Why NeoCon needs more “concept cars”

Every June, over 40,000 architecture and design professionals converge on the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, ready to network and see what’s new in the more than 700 showrooms and booths. The experience can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. When it’s all said it done, what products, of the thousands displayed, stand out?

For many who were commenting on Twitter during the show, the izzy+ Nemo concept pieces made an impression—in part, perhaps, because they are different, but also because they engage people and spark imaginations.

“I’ve always felt that the industry needs to do a better job of showing off what is possible instead of just what is,” says Rob Kirkbride, associate editor of MMQB, the weekly publication that covers the contract furniture industry. “We could learn a lot from the auto industry. Auto companies build concepts to show off what they can do, get customers excited about what’s coming and build brand awareness.”

izzy+’s founder and CEO, Chuck Saylor, has collaborated on designing the izzy+ concept pieces shown in showrooms 1150 and 11-100 during NeoCon. He says he loves exploring what is possible and watching how people react.

“If you really, truly want to gain knowledge and get non-filtered input around ideas, you have to be confident enough to stand in front of the bus and share your ideas,” Saylor says. “You have to be willing to hear all the feedback—the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Showing concept pieces at NeoCon is particularly important, Saylor says, because there are so many people in one place, ready to engage in ideas and conversation. “It’s a thought leadership issue,” Saylor says. “We need to be having a broader conversation in the industry about what it really means to change the nature of work, from an isolated setting to a more communal and collaborative one.”

While “collaboration” is a hot topic in the industry—one that was referenced extensively at NeoCon and explored to some extent through certain products, like benching—Saylor says providing something physical for people to experience takes the conversation to a different level.

“It’s one thing to say ‘We believe in collaboration,’ but it’s another thing entirely to say ‘This is what we think it might look like’—to put something out there as a reference point. The more real and meaningful the experience that’s offered in the showroom, the richer the discussion.”

Designer Joey Ruiter, who has collaborated with Saylor on the Nemo concept pieces displayed in the izzy+ showrooms at NeoCon and also designed izzy+’s Dewey line for the next generation of teaching and learning, loves the collaborative, future-focused nature of putting new ideas out there.

“Concept pieces aren’t meant to be perfect, finished ideas. They’re thought-starters that help other people start imagining and envisioning what’s possible,” Ruiter says. “That’s what the best concept pieces do—they should get you thinking about how you see yourself using it and moving the ideas forward.”

Secrecy often keeps companies from sharing concepts, but Saylor and Kirkbride both believe less secrecy will help energize future NeoCon shows.

“Concepts add excitement,” Kirkbride says. “Office furniture makers in Europe do a much better job of showing concepts at shows like Orgatec and iSalone. And that makes going to those shows exciting. In many booths, furniture concepts are placed front and center at these shows. The companies want feedback, and they get it. They don’t hide the concept behind closed doors.

“I think companies that show at NeoCon are missing a great opportunity to build excitement and brand recognition by keeping concepts hidden away…. It is time to pull back the curtain and build a little buzz in the industry again.”

Chuck Saylor and Joey Ruiter, two generations of designers collaborating on Nemo concepts for izzy+

The Nemo Lounge concept, designed by Joey Ruiter

The Lotus Chair concept, designed by Chuck Saylor

This post was written by izzy+ writer Kristin Tennant


Why we celebrate (besides for the cake)

A decade of commitment to anything is a big deal in our culture—for good reason! A tenth birthday takes a child into double-digits—a time of life that begins the transition from little kid to big kid and eventually into the adult they will become. Ten years of marriage is an accomplishment, marking a decade that has no doubt been filled with a mixture of trials, hard work, growth, dreams and joys. And a decade in business—particularly in the midst of a recession and much change—is well worth celebrating.

But why, exactly, do we mark these milestones? And how should we mark them, learn from them, and move forward? 

On the occasion of izzy+’s tenth birthday, our writer, Kristin Tennant, asks izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor about milestones, reflection, celebration and the future.


– How does it feel to be 10?

It’s a great age to be. When you’re 10, you’re not thinking back on how well you’ve done. You’re just excited about the future—what’s next. That’s definitely how it feels for izzy+.

When you’re 10, the future is still wide open, but it’s beginning to be more defined. At my granddaughters’ tenth birthdays, I saw the emergence of their personalities—their passions, how they think. I could begin to imagine where they’re going, what path they’re on.

– Even though you’re focused on what’s ahead, does reflection still play a part in a milestone like this?

Reflection is so important, but I often wonder why we wait for a milestone—a big wedding anniversary or retirement—before we reflect on our lives. If you wait too long to reflect, for fear of not liking what you will see, you end up on the “safe” side of that equation—you don’t learn or grow. We grow when we’re willing to be wrong and take some risks.

The more we reflect, the more we become OK with the possibility of being wrong. It allows us to learn more, grow and pass it along to others.

– You mentioned passing along what we’ve learned to others. Is that izzy+’s “Better Together” mantra in action?

Yes! That’s the good thing about gathering together to celebrate something—it’s so much more meaningful to reflect with others. Going off into the woods to reflect on my own turns that active verb into more of a noun. There’s a lack of dialogue and conversation. We miss out on those opportunities to share what we’ve learned and make everyone better.

