ALBANY – The top tradeshow for the design and office furniture industry, NeoCon 2016, took place in Chicago earlier this week. Now in its 48th year of allowing exhibitors to showcase new solutions to support changes in work environments, it is arguably the most important commercial design show in North America. This year’s three-day event, which supports vertical markets in health care, hospitality, retail, education, public spaces, government and the general workplace, attracted more than 50,000 professionals from the design industry. With hundreds of exhibiting manufacturers, a plethora of new product launches and more than one million square feet of showroom space NeoCon provides ample access to the most innovative solutions in commercial design.

As a first time attendee, you really have to experience The Merchandise Mart (theMART) to truly appreciate such an architectural icon that provides the backdrop for this grand event. The 1st and 2nd floor layouts recently underwent a $40 million renovation complete with a new Grand Stair, communal space connecting the two floors, a modernized food hall and an expanded riverfront park. These spaces are crucial as they provide some solitaire and welcomed rest from the busy showroom environment and more than a dozen exhibit hall floors. With thousands and thousands of people flowing through theMART from dusk until dawn, the new amenities provide a spectacular architectural landscape to enhance service and offer opportunities to reflect.

Another crucial amenity that is provided to participants and is extremely helpful is the NeoCon mobile app. Once downloading it, you have a one-stop shop at your fingertips for the location of all exhibitors, calendar to schedule meetings and showroom visits, information on CEU and other programming, keynote speakers, show info and more. Throughout the event, push notifications are sent to end users with special announcements and/or news. Furthermore, everyone that downloads the app is dropped into a file of attendees thus allowing individuals to connect with one another before, during or after the show in an effort to expand their industry contacts.

One of the crowning moments each and every year is the announcement of the Best of NeoCon Awards. The competition recognizes one Gold Award and one Silver Award for more than 42 categories in addition to Best of Competition, Innovation, and Editors’ Choice awards. In all, 93 awards were distributed among more than 350 entries. This year, Tech Valley Office Interiors was especially pleased to see that one of its vendors, Sit-on-It Seating, picked up a Gold Award for Best Ergonomic Desk/Task Seating behind its Novo task chair. Ironically, TVOI is offering promotional pricing on select Novo task chairs through August 31 for clients looking for various back options, tasteful mesh, frame and upholstery alternatives in addition to lumbar support.

From an overall product standpoint, three trends that stuck out were: advancements in the quality, color and style of laminate finishes, the height of lounge seating moving lower to the ground to resemble residential height, and virtually every vendor offering sit-to-stand desking options. By far one of the most unique and eye-catching laminate finishes I saw was produced by DeskMakers, Inc. for their Hover Benching series. The California-based company will be introducing the custom color Distressed Wood in the upcoming months, and the new look freakishly resembles a true wood surface in the form of a laminate. Many showrooms that showcased lounge, reception or common area seating seemed to put me closer to the floor when I gave them a try. After generating some discussion on that topic with various reps, it seems manufacturers are trying to more closely resemble residential height as opposed to commercial height in an effort to give clients the feeling of being in the comfort of their own home. The pieces are designed to be more inviting, cozy and appealing. Finally, as more organizations look to utilize sit-to-stand desking for their employees, the industry has responded with options. Nearly all of the exhibitors on hand that TVOI is associated with will be providing versions of sit-to-stand, which I see as a positive as it will allow us to provide the right solution for our clients as we help them maximize savings while increasing productivity.

The first trip to NeoCon is definitely eye-opening to someone new to the industry. The chance to see product in a showroom setting, discuss the proper application for products with design experts and network with other industry professionals is truly valuable professional development. In most cases, I was afforded the opportunity to speak with business owners, CFO’s and some of the most prominent figures in design, architecture and furnishings. When an opportunity like this presents itself to build long-term professional relationships with some of the top figures in your business category, take advantage because it’s rare that the best-of-the-best are all assembled in one setting over the course of 72-hours.


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