Last week in Chicago was NEOCON, which to anyone working in the Merchandise Mart, is the 3 days of the year when you have to take the stairs to your office. For the other 40-50K people that descend upon the Mart, it’s the premier contract furniture show. Companies and individuals from all over the country – and world – visit Chicago for between 1 day and 1 week to showcase new products, see what others have launched, network, and party. Officially, NEOCON goes from Monday-Wednesday but the parties begin as early as the previous Saturday and by Wednesday some of the floors resemble bare wastelands (though wastelands with lovely booths and wonderful products).
This year we had our first presence at NEOCON in the form of a 10×10 booth on the 8th floor. It was quite the experience for a number of reasons but we’ve yet to determine if it’s an experience we’ll relive next year. Here are some of observations from showing at our first NEOCON:
10×10 is not very big but we used it all
Underwhelming traffic: We have no basis for determining whether the traffic was light or not but we heard from several people on the 8th floor and elsewhere that traffic was lighter than it had been in the past. This is completely anecdotal and not at all confirmed by any official numbers.
The traffic decrease is not equally felt by everyone though, especially if you visited the showrooms on 3, 10, and 11. It’s almost unbearable walking these floors during the midday hours as you’re avoiding thousands of people in every direction. It’s still worth walking them since they house the major furnishing companies.
The rest of the exhibitors did not share that experience. Our traffic on 8 was up-and-down throughout the three days and extremely light on Wednesday. No matter when though, it was a very tiny fraction of the traffic visiting to the 3 floors mentioned above. For most NEOCON-goers, the 8th floor is the after-thought that you quickly stroll after you’ve had your fill with 3, 10, and 11. It becomes difficult to draw attention which is why each booth must stand out, be different, and catch people’s eyes.
Was this the right setting for us? If there was one definitive thing about us, it was that we were different from any other exhibitor. No one else was displaying the array of products nor were they presenting an innovative company concept as we were. In addition, our booth design was quite different than others and anchored by the R2 Coffee Table to catch eyes.
The products we showed may not have fit the basic contract mold (how many desk chair options does one need) but we still met individuals who work in hospitality, residential settings, and unique office spaces that could provide value.
Will we be there next year? Yes. In one form or another Unbranded Designs will be at NEOCON 2014. Though we won’t be able to measure the success of 2013 for some time (in orders, contracts, or new designers) it was important for us to be present. Outside of the sales connections we’ve made, we introduced ourselves industry, networked with manufacturers, dealers, and potential partners. As long as NEOCON exists, representatives from all parts and regions of the industry will descend upon Chicago and we’ll be there to greet them. See you next year!
P.S. I have a newfound respect for people that work tradeshows, conferences, and fairs. I discovered a new level of exhaustion that hundred hour work weeks and sports training camps could never compete with.