Coverings 2001 is moving from Orlando, Fla. to New Orleans. William Mason, president of TSI Inc. and authorized agent for Coverings, gives NFT an exclusive interview.

Coverings, the largest international tile and stone exhibition in North America, is moving from Orlando, Fla. to New Orleans in 2001. In an exclusive interview with National Floor Trends, William J. “Skip” Mason, president of TSI Inc. and authorized agent for Coverings, helps shed some light on what visitors can expect next year.

NFT: You recently announced a major change with regard to Coverings 2001. Briefly, what should those exhibitors and attendees still in the dark know about next year’s event?

William Mason: Hopefully, the word has been received by most. Coverings 2001 has been rescheduled for May 20-23, 2001 in New Orleans.

NFT: The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando offered quite a lot of space for exhibitors. Where will the show be held in New Orleans? Will there be enough room for the show to expand?

WM: In New Orleans, the event will be staged at the (Ernest N.) Morial Convention Center, located along the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans. It is one of the six or seven largest facilities in the country. The halls we have obtained for Coverings 2001 are 100,000 gross square feet larger than the space we used in Orlando last year.

The show will expand but, because of demand we are already very close to being sold out.

NFT: It’s been suggested that the more “grown up” atmosphere of New Orleans played a role in the venue change. What should attendees unfamiliar with New Orleans expect when they arrive next May?

WM: Everyone will find New Orleans very different from Orlando. Outside the exhibit hall, there are a lot of diversions — from riverfront gambling to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter — but I think the single most differentiating factor is the quantity of great restaurants. New Orleans has an incredibly positive inclination toward great food. There seems to be one superb restaurant after another.

NFT: What logistical changes will face exhibitors come 2001? Are there any major changes that they should be aware of now?

WM: We understand that most people tend to find comfort in not having to re-learn everything each year. For 2001, the largest change will be that the show runs from Sunday to Wednesday. (Everyone should) watch for future announcements regarding opening hours.

Also, the airlines still provide a healthy incentive to stay over Saturday night, so we assume that many of our guests will arrive on Saturday and take advantage of seeing New Orleans. I recommend it.

NFT: As for Coverings itself, what kind of growth are you expecting for the 2001 event?

WM: The show will sell out with an additional 35,000-plus square feet of exhibits. As always, we will be working hard to bring more attendees and visitors to the show. Obviously, we are orienting ourselves more strongly to the midwest U.S. marketplace to bring in new faces. We are going to expand our international program by placing even greater emphasis on Central and South America with special programs.

NFT: Keeping the show in the month of May was an important factor in changing venues. What other locations were under consideration, and what did New Orleans have that put it over the top?

WM: May was the issue. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, so there are always people who want change but in our case, the change in venue was very secondary to that of the dates. Naturally, we looked at every site that could accommodate the event. New Orleans offered the best dates, the biggest hall, the best hotels, etc.

NFT: Will there be any major changes to the show itself for 2001?

WM: Yes, there will be changes. However, we spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of all changes. It is amazing how one small change can affect a great many things. So we try to go slow, to be methodical.

It is essential that we take into account the needs of the majority of exhibitors. I am reminded of the phrase “silent majority.” We need to remember to be cautious about change forced by the squeaky wheel syndrome. We should not change the direction of the ship when the vast majority of passengers are pleased with the direction. We conduct research, we listen to calls that are placed to us, we read letters, we review interviews — it all goes into the hopper. And in the end, we slowly make an educated decision.

Most of what we do is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We build a stage for our exhibitors. The exhibitors are the real stars. The show does not change the destiny of the industries we serve, but I would like to think that we could help increase the rate of change, and help keep the industry exciting and profitable.

NFT: Anytime a change as important as this takes place, people have questions. What is the best way for people to get information about Coverings 2001?

WM: We will do all the things we always do to communicate with our constituency: advertising, press releases, direct mail and, increasingly, plays a role. Naturally, because we can update our site so quickly, it is a great place to keep abreast of recent developments. Registration and housing will again go up on the Internet in the fall. But we will certainly also contact everyone via mail as details are available. There is really no need for anyone to feel that they need to be first in line. We have plenty of good hotels, so there is no need to worry about accommodations.

NFT: As successful as Coverings 2000 was, do you have some tricks up your sleeve to make the 2001 show even more so?

WM: Tricks? There are no tricks. We just keep our eye on the ball and work as hard as we can to give everyone the best possible service and create the most conducive business environment at Coverings.

NFT: Last but not least, with all this going on, how tired are you?

WM: That is a good question. I normally hear it during the show but, this year, I must admit that the summer has not been as leisurely.