NeoCon East is Dead, but TheMart Already Planning its Replacement


NeoCon East is dead. At least for now. And depending on who you ask, the show has been dying a slow death and deserves to be killed, or it is one of the best ways to connect with East Coast customers and will be sorely missed.

Show organizers from TheMart announced to exhibitors the 2017 edition of NeoCon East would be the last, though they are going to revive it in some way, shape or form in 2019 after collecting input from the industry.

The decision to pull the plug on NeoCon East came as a surprise to exhibitors, who were informed about it through an email the first morning of this year's show at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The email said: “Thank you again for being a part of NeoCon East 2017. We wanted to take a moment to share our future show plans with you.

“As we look forward, our objective is to continue to improve and evolve the show to best serve you and the commercial interiors industry. With this goal in mind, we are currently exploring exciting new opportunities for a new show concept in 2019. While there will not be a NeoCon East event in 2018, please know that priority booth placement will be given to current exhibitors for a future 2019 show.

“Your feedback matters and your input will be considered as we move forward with our new efforts. Please take a moment to complete this brief survey or visit with us in the sales office while you are at the show this week. We are excited about new directions for our continued partnership and will keep you updated as we finalize our plans.”

The show has shrunk in recent years, and 2017 was no exception. The Philadelphia Convention Center, which was nearly full a few years ago when the show was moved there from Baltimore, was only half full, the back portion of the two exhibition halls NeoCon East occupied cordoned off and empty.

The show lost many exhibitors over the years. The only major at NeoCon East was Knoll, which took a very small stand this year. No Steelcase, no Herman Miller, no Haworth and none of the HNI companies. Even some of the up-and-coming office furniture makers like OM passed.

For those who supported the show, the lack of the majors was a plus. Ed Breen, president of Nightingale, said he was sad to see NeoCon East go. “We had steady traffic all day yesterday and great meetings,” he said. “I think it is a shame that it won't be back next year. I've heard the complaints that there are fewer attendees, but I believe that you get out of a show what you put into it.”

Others complained the show had seen a steady decrease in exhibitors and attendees, that since it moved from Baltimore a few years ago it had lost its identity as a government show, and it never found its footing as a NeoCon replacement for those who couldn't or didn't want to go to the Chicago show.

Julie Kohl, TheMart vice president of leasing, said ways to make the event better and more relevant for the exhibitors are being discussed. Will NeoCon East return to Baltimore and closer to the federal government hub it was originally designed to serve? Will this version of NeoCon go on the road, moving from city to city each year to add exposure in other regions of the country? It is too early to tell, but Kohl said everything is on the table.

Though NeoCon East has seen a decrease in exhibitors, this year's event was surprisingly strong in terms of attendees. Exhibitors were generally happy about the turnout for the event. Crowds were strong on Wednesday and Thursday and large crowds packed the theater for the excellent slate of keynote speakers.

The keynotes included Suzette Subance Ferrier, studio design director at New York-based TPG Architecture; Zena Howard, managing director at Perkins & Will and senior project manager for the Smithsonian Institution's new National Museum of African American History and Culture; David Insinga, chief architect at the GSA; and Alex Gilliam, founder and director of Public Workshop, an organization that helps clients and partners throughout the United States create opportunities for youth and their communities to shape the design of their schools, neighborhoods and cities.

For a company like Montisa, NeoCon East is the perfect show, said Chief Operating Officer Larry Leete. The brand used NeoCon East as its coming out party to the office furniture industry and got a lot more attention than it would have at NeoCon in Chicago, Leete said.

“This venue was perfect for us because we wanted to talk to the East Coast community,” he said. “NeoCon (in Chicago) would be too large for us to launch at, and you are fighting for attention there. I'm really disappointed that there won't be a NeoCon East next year. This show has been very valuable to us.”

Other brands also had a chance to shine in Philly. Brands like 9to5 Seating, AIS, X-Chairs, Indiana Furniture, Great Openings and Mayline-Safco did well attracting the architects and designers — almost all from the East Coast — to their stands. The show also attracted a few Chinese manufacturers like Luoyang Lianhua Import & Export, Foshan Zhong Meng Shengye Furniture and J-Star Motion Corp., which is working on opening a new plant in Cedar Springs, Michigan

TheMart plans poll the industry immediately on what it wants (and what it doesn't want), Kohl said.