SECTOR GUIDE: Furniture & Flooring - The best effects. Up-to-the-minute designs for furniture and flooring can provide the perfect finishing touches to a stand. Simon Clarke runs through all the latest fashions

The ambience of any exhibition or event will be coloured significantly by its furniture, fixtures and flooring. And with a generation of visitors educated by a slew of style programmes and magazines, those old polypropelene chairs from the church hall just don't cut the mustard anymore.

"Clients are seeking an increasingly broad selection of furniture and flooring,

notes Graham Langley-Jones, managing director of Thorns Group, which supplies everything from shell schemes to cutlery at myriad events across Europe.

Langley-Jones, along with a number of other suppliers, points to increased demand for the kind of high-style items seen on TV progammes and in trendy city-centre bars. Thorns is pushing natural products - wooden and cane seating and tables, and modern aluminium furniture.

Graham Parrish Exhibitions marketing manager Andy Metcalfe agrees. "People are looking for something different in contemporary styles,

he says.

Among the company's offerings is the Astro chair, a vision of up-to-the-minute beech and chrome, and a host of chrome-legged tables.

Flooring, too, offers current styling including metallic or wood finishes. And you don't need to lay the ubiquitous laminate. Wood-effect vinyls are available that are claimed to be easier to cut and lay.

Chequerboard Opex deputy general manager (floor coverings) Roger Jennings says: "Vinyl effects including wood, marble and sisal grass are very popular, as well as special effects such as tarmac for motor shows."

Old favourites

It's easy to get carried away, however. One of the reasons the stackable plastic chair is so ubiquitous is because of its very practicality. "There is a demand for modern designer ranges,

says Metcalfe. "But the old favourites such as unit seating, coffee tables and side chairs are still very popular because they work. We have updated the style and colour, but there's still a lot of mileage in it."

And the events market puts its own demands on furniture and flooring.

As Craig Hammond, projects manager of Thorn Group subsidiary Camden Furniture Hire, points out: "We have to keep up with the market, but we also have to think of practicality. These items are going to come in and out of our warehouse very frequently, and the condition of our stock has to be kept up to a high standard."

Today it is much more common to see fabric furnishings and coverings, and indeed even whole furniture ranges that have been customised to match an exhibitor's corporate colours or logo. Reeds Carpeting Contractors is one of a number of companies that can put a company logo into a stand's carpeting. Commercial director Martin Cairns says: "We update our colours all the time to keep up with trends."

Taking colour development a step further, Peter Banks Exhibitions uses its in-house manufacturing capabilities to offer special colours at no extra cost. Managing director Penny Banks says: "All our products are re-lacquered each time they are hired out so we can match any Pantone references or samples. It's a very different service from companies that offer a standard furniture range in a limited range of colours."

All this doesn't have to come at a high cost, however. It seems competition and the growing size of the event market has helped keep prices stable and in some cases even force them down.

Spaceworks Furniture Hire marketing services manager Dan East believes people simply want more for their money. "We've been around for about ten years and our hire rates have never gone up as far as I know. They just keep going down.

Other suppliers, including Graham Parrish, also claim to have held prices steady over time.

Fashion-driven market

Suppliers overwhelmingly recommend hire rather than purchase because of the fast-changing, fashion-driven nature of the market.

"Even if the client is using the same type of furniture and going to ten different events a year it's not always cost-effective to own that furniture,

says Graham Parrish's Metcalfe. "It can work better to do a deal on all those events including the transport."

Hiring also offers flexibility for different events. "It allows people to change colour schemes or themes for each event, without additional capital outlay,

comments Langley-Jones at Thorns.

Flooring is a slightly different animal and purchase may be a better option for small spaces. Floorex suggests about 1,000 sq m as the cut-off point.

When it comes to free delivery, the issue is complicated by where you are and when you want it.

"Our standard price list is based on us servicing a certain event," notes Metcalfe. "An event outside of that is worked out on the basis of where it is and how long you want the equipment for. If it's in London or Birmingham the chances are we're in the area anyway working on other events. Otherwise there may be a delivery charge."

Next issue: Stand-building services

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