For me, it’s reflecting and learning together that helps create a path for the future—a better understanding and vision for going forward.

– So ultimately, this 10th birthday is more about what’s ahead than what’s already happened.

Exactly. I don’t look back and how small we were and think about how much bigger we are now—that’s so immaterial. I look out over the organization and see a group that’s growing, contributing, taking risks, being open, constructive, kind and creative.

The people at izzy+ are a reflection of where we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going. And the hopes I have for izzy+ are very connected to the hopes I have for my family and all the people I love: I hope izzy+ continues to grow and create a place where people can be transparent, follow their dreams, add value, and make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

When you look back, there will always be negatives, but I always err on the side of positive. I like to focus on what’s inspiring, meaningful and adds value, and then figure out how to communicate those things, so everyone can be inspired moving forward.

A NeoCon countdown (in tandem with a birthday)

It’s almost NeoCon-time! There are many things we love about being in Chicago each June (and we’re going to share several of them here), but this year is extra special because we’re celebrating our 10th birthday!

Every birthday celebration should last more than one day (right?), so we’ll be counting down the 10 days to NeoCon, sharing the things we love about Chicago and asking you to chime in with your favorites. When you do—either here, or on Twitter or Facebook—you will be entered into a drawing to win the Schwinn Tango tandem bicycle that will be on our Mini Cooper in front of the Merchandise Mart during the show.

There are more details about the drawing at the bottom of this post, but now it’s time for the fun! The #izzy10 countdown begins…

10 favorite places for dinner in Chicago:

Adobo Grill
Big Bowl
Coco Pazzo
Frontera Grill
Gibson’s Steakhouse
Piccolo Sogno
Shaw’s Crab House
The Publican

9 favorite shopping excursions beyond the Mart:

– Anthropologie (111 E. Chicago Ave. at Michigan)
– Apple Store (679 N. Michigan)
– Crate & Barrel (646 N. Michigan)
– Mark Shale (900 N. Michigan)
– Marshalls (600 N. Michigan)
– Nordstrom (55 E. Grand)
– Trader Joe’s (44 E. Ontario)
– Room & Board (55 E. Ohio)
– Vosges Chocolate Boutique (520 N. Michigan)

8 favorite things about NeoCon:

– Chicago
– Cool new products
– Drinks
– Fresh ideas & innovation
– Friends—old & new
– Learning from each other
– Monday morning—game on!
– Wednesday afternoon—collapse!

7 lunch spots (if you can find time for lunch!):

– Ed Debevics (640 North Wells)
– English Bar & Restaurant (444 North LaSalle)
– Kinzie Chophouse (400 North Wells)
– Monk’s Pub (205 West Lake)
– Potbelly (in the Merchandise Mart)
– Star of Siam (11 East Illinois)
– Steve’s Deli (354 West Hubbard)

6 favorite examples of Chicago architecture:

– Frank Llyod Wright home and studio, 1889, 1898 (951 Chicago Ave.)
– Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 2004 (53 East Randolph St.)
– Tribune Tower, 1925 (435 N. Michigan Ave.)
– Water Tower Place, 1975 (835 N. Michigan Ave.)
– Wrigley Building, 1920 (410 N Michigan Ave.)
– Wrigley Field, 1914 (1060 W. Addison St.)

5 favorite places for drinks:

– Billy Goat Tavern (222 Merchandise Mart)
– Hub 51 (51 W. Hubbard)
– Japonais (600 W. Chicago)
– Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie)
– Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard)

4 best photo backdrops:

– Coastline/skyline from the water (or from Navy Pier)
– Buckingham Fountain
– Millenium Park (especially by the Bean sculpture!)
– Sears Tower clear balcony

**Bonus backdrop during NeoCon: In front of the izzy+ Mini

3 favorite breakfast spots:

– Original Pancake House, 22 East Bellevue Place
– West Egg Café, 620 North Fairbanks Court
– Yolk, 355 East Ohio Street

2 places we like to stay

– The James Hotel (55 E. Ontario)
– The Sutton Place Hotel (21 E. Bellevue)

1 party you don’t want to miss at NeoCon

– Our 10th birthday party, of course!

The party is from 3:30-5:30 on Monday, in showroom 1150. We’ll announce a winner for the tandem drawing at 5 pm, so make sure you share your Chicago favorites here, on Twitter or Facebook today!

What are your Chicago favorites? Share them and be entered in our tandem drawing!


Now for those nitty-gritty tandem-drawing details:

You can be entered into the tandem drawing once a day—up to 10 times total. Just choose your social medium and follow these instructions:

– On the blog: Respond to this post, adding some of your Chicago favorites to our growing lists; or…

– On Twitter: Either a) tweet a favorite for that day’s category (be sure to include the #izzy10 hashtag), or b) RT one of our #izzy10 tweets; or…

– On Facebook: Make sure you’ve “liked” our page, then leave a comment on one of our countdown status updates, sharing your favorite for the category of the day.

The drawing for the Schwinn Tango tandem will take place at our birthday party, on Monday, June 13 from 3:30-5:30 in showroom 1150. You must be in the showroom at 5 pm—the time of the drawing—to win. (And even if you don’t win there will be cupcakes!)