Inside Coverings 2023, the largest tile and stone trade show in North America. Recorded during the event, host Adrian Tennant is joined by three guests to discuss the latest trends, innovations, and technologies in the tile and stone industry, Bigeye’s role in creating marketing materials for Coverings, and how attending the event benefits designers such as Christina Rexford, who shares her excitement about new products, innovations, and some of her favorite exhibitors.
Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:
Carley Conrod: They’re expecting just over 26,000 people to attend, and registration this year was actually up by 20 percent.
Rhett Withey: Going in, you think like, “Okay, yeah, we’ll make some signage, we’ll do some lanyards, and we’re good to go.” But it’s way more than that. It’s way more than that.
Christina Rexford: It takes your creativity to a whole nother level. it opens so many possibilities design wise and it’s very exciting.
Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. We are recording today’s podcast at Coverings, an annual international trade show and conference dedicated to the ceramic tile and natural stone industry. It’s being held at the Orange County Convention Center here in Orlando, Florida. To discuss what it’s like to attend Coverings and learn about Bigeye’s involvement in designing and developing marketing materials to support the event, I’m joined by three guests. Christina Rexford is the principal of Christina Rexford Designs, based in Orlando, and currently working in interiors. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Christina.
Christina Rexford: Thank you.
Adrian Tennant: Carley Conrod is an account manager at Bigeye and has worked closely with the Coverings event management team. Hi, Carley.
Carley Conrod: Hello. Hello.
Adrian Tennant: Rhett Withey is Bigeye’s Art Director who this year celebrates ten years with the agency. Hi, Rhett.
Rhett Withey: Howdy.
Adrian Tennant: Carley, let’s start with you. Could you tell us what Coverings is?
Carley Conrod: Absolutely. Coverings is the largest tile and stone trade show in North America. Featuring more than a thousand global exhibitors from 40 countries, the event brings together industry professionals, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, contractors, architects, designers, and builders, to showcase their latest products, innovations, and technologies. Coverings provides a platform for attendees to network, share ideas, and learn about the latest trends and developments in the tile and stone industry. The show features a wide variety of exhibitors, educational sessions, hands-on workshops, and design challenges, making it an important event for those involved in the tile and stone market. This year, it’s being held from April 18th through the 21st, here in Orlando.
Adrian Tennant: Carley, what has Bigeye’s involvement looked like for this year’s Coverings?
Carley Conrod: Bigeye developed the exposition brand identity and built out additional collateral, including web graphics, print ads, social graphics, and even items needed for the show, like attendees’ badges, along with lots of other things.
Adrian Tennant: And as the account manager, what has your role been specifically?
Carley Conrod: As an account manager, I’m the agency voice to the client and the client voice to the agency. I, along with our account specialist, Sofia, make sure that all of the pieces of the project are running on time in scope and meet client expectations. So I work with the client to find out what is needed for a certain project and then take that to our internal team, work with our project management team to route it to all the necessary people in the agency, and then get it back to the client.
Adrian Tennant: How have you facilitated communication between the creative team and the Coverings event management team to ensure that we kept within the scope and delivered on time?
Carley Conrod: We utilize an online project management platform called Basecamp to keep an open line of communication. Basecamp helps us share proofs and receive feedback from the client while keeping everything organized in threads. Sofia and I also meet with the client weekly to touch base on items currently in production and keep an eye on what was coming up on the horizon.
Adrian Tennant: Well, I had an opportunity to explore the event this morning, and it’s huge. There are over 1,000 exhibitors from over 40 countries. Now, do you know how many attendees the organizers were expecting?
Carley Conrod: Yes, actually, they’re expecting just over 26,000 people to attend. And registration this year was actually up by 20 percent over 2019, which was their benchmark year, as they returned to pre-Covid operations this year.
Adrian Tennant: Well, how did you keep the project on track?
Carley Conrod: This project definitely had many moving parts, especially in the beginning. There were a lot of times when we were handling initial design revisions and final files for different projects all at the same time. And sometimes, one small change on one piece would affect several others, even ones that had already been finalized. Sofia and I used Asana to make sure we always knew the status of every piece that was in production, and it was great to be able to see everything at a glance as well.
Adrian Tennant: Well, as the client’s representative within the agency, in what kinds of ways did you ensure that the creative team captured the key messages and goals of the Coverings event?
Carley Conrod: The trickiest part was maintaining the messaging for the different audiences and always making sure that the most current messaging was being used. We had a brand messaging document that was constantly being updated, so the creative team always had the most recent copy to pull from.
Adrian Tennant: Are there any insights or lessons learned from our collective experience this year that you recommend we apply to next year’s event?
