After 80 Years in the Mart, Herman Miller Calls it Quits

Herman Miller showroom at TheMart for NeoCon 2019

Herman Miller showroom at TheMart for NeoCon 2019

Herman Miller said Monday that it has decided to leave the Merchandise Mart (theMart) after 80 years in the building and 51 years as an anchor showroom. Miller said it would join Knoll in Chicago's fast growing Fulton District, a home to many large tech companies and famous restaurants.

Herman Miller Chief Executive Officer Andi Owen confirmed the company's plans Monday. She said the decision was “bittersweet,” but part of the evolution of the brand. “It is never easy to make a decision like this,” she said.

In doing so, Herman Miller is probably putting the nail in the coffin of NeoCon as it currently exists. Without two of the major NeoCon exhibitors in theMart, organizing a show centered around the building itself will become unworkable. And while it's true that Kimball, National, DIRTT, Trendway and Allseating are also no longer in the Mart, the trend is clear. TheMart which owns NeoCon can't continue to cater to manufacturers that have decided to locate offsite. Some major change should be anticipated.

Besides Miller's desire to be in a more trendy neighborhood, theMart itself is continuing along its journey of becoming a major, if not the major, tech center in Chicago. Already hundreds of thousands of feet of showroom and office space have been converted to tech-centered offices. With four prime floors still being used as showroom space for contract furnishings and the huge need for additional tech space in the city, can the complete exit of commercial furnishings be far behind? Besides, tech companies pay more in rent as well, and in commercial real estate, nothing else matters. Nothing. As they say, the handwriting is most likely on the wall.

NeoCon hasn't seen such an existential threat to its existence since Steelcase and Miller threatened to leave the Mart over 10 years ago. At the time, Steelcase had purchased an entire office building just a block away and Miller had acquired some LaSalle Street space and hinted at a complete move. Both companies were later convinced to stay, and of course the entire industry benefited by that decision.

But 2020 is on the horizon and everything about the sales and marketing of contract furnishings is changing. These changes are beginning to play out as a younger generation enters the management ranks at the industry companies. While contract furnishings might be one of the last industries to be disrupted, make no mistake, it is being disrupted for real, and NeoCon as we've know it will be but a memory soon enough, replaced, hopefully by something just as fun, useful and interesting.