Posted on

NeoCon East: Business as usual despite government shutdown stress

Oct. 21/28 2013; Volume 27/number 13

By Melissa McGuire

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 1.00.38 PMBaltimore—The 16-day government shutdown may have been debilitating for the country’s more than 2 million federal workers, but it did little to deter the launching of NeoCon East, held here during incredulous furloughs, pay freezes and vicious political banter. Only four years out from The Great Recession, there was uncertainty of the affect the freeze would have on those selling and buying for the government.

One bright spot emerging from the recession, it seems, is the fact that manufacturers had to learn to not put all their eggs in one basket and diversify their business. For example, four years ago, those in the U.S. hospitality and retail industry were basically conducting zero business. Many manufacturers found that even though private-sector spending was immobile, government business was booming. And those who didn’t have GSAs quickly learned the importance of expanding their portfolios.

“We do a lot with government contracts, and traffic [at NeoCon East] seems to be down around 30%,” said Bill Crosley, corporate vice president of sales, J+J Flooring Group. “However, while the shutdown has not yet affected our business, the monies that were allocated for our GSA contract projects seem to be on standby until everyone gets back to work.”

While NeoCon East does not necessarily serve as a launching pad for new products, Bentley Mills used the show to unveil its Western Edge collection, ultimately winning a bestScreen Shot 2013-10-25 at 1.02.01 PM booth award. “We do work with the government, and our business has been steady,” explained Tanya Jones, regional vice president. “We have [GSA] projects in the pipeline that are now on hold. But we’ve definitely been taking orders here even though we’re in limbo. The shutdown hasn’t affected us as much as it has our customers.”

Government representatives from the private sector were in attendance even though their work had been halted. One designer, who requested anonymity, explained that even though a large part of her business was specifying for the government, she was at NeoCon East hoping to return to work very soon. “We [designers and architects who are working for the government] are just on a furlough. I wasn’t laid off. I’m still shopping and checking out products for my jobs that are on hold.”

And with that, missing from the show were fatigues and military dress uniforms that traditionally dotted the crowds. “Of course, everyone has seen the government not being here as an issue,” explained Lisa Simonian, vice president of marketing for MMPI, the proprietor of the NeoCon franchise. “But with NeoCon East, we felt very comfortable going into the show because the broader base of our attendees is made up of the private sector; the government attendee makes up only a small portion. While it’s very important to a lot of people, it’s not the only thing that happens here.” She noted those in the A&D and dealer communities who are involved in government work still came to the show. “They’re still working. And if you look around, our attendance is strong even without the government presence.”

Fred Roche, president of vinyl supplier Parterre Flooring, was unfazed in spite of specifying many indirect government projects. “We work on a lot of off-GSA contracts including VA hospitals, navy bases and dormitories. We haven’t seen any change necessarily, primarily because our government projects were already completed [before the shutdown]. If we’re going to feel any results, it will be six or so months from now. But I’m not worried because I believe business will push the momentum for everything to keep going.”

Roche said NeoCon East traffic was “wonderful,” and the booth was “graced with people from all over the East Coast—Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and as far away as North Carolina. He attributed the success to the company’s pre-show marketing, which consisted of social media and direct advertising. “We’ve been able to reach a new group of friends out there—the younger generations—that we’ve never spoken with before. We’re providing our reps with interesting marketing tools that go beyond just showing a flat piece of product and throwing it on the floor.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 1.02.17 PMEven with the uncertainty surrounding the political melee, the show exhibited consistence in attendance. “We have similar numbers as years past with those exhibiting—in the upper 200s with approximately 80% of those having GSA schedules,” Simonian said, explaining that even the manufacturers that have built up their government business over time are certainly variegated. “If a manufacturer has products on a GSA schedule, and most do, NeoCon East is a great opportunity to feature those products, not only to the government employee who may attend the show, but to the private sector, as well. Also, because the A&D community is very influential in the specification of design and decision making, this is an important show for everyone. The designers are very strong in driving what everyone specifies.”

What was selling

J+J Flooring Group experienced significant traffic and major interest with its Kinetex line, an advanced textile composite flooring that provides an alternative to hard surface products. Winning a Best of NeoCon innovation award at NeoCon in June, the product can be specified for retail, education, healthcare and institutional environments. Kinetex contains at least 50% recycled content, is NSF/ANSI-140 Platinum certified and is recycleable. “Kinetex is huge,” Crosley said. “It’s a game changer, and people are really starting to look for it now that the word is out.”

Although the show seemed “a little lighter than last year,” Bob Gentilucci, northeast regional manager for American Biltrite, was happy to share that the company completely recolored its PVC, VOC-free product called Stonescape, which is available in 36 colors and contributes to LEED points. “We get our raw materials within 500 miles of our plant. This is a great show for us because when we ship in the Northeast, the project will most likely qualify for LEED credits.”

Traffic and orders were “great” for Bentley Mills. Jones said, “We are highlighting our new pattern called Hitchhiker in our scorpion Queen colorway.”

Elizabeth Sullivan, Parterre’s marketing manager, said the company is currently in development with its 2014 products and focused on its design story, ‘Art from Earth’ at the show. “Using nature’s canvas to gain design inspiration, our artist, Rock Fitzgerald, utilizes original artwork to create the product’s inspiration before it ever gets to the flooring.”