With the continued softening in the housing market, exhibitors at Surfaces 2008 said they expected attendance at the annual trade show to be down. And they were not wrong. Attendance at the Las Vegas event fell about 10 percent this year, with a little more than 34,500 show goers on hand compared to last year’s more than 38,000 visitors. Additionally, the number of exhibitors dropped slightly, from more than 1,000 to 982. While attendance was down, there was wide agreement that the show remained an important industry showcase.

"Every exhibitor I spoke with said they were pleasantly surprised just how robust the market was, that orders were up over last year and business was brisk," said Chris Davis, president and CEO of the World Floor Covering Association, which sponsors the show. “While overall traffic may have been down, those that make the buying decisions were definitely out in full force and ready to buy.”

John Woolsey, vp marketing and merchandising for Anderson Hardwood Floors, said that while attendance was down, the quality of customer was up. “Counts on promotional giveaways and booth hospitality items were down from 2007 but sales in our booth outlet store set new records,” he said. “That tells me that some of the tire kickers stayed home but the buyers were there in record numbers.”

New to the show this year were pavilions dedicated to New Products, Decorative Concrete and Hand-Crafted Tile. The dedicated product areas were sponsored byNational Floor Trendsand sister magazines Floor Covering Installerand  TILE.According to show goers, the new product areas were valued additions to the show floor.

“It’s my job to find out about as many sources, fiber treatments and "support" material as possible, as well as to see new products before they hit the end user market,” said Alison Martin of Alison Martin Interiors in Berryville, Va.  “You can definitely do that at Surfaces. The scale of the show always overwhelms – and this is my sixth show.”

While the number of exhibiting companies was down slightly, show organizers noted that 249 of the companies were new to the show this year, allowing for a wide range of new products “never seen at Surfaces before.”

Surfaces 2009, set for next year at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas, will follow a slightly different format. Rather than the usual Wednesday-Friday schedule, the show will run from Tuesday, Feb. 3, to Thursday, Feb. 5. Pre-show conferences will begin Monday, Feb. 2. For more information, visit www.surfaces.com.