It is fitting that exhibitors and attendees at NeoCon East woke up in Philadelphia for the start of the annual show Wednesday as it is known as the Cradle of Liberty. So excuse those at the show for being a little groggy as it opened considering the implications of the presidential election that stretched into the wee hours of the morning.
More than a few at NeoCon East were bleary eyed and tired as the show opened, having spent the night before glued to cable news channels watching as election results rolled in. After a slow start Wednesday, NeoCon East got going as East Coast designers and government specifiers finally made it to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the annual event.
It was an important year for NeoCon East as the show, which moved to Philadelphia from Baltimore last year, tried to get its footing in a new location. Whether NeoCon East was a success this year depended on who you asked. Some were pleased by the traffic and nearly everyone liked the venue in Philly better than Baltimore. Others grumbled attendance seemed down from past years and said they would not be back as exhibitors.
Crowds were definitely off when NeoCon East opened Wednesday, but seemed to pick up as the day went on. Attendees also were slow to arrive Thursday, but filled the halls for a few hours late in the morning. After lunch on the final day, the hall was nearly empty, and some exhibitors were quietly packing up their booths before the show actually closed.
Few of the major manufacturers attended. Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth and HNI passed on the show. Knoll was the largest manufacturer to exhibit, but took a small space on the floor. Mid-sized and smaller companies stepped up to fill the gaps, although a large swath in the back of the exhibition hall was empty, blocked from view by walls of curtains. ICF Group doubled its space. Krug also had a large stand. IOA Healthcare Furniture was back at the show. Clestra Hauserman showed off its wall products in a 600-square-foot space. A few companies, like Keilhauer, Mohawk and Spec, celebrated anniversaries.
Some went to great lengths to attract attention. AIS had a beautifully designed booth and one of the largest on the show floor. Outcome Seating hired a yoga practitioner to contort himself into different poses using one of the company’s side chairs to prove the strength of its product.
“Let’s face it: Seats are boring as hell,” says Rob Galvin, vice president of sales. “So we wanted to tell our story a little differently. We think the market has swung way too far to standing while you work. This is our way of saying sitting can be healthy as well.”
A few new exhibitors and brands were seen. Spacestor is not a new brand, but the British company is somewhat new to the North American market. The company is based in London, but also has a hub and manufacturing in Los Angeles. It is already making waves in the U.S. market, recently completing the Headspace office in Los Angeles with some unique products like its Railway Carriage booth — a sound-dampened space where workers can meet or work quietly alone.
While NeoCon in Chicago is about new product introductions, NeoCon East is about putting those products into action. Many of the products shown for the first time at the Merchandise Mart are ready to ship, which was a bonus for those looking to outfit projects at NeoCon East. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything new at the show. Falcon showed off a really cool “maker table” concept. It featured a beautiful wood top paired with an “exposed” metal frame and legs that showed off the weld marks, and included wheels to easily move the industrial looking piece around.
The show seemed a bit slower, especially in the early and later hours of the event. Still, it is a substantial show. More than 7,000 attended last year and numbers should be similar this year. About 60 percent of them are from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Another 10 percent are from New York and other parts of New England. The rest come from around the country.
All politics aside, the government is still a major purchaser of office furniture and buyers were at the show representing almost all of the government departments. NeoCon East also hosted a number of speakers and experts that gave presentations. Hosted at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the show’s fall timing was right for post-NeoCon product availability and for government procurement as it coincides with the federal budget cycle. Supported by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), NeoCon East had the largest concentration of products and services under GSA’s Multiple Awards Schedule.
The keynotes included Marc Kushner, co-founder/CEO of Architizer and partner of New York architecture firm HWKN (Hollwich Kushner), and Ayse Birsel, co-founder of New York design studio, Birsel + Seck, who presented, “Design the Life You Love.” NeoCon East attendees also went to more than 25 CEU accredited seminars.
The show once again ran concurrently at the PCC with AIA Philadelphia’s Design on the Delaware Conference. The 14th annual conference focused on issues and opportunities of the built environment with general sessions, seminars and tours. NeoCon East attendees were able to take advantage of reciprocal registration and sign up for conference programs a la carte.
New this year, NeoCon East partnered with the International WELL Building Institute to present “Understanding the WELL Building Standard.” The two-hour workshop was designed to introduce the intent, key elements and requirements of the WELL Building Standard, the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on the health and wellness of the people in the buildings. Attendees learned how to harness the built environment as a way to support human health, well-being and comfort.