Several tile distributors are inviting their customers to join them next year for a trip to Chicago for the 2009 Coverings show. The international exposition and conference dedicated exclusively to the newest in ceramic tile and natural stone takes over the McCormick Place Convention Center, April 21-24, with 1,200 exhibitors from more than 50 countries attracting nearly 37,000 attendees.

Genesee Ceramic Tile Distributors, Inc., is among those extending the invitation. With four locations based throughout Michigan, and none much more than a four-hour drive from the Windy City, Genesee is preparing to host about 50 clients including architects, designers, residential builders and remodelers for a two-day visit. There is no admission charge for the show and all seminar sessions also are gratis, so it becomes a tempting proposition for Genesee’s guests to sign on.

“We’ve been going to Coverings since the show started 20 years ago,” said Jim C. Cokley, founder and president of Genesee. “It’s always been worth the travel investment, regardless where it’s held, because there are so many new products to see and resources to discover. We’ve also found it a valuable venue for networking. Professionally, it’s a tremendous experience.”

According to Cokley, the CTDA, a Coverings sponsor, first suggested Genesee host a client trip. In fact CTDA has teamed with the show’s management to help line up some of the logistics and details for those distributors interested in the program.

“We’re trying to put the word out about this offer to our members who are within easy traveling vicinity to Chicago,” said Rick Church, CTDA executive director. “It’s a modest investment in time-just the matter of a day or two-to visit the show; but, the payoffs are manifold. You’ll be building goodwill with your best customers and at the same time helping introduce them to new products, new resources and contacts from all around the world.”

For Cokley, who has been joined in the business he founded 35 years ago by two sons and a daughter, the conference sessions also are worthwhile, and he and his staff will be encouraging guests not only to travel the show floor but also to take advantage of some of the seminar programs, especially since so many offer CEU credits.

“The two-days will be jam-packed, but with Chicago so close by, we’d be remiss not to offer this and I’m confident those who take the time out to join us will find it hugely beneficial to their own businesses,” Cokley added.

Also sending a contingent to the 2009 show is Keen Tile. With four locations in central Illinois, Keen is planning a one-day excursion with about a dozen client guests. It has been issuing the invitations informally, via word-of-mouth.

“We’ve been attending Coverings for 13 years straight,” said Rick Jackson, Keen’s owner. “It’s an important show for seeing the latest trends and a rich resource for finding new manufacturers, plus renewing relationships with many of our existing suppliers. To be able to share this experience with our clients, which is a mix of retailers, builders and installers, is fantastic, because it opens their eyes to how vast the industry actually is and the depth and breadth of tile and stone out there from all over the world.”

The concept for distributor-sponsored trips to Coverings emerged two years ago when the trade show made a return appearance in Chicago after a 15-year absence. At that time Miles Distributors, one of the mid-west’s largest, hosted about 1000 clients from its five locations. This past year for the Orlando show, Palm Beach-based D&B Tile Distributors and Master Tile, which has two Florida locations, participated in the program, bringing a total of 220 guests.

According to Glenn Feder, president of client events for National Trade Productions, which manages and produces Coverings, “This program has evolved to become an ongoing initiative with CTDA and one that makes sense for its members. This coming year, especially, given the economic climate and challenges to business, the opportunity for a distributor to offer something of added value to his or her client is a great demonstration of support that helps build relationships.”

Feder suggested that any other distributors who want to host a customer trip should contact National Trade Productions, (703) 683-8500.