What a NeoCon this year! While flying home from Chicago, I sat in the Delta Lounge and ran into someone I'd met in The Mart during the week. We got to chatting. They asked me what my big takeaway from NeoCon this year was. I have my answer, which I'll keep to myself for the sake of my thumbs. But this had me thinking:
What is your big takeaway from NeoCon and Design Days 2023? What did you notice this year?
Every publication seems to have its overview of the show, inundated with products, but NeoCon is really about people – what's happening? Did you see a lot of changes in the market? I always love your take on things.
Headed Home From NeoCon
Dear Homeward Bound,
First, I will avoid telling you anything I thought about the products or the showrooms because there are enough columns, stories, and pictures on social media about that! I'll start with some NeoCon trivia: the first NeoCon was held in 1969. Can you believe it?
This year I was left with two takeaway impressions on the contract furniture industry by visiting almost every showroom in #TheMart during #NeoCon and all the showrooms on Fulton Street during #DesignDays.
My first takeaway is no one ever seems to retire from the office furniture industry! Not only do they not retire, but they also get their kids in on the biz, and why shouldn't they – the industry is full of intelligent, creative people, beautiful products, and good standards of living.
Yes – the common thread of this year's show was that many people commented that this was their Fortieth NeoCon. I guess 1983 was a big entry year for many folks in contract furniture. What was particularly nice about that was that everyone seemed to appreciate and enjoy being there. We work in an industry where, from a human resources point of view, very few people seem to get burnt or phased out. Seeing salespeople excited about design and the furniture they sell felt good.
Let me be clear: many young people were coming into the industry, and they were everywhere. Smart manufacturers, big and small, are making room for a new generation of contract furniture salespeople. People are hiring and training new blood – no doubt about it.
My second takeaway from this year's NeoCon and Design Days was manufacturers' respect and appreciation for Independent Rep organizations!
Whether the independent rep is a single practitioner or a larger company with several salespeople, it was clear that independent reps are the lifeblood of growing a manufacturer and keeping sales going. These are the unsung rockstars of our industry. Manufacturers revere them, and they seemed to play a particularly prominent role in this year's NeoCon.
Think about this; the most successful salespeople often yearn to own their own business, so they start or buy an independent rep firm. Now, independent rep organizations are thriving because technology allows a small company to cover a broader market while providing customers with comprehensive services.
For example, #Steelcase, one of the major players, purchased #Halcon last year, which made its reputation through great design, which is sold only through independent rep organizations. It shows Steelcase recognizes that even the best designs can only be sold if you have individuals who control the relationships with the # Genslers of the world. That may not always happen when a salaried employee rests on the laurels of their salary and the big brand behind them.
Meanwhile, if there is a downturn in the economy, companies using independent sales reps won't be paying salaries or expensive benefits and, therefore, will come out on top. Another win-win for using independent reps. Some manufacturers use a combination of direct employees in some markets with independent reps in others.
Leaving NeoCon, I'm so happy to be in an industry that people love working in. It is an industry where people matter and can stay in it forever, even when they are not direct employees but independent partners, valued and treated with respect by the manufacturers.
Guess what: it's a great industry! We all work with good people, manufacturers, independent reps, and dealers, and we should all appreciate that. Roll your eyes at me if you must, but I'll say this - God Bless the Office Furniture Industry!