Carley Conrod: We will definitely be shifting to a ticket-based system for project management, like Asana, for the production work next year. There were times when we would be working on 10 or 15 different pieces at any given time, and Asana really lends itself to fast-paced, detailed work like that.
Adrian Tennant: Over to Christina. Now you work in interior design, and you’ve been attending Coverings today. Yes. But this is not your first time at a Coverings event, correct?
Christina Rexford: No, it is not.
Adrian Tennant: So tell us a little bit about your previous experience with Coverings.
Christina Rexford: Well, I’ve gone a couple times, usually when it’s in Orlando, I have not gone to the other location for the show. And it’s always impressive, but it’s at a whole new level. And I think those years have probably a couple years during Covid that they couldn’t come out. They had a lot of wonderful things in the works, and you’re seeing them all today. I know last year I wasn’t able to go, but I’m excited to be able to see what I saw today.
Adrian Tennant: Now you are the principal of Christina Rexford Designs. I know you have a strong multidisciplinary background that includes graphic design, illustration, jewelry design, and photography. Today you are working on several interior projects. How does coming to an event like covering support your design practice?
Christina Rexford: It’s huge because it takes your creativity to a whole ‘nother level. Because now you’re seeing the products and the fabrication of products align with your imagination that you couldn’t even imagine. I guess it’s a hard way to explain it, but it opens so many possibilities design-wise, and it’s very exciting. And, when you do multiple mediums and design, I love fabrics. I love this. I love that. And you’re finding the tile is merging to almost look like fabrics. And you know, as a designer, it’s very overstimulating. It’s exciting, and it’s really, it’s a treat. It’s a treat to see what’s happening. your creativity has more and more places to go now, which is wonderful.
Adrian Tennant: I know I mentioned that you have a multidisciplinary background, and I believe that includes fashion design.
Christina Rexford: Well, I worked in fashion, not as a designer, I designed ads, not a clothing designer, but I styled, I did photo shoots and just did the runway shows, you know, the casting and the directing and yeah, it was great. I really enjoyed it. Hard to do once you get married and have kids, so, you know. But yeah, I loved it, and I think fashion leads everything. And you see it in interiors usually a couple of years after you see it on the runway as far as colors, and I’m finding now with this digital photography and the water jet and all these techniques that are just getting better and better, you’re almost seeing the tile become fabric and art and things that it’s no longer your back splashing, you know? It’s now the piece you’re gonna put on the fireplace and wrap around. You know, it’s just really, yes, it’s wonderful. If you love fashion, this is a show you need to go to. If you are a designer or a stylist or whatever that works in interiors, this is where you have to just come and take it all in. ‘Cause you’re not gonna see it at a lot of the local distributors. Not yet. They come here, and then you start to see it. So really it’s exciting.
Adrian Tennant: Well, I saw you taking plenty of notes as you are walking around and taking business cards, which is exactly what Coverings is for. What were some of the most innovative products or materials you’ve seen being exhibited at coverings this year?
Christina Rexford: I think just the way they’re digital photography has just changed everything anyway, with tile and stone. And, I mean, let’s start with the tile. Of course, some tile, like way back when doula printing, you had to have a volscreen, you know, and then all of a sudden digital photography came and, but it’s getting to a point where they are shooting images of stone that is so precise and finite that you’re looking at a porcelain tile that looks like a big slab of marble, and it’s not. It’s porcelain tile. And then you see the machinery, technological advances where they’re able to make these thin so you can hang them on a wall without it weighing 300, 400 pounds. So you’re seeing the technology between photography and machinery and the etching. And however they’re doing it, you’re seeing it marry with it’s the beauty of the products in general, and it’s just, it’s an explosion of geology and technology every day. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just fantastic. So that is the innovation for me this year was just over the top. I mean, they’re shooting these pieces of marble and stone or phonics, and then they’re photographing it and backing it to glass that you can backlight. But they’re doing it in little sections so that when you get the macro, the micros were all put together, and it’s like you’re looking at the actual stone, but it’s on a piece of glass, and you didn’t have to spend $5,000 – I mean, it’s just, it’s fantastic. And I mean, it just, it, if you can think it, they’re doing it, and it’s the fact that they’re thinking it is what is exciting to me. So, yeah. And then also the techniques that they’re, the finished techniques have been amazing. And then, what they’re incorporating the innovation of bringing in the black lip mother, you know, mother of pearl and all of these other natural elements. I’ve purchased black lip mother of pearl, and I had to get it in England. It wasn’t a common thing you could just buy anywhere. Now I’m seeing it incorporated with porcelains and mosaics, and it’s like, great. They’re all like, the circle’s getting smaller and smaller, and it’s nice. The resources are getting more plentiful for these products, so it’s great.
