Concrete Decor Show: I’ll be there … will you?

Chris Sullivan of ChemSystems teaches about VOC limitations for concrete coatings by product category.

Is there value in having a dedicated trade show for the decorative concrete industry? The short answer is yes. There’s tremendous value in having an industry-focused show. While there are decorative-devoted pavilions at other shows, they are just that — areas within other events.

I get that money talks. As a small business owner, I understand return on investment and the ability to recoup expenses are critical. My company has exhibited in three of the eight shows to date. We will also have a booth at the upcoming ninth show in Arlington, Texas. We make the decision to attend based primarily on where the show is located and the “bang for the buck” we anticipate.

While the volume of attendees doesn’t match other larger shows, the quality far exceeds. We gained new business as a direct result of exhibiting that exceeded the expense. Bottom line: The shows paid for themselves multiple times over.

Bigger isn’t always better

Along the lines of volume, the mind­set that the Concrete Decor Show should be as big as the World of Concrete or other national shows is unrealistic and sets up a false expectation. I have been vocal for years that the show needs to be less about a “trade show” and more along the lines of a technical conference. Education, technical service and meaningful networking are what this show is all about.

The first — and, in my opinion, most important reason the Concrete Decor Show is valuable — is that our industry, part of the concrete construction industry, still does business face-to-face.

I realize that Amazon and other online sales outlets are an option now. However, in my day-to-day conversations with professional installers, the lifeblood of the industry, having that go-to person or brick-and-mortar outlet still means something. Decorative concrete is a relationship business. There is nowhere better to expand those relationships than a trade show. Better yet, a show that has one focus — decorative concrete.

Chris Sullivan converses with Concrete Decor Show attendees at his company’s booth. Truly a fount of knowledge, he regularly addresses decorative concrete trends in the educational lineup, as he did in 2019.
Take another look

I want to be clear that while I’ve attended every Concrete Decor Show, and I see value in attending, things aren’t perfect. Attendance has been lower than expected in some venues and many big names in the industry don’t exhibit.

I’ve shared my thoughts with show management. Some of my ideas have made an impact; others not so much. So why do some say the show has been slow to gain momentum? Maybe it’s a little bit of the chicken or the egg … which comes first? Attendees want to see who is exhibiting, and exhibitors want to see the halls full of eager show attendees.

A case can also be made that when the show debuted in spring 2010, the entire U.S. was in the thick of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Many companies were in survival mode and attending a new market-specific trade show was the last thing on their mind. If you’re among those people or companies who took a pass then, I encourage you to take another look and discover what you’re been missing now that business is on the upswing.

I’ve been part of many conversations that discuss how important it is to have a magazine and trade show dedicated to the decorative industry. “It would be a shame to see it go away,” or “they make the industry relevant” are a few of the more common comments.

If they’re so important, then why are some still standing on the sidelines? Many times the same people making the comments are nowhere to be seen when the Concrete Decor Show rolls around. Now I’m not advocating “all in, all the time,” but instead of whispering in the back room, step up and be heard and practice what you preach.

(From left) Bob Harris meets up with his pals Randy Klassen and Jim Petersen at the 2010 Concrete Decor Show in Phoenix.
We need to be in this together

Decorative concrete competes directly with pavers, wood flooring, tile and asphalt, to name a few categories. The smallest of those manufacturing companies generate sales in the hundreds of millions with many being part of billion-dollar multinational corporations. Each has an advertising budget that exceeds the combined revenue of the top manufacturing companies in the decorative industry.

We need to think about staying relevant as an industry. It’s easy to blow this off when everyone is busy and the economy is kicking, but that won’t last forever. Let’s start thinking past this year and consider the next decade. What are we leaving for the next generation?

Since we don’t have the individual power to compete against competitive industries, we must band together. I submit that an industry isn’t healthy without a robust industry network, trade show, educational circuit and publication. For decorative concrete to maintain its place with the big boys of flooring and hardscapes, it’ll require a group effort.

As a small business owner, I understand the importance of getting the most out of any investment. Also, every person and company has their own priorities. I would never go so far as to say any one event works for everyone. I would also not say Concrete Decor magazine or the Concrete Decor Show is critical to the survival of your business. However, if you consider the importance of a healthy trade show as the forum for introducing new products, education and meaningful networking, I believe it’s a good investment.

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