Best of NeoCon is the official awards program honoring outstanding new products from exhibiting companies across a wide range of interior products. I had the opportunity to be included as one of the forty-eight jurors on this year’s team ranging from Interior Designers, Architects, Specifiers, and Facility Managers, with expertise covering commercial, healthcare, education, and hospitality sectors of the market.
There are fifty-four product categories and 255 entries that the jury evaluates. Judging begins before arriving in Chicago at the Merchandise Mart. The jurors are broken into teams and assigned categories to review. I was part of the ”F” team, which in my opinion, was the best team. Before arriving in Chicago and seeing any product in person, we pre-judge the products based on the submission information provided by each manufacturer. Team “F” had thirty-four entries to review in (5) categories.
Upon our arrival on Friday morning, we received our schedule detailing for us which floors we were to visit on Friday and Saturday. The weekend before NeoCon begins is a busy time in the mart preparing for the main show that takes place from Monday through Wednesday. Many manufacturers are still setting up showrooms preparing for Monday morning. Upon entering the showrooms, we announce ourselves and which item we are here to see and learn about. There are certain occasions where a product is entered into multiple categories, or a manufacturer has multiple entries in various categories.
Entrants are evaluated based on Aesthetics & Innovation: how does this product contribute to or add to the beauty and comfort of any commercial space? Does it possess innovative or unique qualities? Built Environment Solution, Durability, Functionality & Quality: Explain the product’s unique contribution to the built environment and where it is most likely to be specified. What problem does it solve? How is it better than existing solutions? Address the product’s quality standards, expected durability, and any performance warranty.
Industry Certifications and Standards: What industry certifications or standards does the product hold or meet?
Environmental Sustainability: Does the product have a sustainable manufacturing process? Does the product use recyclable or biodegradable components? How does it make a positive environmental impact? Does it qualify for industry environmental certifications, standards, or labels?
List Pricing: Where does the price point fall? The scores are on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).
Our team “F” broke out responsibilities of taking notes, taking pictures, timekeeping, mapping us to the next showroom, and making sure we asked all the right questions. On Saturday afternoon, we reviewed all the information we had gathered from our in-person visits and deliberated. Each category has a gold and silver winner. Overall, there are a maximum of (15) Sustainability Awards and (15) Innovation Awards to hand out. After the judging teams had evaluated their products, each group had the opportunity to nominate a product for the Best of Show award. We produced (4) candidates, and the entire jury went to those (4) showrooms to learn about all the nominated products. After that, the teams came together, and the group voted for Best of Show. Each entry is rated online, and comments and feedback are provided to all entrants.
Judges are sworn to secrecy until the awards program, that happens at a special breakfast in the Merchandise Mart on Monday morning. Each winner receives a trophy to display in their showrooms. Being able to speak to manufacturers, understand their inspiration, and why a product is brought to market was such an honor and privilege.
Until next year Best of NeoCon!