Adrian Tennant: Now I mentioned I saw you taking notes of …
Christina Rexford: … Yeah.
Adrian Tennant: … Exhibitors. Do you want to share some of your faves so far?
Christina Rexford: Yeah, yeah. I’ll tell you the ones that stood out, like stood out, stood out, stop me on my track is Antolini, which is out of Italy. They are really quite something. Beautiful slabs from Italy of marble and various other stones, but they have this technique, and I begged Mark Hubert, who is the manager, there. And he couldn’t tell me, but I tried for two days. But they have this amazing way of finishing these stones. they have many atypical finishes, but what they’ve been doing, Well, some of these is, they’re isolating, it seems like they’re isolating the striations in the stone, which is the character so when you’re looking at it, you can feel the difference like it’s like a three-dimensional feeling almost. Because you can feel where the striations are separated in the stone and, say, you have a marble, it has a flame character, and they’re taking it through, and they’re doing the stratus finish to it. they’re deeper where the expression isn’t because that’s mostly at the sandier, more gravelly stone. So that automatically has the character pullout, and it’s just remarkable. I mean, it’s remarkable. For me, it was very exciting ’cause when you see how they’re, doing the match print of the granite or the marvelous just. This incredible artwork really it’s, it’s amazing. So they were terrific. They’re one to watch. I will watch them. And also Ellen Lando, they have amazing stuff. They have a designer who went to Pratt Fashion and, they look like fabrics, just the water jet technology has really just given so much possibility to these mosaics ’cause they’re just, they’re precisely cut. They’re the colors they’re able to bring in there. It’s just mastery. But this woman is a designer, Dana, that they have. She just took it to a whole ‘nother level for me. And I think maybe, as a designer, I appreciate her designs. It’s not your typical backsplash. It’s odd, you know, when you’re not in Italy having a mosaic artist do it like she’s just doing it here in America, you know, it’s fantastic. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Colorado Stone was really impressive. People will forget that in America, we have our own beautiful marbles, very impressed with them, beautiful finishes. They have a process where they take the marble, which is usually, it can be not the most durable, and they have a process where they’re impregnating it with some type of stabilizer that fills in the pores and makes it more like dolomite, like a denser stone. Makes it more user-friendly. Anyway, very, again, innovation, the technology with the geology, and it’s just great.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. Today’s episode is being recorded at Coverings, the annual international trade show and conference dedicated to the ceramic tile and natural stone industry. I’m talking with Christina Rexford of Christina Rexford Designs, plus Carley Conrod and Red Withey, my colleagues are Bigeye. Do you feel inspired to explore new ideas for projects you’re working on, Christina?
Christina Rexford: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, like you said, it opens a possibility, so a lot of times you feel like you’re stifled, like, “Oh, I wish I could do something like that.” But you can’t ‘cause you can’t match material with what you’ve got in your head, you know? So we’re getting real close. So there are so many things that I’ve seen that, “Oh, if I only had that two years ago when I did a water wall, it would’ve been so much easy to use that product than to take the risk and use that product.” You know? So there is just, it’s great. Yeah, I know I keep saying that, but yes, it’s very inspiring and you’re exactly right you’re at a whole new level of inspiration. How’s that? Yeah.
Adrian Tennant: Now, as you know, there’s growing consumer interest in sustainable products and sustainable living. So I’m interested, did you notice any eco-friendly materials at coverings?
Christina Rexford: Yeah, lots of them. you see a lot of the simulated wood products, whether they’re for wall coverings or architectural elements, or even just the pavers or flooring. the tile industry has, again, with this photography, They’re able to create a product that looks like wood. It’s not wood or, I, I was really impressed with the pavers, and the plank pavers that you could do on a back patio ’cause you want it to be sustainable. You want doing epay, cutting down these beautiful cypress trees to get wood. That’s okay for the moisture and wetness, but you also don’t want it to look like an interior fake wood. You want it to look like you actually used teak or some moisture-friendly wood. And there were a couple of Turkish companies that just nailed it, completely nailed it, and very sustainable. They’re trying to find a distributor, and I hope they do because I really wanna be able to buy their products. So I’m pretty sure they will by the end of the week. But yes, very sustainable. There’ll be a lot less exotic trees being cut down if we can get these products out into people’s back patios. That was the one thing I thought we were missing a few years ago. I mean, we are there, so that’s great.
Adrian Tennant: So Christina, in what kinds of ways does attending Coverings influence your approach to selecting materials for projects?
