concrete projects that they were looking for solutions for, which makes the conversations more exciting.”

Herman Miller Inc.’s Aeron stool is made with Pellicle, a breathable, form-fitting material.

Healthy, Green and Flexible

The trends toward LEED/green initiatives and the ever-growing healthcare market were again prevalent at NeoCon this year.

“If I were to pick one main trend at NeoCon, it would be the environmental message,” said Eric Jackson, vice president of wood case goods for The HON Co.

The office furniture industry, as a whole, has often taken the lead in developing green products and procedures. For NeoCon 2007, Interiors and Sources published The Green Guide to NeoCon, a definitive list of all green products at NeoCon, including information about what makes a product green and detailed information about third-party certifications.

“This year’s Green Guide published for the show, combined with exhibitors’ own LEED programs, demonstrates the industry’s continued commitment to developing sustainable furniture solutions and environmentally safe manufacturing practices,” said Tim Mroz, senior marketing project manager for 20-20 Technologies Commercial Corp.

Mroz added that healthcare furniture continues to be a consistent stream of revenue for many manufacturers servicing the market segment. “Manufacturer brands, such as Nurture by Steelcase, Herman Miller Healthcare and many more, are placing more marketing and product development efforts towards the healthcare market,” he said.

Nance added that an overarching trend in office furniture right now is providing solutions that support flexible workspace design. “Flexible design solutions help facilitate employee collaboration, maximize office space and increase worker productivity, among other benefits,” he said. “Workstations are becoming more flexible, with features such as height-adjustable desking to support sit/stand and other work styles, based on each employee’s preference, rather than the traditional ‘one size fits all who sit’ approach. Filing systems are being placed in the middle of a room — as opposed to against the wall — to serve multiple functions. We’re also seeing a significant increase in the use of architectural walls that can be easily installed and reconfigured, based on changing work styles and varying numbers of employees in a workspace.”

In addition to recurring themes of technology integration and environmental sustainability, Koole said that other noticeable product trends included lighter colors, freestanding/mobile solutions, conference room collections and moveable walls.

Merchandise Mart Seeks

LEED Certification

On June 11, Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI), which manages NeoCon, announced that it is pursuing the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification for existing buildings (LEED-EB) for the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

The Merchandise Mart bills itself as the largest commercial building in the world, with more than 4.2 million square feet, and has participated in the green movement for years. MMPI intends to enforce more comprehensive policies for those working at the Merchandise Mart in order to become an official green building.

“The Mart, as a building, has always championed green initiatives, because green means good business,” said Myron Maurer, senior vice president, MMPI. “Green buildings create a healthy workplace and ensure that generations to come will have the resources they need to thrive on this planet.”

MMPI plans on implementing a variety of policies and strategies to achieve the LEED-EB certification, such as: an improved recycling program, including adding batteries, light bulbs and construction waste to the existing program; a green purchasing policy for products with recycled content and those that mitigate poor indoor air quality; a green cleaning policy requiring that all cleaning products meet high indoor air quality standards; and a green site maintenance plan.

Success Stories

From the crowded showrooms to overall high attendance and the increasing availability of educational opportunities, every indicator shows NeoCon was a success.

“This year’s success was not about any one product, but how our products creatively apply to real-world scenarios,” said Sieben. “We listened to our customers, dealers and the design community on trends and applications they’re seeing, and then combined that with our market research.”

Companies not only measure success by the number of visitors they had during the show, but on the post-show feedback as well.

“The feedback we received from our customers was very positive,” said Koole. “Overall, they were pleased with our new line of accessories and enhancements to our latest systems.”

“We have received great feedback from customers — both at NeoCon and since the show. We continue to receive requests for product literature and finish samples,” added Jackson.

In an industry where image has a huge impact, many companies will change their showrooms from year to year to attract new visitors and provide a fresh face to those individuals who have been through it before.

“We completely revamped our showroom, giving it a much more open design that allowed us to better demonstrate our ability to provide furniture throughout a facility in each of our core markets,” said Nance. “Feedback from customers to these changes has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Because of its importance to the industry, the success of NeoCon can be a strong indicator of future business for the contract furniture industry.

“NeoCon provides a window into the soul of our industry. It’s staged for just a few days in Chicago every June, but what happens in the Herman Miller showroom and elsewhere during NeoCon can have a powerful impact that makes life more productive and delightful for people all over the world ­— for many years to come,” said Brian Walker, president and CEO of Herman Miller, in a press release.

The Importance of NeoCon

Being the largest contract office furniture event in the United States, NeoCon is extremely important to both manufacturers and customers. “There are more than 1,200 showrooms and exhibits covering more than 1.2 million square feet,” said Koole. “If you’re affiliated with office furniture, you’re at NeoCon.”

“NeoCon is the largest gathering of designers and specifiers,” said Sieben. “It provides a unique opportunity for them to interact with their peers and industry leaders, as well as learn about and provide immediate feedback on the latest trends and product applications.”

Providing companies an opportunity to be in contact with customers and potential customers is another plus for NeoCon. “We have the ability to not only share new product information, but more importantly, gain insights from hundreds of customers regarding trends they’re seeing in the field,” said Jackson.

“NeoCon serves as the pinnacle of the year in the contract furniture industry,” added Nance. “It provides an ideal venue for meeting with customers, understanding their needs, sharing our expertise and offering them solutions.”

For more information on NeoCon, visit

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