So looking back at Surfaces 2013, what’s your take? Hanley Wood said attendance this year was up by about 4.5% over the 2012 version, and I’d say all things considered it was a pretty good showing.

To even be able to answer that question one would first need to define what actually makes for a good show in this era. Back in the days of the old market system with five markets two times a year in merchandise marts with narrow corridors, the halls were often jammed with wall-to-wall bodies. The general approach of the media was to judge the success of any of these outings pretty much by body count. Lots of warm bodies equaled a good market; a sparse crowd meant it was a poor market. While the sparse option still indicates a pretty lousy show, it’s a great deal more difficult to gauge what makes for a good show.

Consider the fact that this time around there were a multitude of other industry events pulling retailers away from Surfaces: The winter conventions of Carpet One, Flooring America, Abbey and Flooring Plus, along with the aligned dealer conventions of Mohawk and Shaw, and a host of regional markets around the country (though I must note that Mohawk’s western regional does take place at Surfaces).

A prime question is: How many retailers will go to more than one of these pre-Surfaces events and still go to Las Vegas?  I’m not sure what that number is, but my guess is not a whole heck of a lot of them. Numbers that I’ve heard show that the recession and ensuing recession-like recovery have weeded out the number of retailers pretty substantially. The question is, “By how much?”

I’m not sure if anyone really knows the answer to that question, but the number I hear most often is there are about 14,000 or so retailers left in business in the U.S., which is a reduction of about 20%. The long and the short of it is there are just plain fewer potential retailers out there to even show up at Surfaces. And on top of that, back when all a retailer had to do to be successful was know how to hold a pen to write an order, many retailers would bring a contingent of sales people, managers and others to the show as a perk for hitting sales goals or just a reward for a job well done. The result was a lot of warm bodies at the show with the opportunity to learn, see products, attend seminars, share in the excitement, play the slots and crowd the aisles. But all in all they really didn’t do anything to add to the buying power of the attendees at show, and that’s really what it’s all about.

Not that everyone completely levels with me with every question I ask, but every exhibitor I interviewed at Surfaces was standing in a crowded stand, and just about everyone told me they didn’t have enough time to walk the show. So body count notwithstanding, I’d say whether exhibitors are sufficiently busy and their booths are heavily travelled makes for a good show. From observation and unscientific interviewing, lots of exhibitors left the show happy and feeling it was more than worth the investment.

Another feature that I think worked extremely well for Hanley Wood was the educational program. The program looked like it drew a very healthy crowd.  The seminar rooms were full and the hallways were crowded, especially Monday before the exhibit halls opened. In talking to retailers and other attendees, I get the idea that the educational seminars are growing in importance with each passing year.

So, taking all these things into consideration, the competition for retailers’ attention and dollar during the market, as well as the season, the iffy economy and the reduced number of retailers in existence, to this observer Surfaces 2013 and the people at Hanley Wood get an “8” for a damn good job.