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On Monday, thousands of facility and design professionals are going to be walking the floors of The Merchandise Mart in Chicago to see the latest and greatest in products for commercial spaces. NeoCon is the largest exhibition of its kind in North America.

And while the primary focus of the show is on furnishings, fabrics, flooring, fixtures, and accessories for offices, there’s pretty much something for everyone at NeoCon — including healthcare designers and healthcare facility managers.

My first NeoCon was in 1982 in my first job as a communications coordinator in The Merchandise Mart’s marketing department.  Since then, my jobs have changed, but I’ve not missed a NeoCon — attending as a magazine editor, marketing consultant, nonprofit executive, and speaker.

NeoCon is Not for Wimps

No matter how you cut it, NeoCon is a tough show to work.  The sheer size of The Mart (each floor is 200,000 sq. ft.) makes it impossible to see everything.

Walking those floors all day, fighting the crowds in the hallways and elevators makes your feet and brain hurt, too. But there are always parties and social events at night that help ease the pain.

Many healthcare product manufacturers have permanent showrooms in The Mart.  But many don’t — their booths are scattered about on the temporary exhibit Floor 7.

And some, particularly the fabric and flooring manufacturers, show all their market sector product lines in one showroom.

Surviving NeoCon

If you want to survive and make the most of NeoCon, here’s 6 tips:

  1. Make a list of the showrooms and booths you want to visit by floor. Consult the NeoCon planner for a full exhibitor listing.
  2. Start at the top of the building and work your way down. That way you can use the stairs if the elevators are too crowded. Walking down stairs is much easier than walking up.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though this is a design crowd where fashion counts, leave the heels at home, ladies. And don’t wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row.  Your feet will not be happy.
  4. Register before you get there.  There’s a $25 onsite registration fee. If you do it beforehand, it’s free.
  5. Go to educational sessions if there is a topic you’re interested in or need to earn CEUs, but NeoCon is really about seeing new products.
  6. Get plenty of sleep and don’t forget to eat.  Food and rest are essential to working a long day at a trade show.

One More Tip:  If you want to know beforehand about some of the latest and greatest new healthcare products, check out the entries in Contract’s Best of NeoCon Awards competition.

Fun Fact:  NeoCon originally stood for National Exposition of Contract (furniture). It had nothing to do with politics.

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Sara Marberry, EDAC, is a healthcare design knowledge expert, thought catalyst, and strategic marketing and business development consultant. The author/editor of three books, Sara writes and speaks frequently about industry trends and evidence-based design. She can be reached at [email protected].

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