Christina Rexford: I have a mental clipboard. So as I’m walking around, just like in, when you work in fashion, you. That would be great, and this would be great. And you’re pulling, it’s the same thing. I’ve got a clipboard in my head, and I’m like, “Okay, that would be amazing for if I ever did this project,” or “This would be really nice if this other residence that I worked on, and if we do this, this would be great.” Like you’re always matching the product with an actual project you’re working on, or one that you hope to work on, or “If I had a project like that, this would be what I would get.” So you’re consistently putting things on your little clipboards in your head if you have clipboards in your head.
Adrian Tennant: Christina, do you plan to incorporate any of the design trends or materials that you’ve discovered at coverings into one of your upcoming design projects?
Christina Rexford: Yes, absolutely. 100 percent. Some of the water jet mosaics would be beautiful out for an apron of a drop in tub, and a master suite. I’m doing a project, a new bill down in Southwest Florida, and it’s on the water, so there were such a femininity to some of these, these products that in Koosa, Koosa always has beautiful stuff, and so does Wow. These are other exhibitors but Koosa, they’re just amazing. Cossa Stone. they just get better and better and better, and they’ve been around a long time. But there’s like a whole new femininity to the products that I’ve noticed. ’cause again, we’re looking at almost fabrics here, but the colors were feminine. The, the, the tight design, it’s just beautiful. So for a home, a master bath, you know, you can bring them in and it’s more like art and, it’s inspiring.
Adrian Tennant: Christina, what advice would you give to other designers who are considering attending coverings for the first time?
Christina Rexford: Well, you have to come more than one day and prepare to be overstimulated. it’s just one wow after another. You really, you get a lot of wow at the distributors and the showrooms. You really do. But when you see it like this,it’s a lot and it’s great. You just have to have more than one day to do it, because one day you want to just scan as much as you can. Next day you go back to your favorites, and then you explore what you didn’t get then. So I Irene, three, four days. You could do the whole, I think maybe four days you could get the whole show done. For a show like this, this year, you have to do it. You’ve gotta do it. You’ve gotta go.
Adrian Tennant: We’ll come back to you in a moment, Christina. Rhett, you’re Bigeye’s Art Director, and you’ve been leading the visual development for this engagement for the Coverings events team. What research did you undertake before starting work on the project?
Rhett Withey: Well, this was, more than a year-long process. We sent our team to the 2022 Coverings show in Las Vegas to just get the lay of the land basically, and understand what this undertaking is gonna involve. We also looked at the past trade shows for this event, previous years of Coverings to make sure one, we’re not repeating any ideas, but also to kind of understand how they’re using all their elements, in different ways and where are some of the challenges that we might be seeing, just as an outsider. We looked at other competitor trade shows, again to make sure we’re not copying any ideas on accident, but also to see some of those edges of improvement as well. And then we also just look at tile and stone manufacturers and distributors themselves to kind of catch that trend of what they’re doing and see if we can catch anything, that we are seeing creatively that we can involve into the show campaign.
Adrian Tennant: How did you approach the development of the visual branding system for Coverings?
Rhett Withey: So, we took the name literally – Coverings – and thought about the process of when you’re laying tile or when you’re involving stone, and it’s literally layering pieces on top of each other. So we took that concept, and the entire creative team put together mood boards of what they interpreted that as. And then we got together and took our favorite pieces and talked it out and expanded on that idea of one layer over the other and covering different pieces, each other to create this 2023 Coverings brand.
Adrian Tennant: What were your main sources of inspiration?
Rhett Withey: So we literally started at the natural element of earth, where the rock and granite and stone come from. Water, where they’re mixing the mortar or grout. And then just the actual process of laying tile or stone, because it’s a wide audience that’s coming to this event. It’s not just tile and stone distributors or creatives, it’s also the people that are laying and doing the work itself. So how do we incorporate all of those different audiences into a campaign where they can see themselves in the visual elements? So even like the process of taking their pallet with grout and wiping it on the floor, that’s how we got some of the elements that we see in this campaign.
Adrian Tennant: What are some of the practical considerations you had to take into account when designing so many different marketing assets such as the posters, banners, social media, all those print materials. I mean, as we can see on the show floor, some of these pieces are huge.
Rhett Withey: Right? So, thankfully years of experience has led up to this, to this moment. But we try to do as much as possible in the vector format. If you don’t know, vector can be scaled infinitely. You could make a logo the size of the moon as long as it’s vector, you’re not gonna lose any texture or quality, in it. So, as much as we could do in a vector, that way, it could be as large as a billboard that’s on the side of the building to as small as the trade show booth number that goes on the floor without losing any sort of quality. That was our main goal for that, and also the sheer amount of assets in the campaign concept itself. That way, if there are certain elements that can’t quite fit on this shape, we don’t have to use, that we can use a different element from the campaign, and it still will come together cohesively.
