At each of the events I’ve attended since last November, regardless of the attendance numbers, the mood of retailers, contractors, installers, designers, installers and even manufacturers has been noticeably upbeat. Now whether the inspiration behind that optimism was based on economist’s reports, wishful thinking, positive signs in the marketplace, fatigue over this painfully slow recovery or tea leaves, it speak highly of the economic warriors that have endured this economic funk to attend these various events.

Coverings 2012 in Orlando was no exception. Like many industry events, traffic appeared to be up somewhat. Given the attrition across the board in every industry sector, crowds at the show were healthy. Distributors, contractors and retailers were positive and hungry for new ideas and products that would help them razzle dazzle their customers and clients and prepare them for the recovery that promises to continue to slowly unfold.

Absolutely the most beautiful show I’ve ever visited, Coverings featured ceramic and stone from around the world that have been rapidly installed in the interior of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando by a cast of thousands, for displays in which anyone would be proud to set up housekeeping.

Aside from having the opportunity to interview some of the most interesting people in the industry, my job, especially at shows like Coverings, gives me a chance to see up close and personal some of the newest product innovations and ideas. And one thing that never ceases to amaze me about the ceramic industry is its ingrained ingenuity. Thanks to digital printing, an ingenious development on its own, producers can make ceramic that looks like pretty much anything. In the most recent years it’s made a dramatic shift, especially in wood lookalikes. In Mediterranea’s stand, I literally had to get on my hands and knees to make sure they weren’t trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I’m sure wood looks will be some of the industry’s best sellers, if they’re not already.  

And speaking of digital printing, one especially cool company I came across was an organization that creates samples and displays for all varieties of players in the building materials sector, from roofing to ceramic and stone to bricks, pavers and siding. Especially applicable to ceramic and stone, but really for any flooring product, Sampco digitally prints product images on plastic sheets, saving manufacturers big bucks not only in the cost of samples but in shipping them because these samples can be rolled up and mailed to customers. The kicker here is the fact that the printing is of such high quality, you honestly can’t tell it from the real thing.

Another impressive and extremely colorful idea came from Surfaces, a producer of glass tile. The company struck a licensing deal with Crayola the crayon people and launched a line of beautiful tiles aimed at the younger set, some of which are shaped like jigsaw pieces. As you might expect, they come in a host of vibrant Crayola colors, giving mom the tools to create a really fun and distinctive space for the kids.

Product innovation wasn’t the only area where we noticed creativity. Several companies launched some very timely marketing programs. Florida Tile has launched a program called Spec and Ship. This is a program that recognizes the need that has arisen among the company’s commercial and residential customers for spec products. Florida Tile has responded to this need by maintaining deep inventory in several lines and multiple colors, so they can quickly come to the rescue.  

Among the exhibitors at Coverings the new products and ideas I have mentioned just scratched the surface. You could find new and interesting programs and products in just about every stand. Not to leave out the contractor, I also talked with a number of contractors who stayed alive during this recession and recovery by relying on their ingenuity and seizing on different types of work, and even different geographies, so they could venture to the show to discover and add to that success.

All in all Coverings 2012 was an extremely beautiful show. But the 2012 edition was even more beautiful because it had on display not only new, innovative products and ideas but exhibited the entrepreneurship, the creativity, the optimism and the endurance of the people who traveled to the show. For those who came to exhibit these new ideas and those who came to discover them, the people in this industry are looking to further and bolster their accomplishments after the past several very difficult years.