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Getting Ready For NeoCon and Design Days! Are you ready?

Dear Stephen,

I'm a regional manager for a manufacturer in the Midwest getting ready for #NeoCon. My company still maintains a showroom in the #MerchandiseMart. It's always an exciting time of year, and with the industry back in full swing, I expect this year's NeoCon to be bigger and better than ever. I recall that typically, you have some tips on navigating NeoCon, particularly for those of us who have "one eye open" towards our next career move. For years, Neocon has been the equivalent of a job fair for me and my colleagues. But now, with Fulton Market's #DesignDays, it seems harder to be visible to the manufacturers there. Meaning I can't just use the old "I'm going to the restroom" line if I have to physically leave the Mart to see other companies. It's more challenging for me to find a chunk of time to get away from my showroom. Any suggestions?


One Eye Open


Dear One Eye Open,

Old topic, new response. The response is somewhat new because, you're right, with the growth of Design Days and major manufacturers in other locations, it is much more complex than pretending you're going to take an extra-long restroom break to show your face to the competitors.

First, let me point out that all smart manufacturers want their salespeople and management to see their competitors anyway. You don't have to sneak out the way you're describing; you need to explain that you want to be up to date on what the competition is doing. No reasonable boss would deny that. By the way, they're not sending you out to look at competitive products with the thought that you're going to find a new job, but yes, I tell everyone that NeoCon is the best time to have one eye open for other job opportunities.

Keep in mind that I advise you to focus on seeing and being seen rather than actively asking about or pursuing new jobs. If you tour a competitor's showroom, looking your best, and you see the leadership of that company, what's the harm in introducing yourself and complimenting their product? Remember, there's a lot of talk about #Steelcase leaving the Merchandise Mart, but this year, they're still very much in the Merchandise Mart, as are all their subsidiaries. If you're going to Fulton Market to see the showrooms and pop-ups participating in Design Days, do your homework first. Ensure you clearly understand which brands are showing, where, and how to get into each showroom. Also, people are registering online for Design Days to get an orange band; be sure you have yours if you're coming from the Mart.

Visit companies that compete directly with yours, but I always recommend people go a step further and explore brand-adjacent products because you never know where your next job will be. What do I mean by that? If you're at Humanscale looking for a better job, why not visit the #Interface or #Milliken showrooms? If you're at Steelcase andlooking for a change of scene workwise, why not visit # HollyHunt's showroom or a ceramic tile showroom? And if you're at #MillerKnoll, why don't you see a textile company? You get the idea: different product genres, same industry.

Remember, sales executives, in particular, still carry business cards today. Ask for them, and carry plenty of yours. Here is an important tip for those of you on the hunt: Take a handful of business cards and put your personal cell number on them, and hand those out strategically to whoever you want, like me. The Viscusi Group team will be at NeoCon along with most other recruiters. Always take time to say hello so we can put your face to your name.

Here's my most important NeoCon tip every year: NeoCon is not only a time to show yourself off to competitors and customers, but it's also just as important to make a positive impression on your company's leadership that will no doubt be in attendance. That means showing up to the showroom on time every day. Keep alcohol intake to a minimum. And remember you're there to spend time with customers, dealers, architects, designers, and end users.

So, you should concentrate on the job you have right now first. Make a positive impression on your bosses during this Neocon because, if you don't, you may be looking for a job a lot more actively after NeoCon and Design Days than you thought you would be.