Adrian Tennant: What challenges did you face during the design process, and how did you overcome them?
Rhett Withey: It’s mostly going to be the big challenge of the sheer amount of things that have to be produced for this show. ’cause going in, you think like, “Okay, yeah, we’ll make some signage, we’ll do some lanyards, and we’re good to go.” But it’s more – it’s way more than that. It’s way more than that. It’s all of those things, plus, the intangibles that we don’t even think about, wayfinding or the things as small as like swag items, tote bags and stuff. So it’s kind of important thatwe keep to our process and keep things organized, which we do with every client, but as long as we stay organized, then it was very smooth. And Basecamp helps with that, with client communication, our own internal server, our own internal processes all helped with that.
Adrian Tennant: I’m just curious, can you identify the smallest item that you produced and, of course, the largest?
Rhett Withey: Okay, so the largest is probably the registration walls. Yeah. Which is right across from us right now. Those were probably the largest. The smallest is probably the little booth numbers on the floor …
Carley Conrod: … or the app icons.
Rhett Withey: … or the app icons. I didn’t think about that one. That’s even smaller. Yeah. And even the app icons have some bit of the branding elements for this campaign as well.
Adrian Tennant: Were there any specific design trends or styles that you incorporated into the visual branding for coverings to make it resonate with the target audiences?
Rhett Withey: So red is their primary brand color and the client said that they want to keep going with red, so we had to start with that. But red is a very harsh color so we wanted to make sure that we paired it with some colors that could lighten it up a little bit. So we brought in a beige that paired really well with their shade of red. And we brought in this lavender color, which is also very trendy right now. And then when we pair those color elements with typography, which we take a lot of pride in – that we feel we are very good at spotting nice typography, great fonts – and the fonts systems that we chose for this campaign just really, really makes those colors and all the elements come together.
Adrian Tennant: Are there any insights or lessons learned from your experience this year that you recommend we might want to consider for next year’s event?
Rhett Withey: There’s always room for improvement. Always, in our own work as well. And it really helps walking around and seeing how they’re using things and seeing signs that we didn’t realize that this convention center even had, but they were able to utilize in a good way. That way, we know for the next year they have these kind of signs, so let’s do something even better. So, as much as we are excited about doing this show, being able to walk the floor and seeing everything come to life makes us even more excited for next year’s show and how we’re gonna do even better for next year.
Adrian Tennant: Perfect. Now, Christina, since you had no access to Bigeye’s designs beyond what you received as an attendee, I’m curious, do you think that Coverings advertising and marketing assets contributed to your anticipation of the event this year?
Christina Rexford: Yeah, absolutely. You bet ’cause I get a ton of mail, and the piece they sent stuck out and I grabbed it. I registered the minute I got it. Usually I’ll register through one of my vendors. So I literally took the initiative and registered on my own. It was from that direct mail piece that was beautifully done. And the colors, you’re right, just perfect waves. It was just great. Look, great. It got my attention. I pulled it out, you know. Did the call to action …
Rhett Withey: It worked.
Christina Rexford: It worked. It did what you wanted to do.
Carley Conrod: And you parked for free.
Rhett Withey: Yeah. And you parked for free.
Christina Rexford: Yeah. Which is nice. I would’ve paid, but I enjoyed that. Excellent effort. And I got a lot of prompts too, prior, which I really appreciated too, because your weeks are busy and one day bleeds into another, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s right.” I kept getting some additional support from your marketing efforts, and I did appreciate that very much. Got me more excited.
Adrian Tennant: That’s great to hear. Well, Christina, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your design services, where can they find you?
Christina Rexford: They can Google my name, and my Houzz page usually pops up: Christina Rexford Designs. I have a website. It’s ChristinaRexfordDesign.com. It’s in the process of being revised and renovated, and I’m on Instagram too, so yeah, they can just search. You’ll find me somewhere.
Adrian Tennant: Christina, Carley, and Rhett, thank you all very much for joining us this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Thanks to my guests this week: Christina Rexford of Christina Rexford Designs, Carley Conrod, Account Manager at Bigeye, and Rhett Withey, Art Director at Bigeye. I’d also like to thank the event marketing team for hosting us at the Coverings podcast studio, with a special thank you to our on-site audio engineer Brian. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com – just select ‘Podcast’ from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts, and contribute a rating or a review. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.