Top Five Take-Aways From NeoCon 2016

Sam Barry, LEED AP 

Founder, Partner, Strategist at Innovatude via >

The world's largest interior design party, NeoCon, ends today at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Aside from product introductions, client tours, philanthropic events and awards galore, NeoCon also presents an opportunity to assess the state of commercial interiors industry. As always, the event delivered intriguing insight into commercial interiors and the manufacturers whose products are used to create the built environment. Here are my five key take-aways:

1. The open office, now largely devoid of private offices and cubicle partitions, has made acoustic products the hottest category out there: One could hardly walk a corridor without seeing another entrant in the acoustics category, another way of dampening sound in the built environment. It's an exciting category that promises to rescue workers from loud offices in the near future. 

2. Many of the so-called "second tier" systems furniture companies have catapulted their way to the top tier of innovators: OFS Brands made a splash last year with their extensive and impressive new introductions, led by designs from Silicon Valley's O+A. This year they showed not only that they intend to hold onto the mantle of innovation and design leadership, they also gave us a glimpse of what's next. And let's just say it may redefine how we think about work surfaces. OFS was not the only standout: Davis, Keilhauer, and Teknion all had notable launches that captured the attention of designers and Best of NeoCon judges. Not to be outdone, Knoll's collaboration with The Rockwell Group, and Steelcase's suite of office solutions stood out as well. But in this category, the design race is on!

3. Here comes Big Data: Early introductions of wearable technology that connects to your sit-stand station and the Internet of Things that surrounds you in the built environment are here. Look for Big Data to become a Big Player at NeoCon next year. The technologies exist; what's missing is the imagination to make divergent thoughts and technologies converge. When that happens, expect radical disruptors to redefine how we interact with the spaces we inhabit. 

4. New entrants are going to inspire designers to rethink who their go-tos are: Rubbermaid Commercial Products launched two new lines of trash cans worthy of a designer's spec: select sizes, finishes and materials that fit in or stand out. We were proud to be part of RCP's NeoCon by designing their space (see above). LogicData's sit-stand work stations and Framery's exquisite privacy pods also show the up-and-comer is going to take market- and mindshare. 

5. The flooring industry is undergoing massive change: Interface not only launched a new mission to take carbon from the atmosphere, it also added LVT to its flooring systems in sizes, heights and geometries that match its carpet tiles. In fact, as a category, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) was the big flooring story. Non-PVC hard-surface flooring companies (e.g., Shannon Specialty Flooring, UPOFLOOR Zero) were abundant this year, with products every bit as handsome as traditional manufacturers/distributors. And government regulations will catalyze growth in PVC- and plasticizer-free flooring in the next few years. As the trends change, look for mergers and acquisitions to proliferate and for nimble start-ups to give stalwarts a run for their money. 

NeoCon 2016 had a feel-good vibe, with designers and manufacturers finding renewed optimism about the economy. It also showed us the future of commercial interiors, and that future is incredibly exciting. Now that the industry has re-calibrated to meet the demands of a new generation and of getting a higher ROI on rent, it seems to be ready for the Next Next Thing. And we are too. 

What's the plan for taking your next thing to market? Innovative products require innovative branding and marketing to drive revenue and profit.  Standing out is critical, and marketing that delivers meaning and value to customers is more important than ever.  Understanding who you are, what sets you apart from the competition and how that is going to make a difference in your customers' lives will be fundamental to your success.