Even in "normal" years, stone industry professionals I meet with tend to have the same question for me this time of year: "How was Coverings?" I'd say this has been the case for all 16 editions of the show that I have visited during my time atStone World.

This year, of course, the question carries a bit more meaning. Although I don't believe that a trade show necessarily demonstrates the "pulse" of an industry, it certainly provides one indicator of how things are going.

So what do I have to say about this year's show, which took place from April 21 to 25 in Chicago, IL? Well, I'm certainly not going to say that it was "bustling" or that I had a hard time getting up and down the aisles of the McCormack Place exhibition center -- nor do I think anyone was expecting that in this economy. Attendance at the event was sporadic -- stronger at some times and relatively quiet at others -- and it seemed like the second and third days of the four-day event were the strongest.

As for the quality of attendees, I know it is a "trade show cliché" -- especially in a down market -- but the people who came to Coverings traveled to Chicago to do business. Without exception, the stone suppliers I spoke with said that they met with a number of solid leads on the show floor, and many said they were able to sell containers of material during the event.

On the machinery side, of course, the challenge was even more daunting. But the suppliers of large-scale machinery I spoke with during Coverings said that they had quality meetings during the event, and some reported that their meetings during the show will result in equipment sales.

Looking back on the event, I would say that most of the exhibitors at Coverings were satisfied by their experience. Of course, this can also attributed to the lower, realistic expectations that came with working a trade show at a point when the industry is (hopefully) hitting bottom.