AWFS fair on course despite tough times

While there’s no clear indication of how fast the woodworking industry is going to rebound from the recession, AWFS fair management has a positive outlook that things are headed in the right direction. This is illustrated by the handful of new features and programs they’ve implemented that represent industry trends ranging from green themes to shop automation.

The 2009 AWFS fair, scheduled for July 15-18 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is less than two months away. As of April, the expected exhibitor turnout was approaching 650, according to Marguerite Hoffman, vice president of trade shows for AWFS. In recent years, the biennial show has averaged about 900 exhibitors. Hoffman says the reason for the decline is simple: the economy.

“We’ve run the gamut of reasons why some exhibitors aren’t coming back this year, and they’ve run from ‘barely hanging on and about to go out of business’ to ‘all of our expenses have been cut and right now we can’t have this added expenditure.’ ”

Hoffman added that exhibitors not returning this year say they’ve exhausted all resources and have done everything they could to try to go, and that most have indicated they will be back in 2011.

“The encouraging news is that many of the economic indicators over the last six weeks suggest that the worst of this downturn is over and we very well could already be in the early stages of a recovery,” says Hoffman.

“We expect this trend to continue as we move into our show and strengthen through the rest of 2009. We believe that the exhibitors who remained committed to our show and the industry through this downturn will ultimately reap the rewards as well.”

The show attracts a national crowd of both exhibitors and attendees, but a majority of attendees are from the western United States.

A green theme
The show will be a source for sustainable materials, green manufacturing technology, and educating woodworkers about environmentally friendly principles and opportunities.

“Our industry is kind of late to the game with the green theme and people are confused about it,” says Hoffman. “We’re introducing a new feature called the Green Desk and we’re bringing in industry experts from governmental agencies to manufacturers of green products.”

Attendees will be able to stop by the Green Desk to ask the experts questions related to sustainable practices and products, green building certifications, and regulations affecting the industry.

A ‘green track’ will also be added to the show’s list of educational seminars, which is an expanded version of the former environmental track that will address legislative issues and the like.

The main attraction
Traditionally, about half of the show’s exhibitors offer materials and supplies — including hardwoods and veneers, hardware and fasteners — while the rest offer machinery, such as CNC equipment, table saws, dust collectors, finishing equipment, and hand and power tools.

CNC machinery has become a major draw at AWFS. To offer attendees extra education in the field, Gero Sassenberg of the Woodnet Corp. will present “Simplicity in Automation for the Small Shop” seminars on Thursday and Saturday mornings before the show opens. These “smartSHOP” seminars are designed to take the mystery out of designing and building Euro-cabinets using CAD/CAM in a fully operational cabinet shop and will cover software selection and application, nesting, machine layout, material handling and more. Parts will be machined and assembled.

The “smartSHOP” will also run mini-demos during show hours and produce products for a local charity.
“One of the reasons we decided to add smartSHOP is because a lot of [attendees] are from the smaller shops and they come to these big shows and get kind of intimidated. They don’t know where to start, they don’t know who to go to, they don’t know where to really look, so we try to put it in one package for them to see and also have an expert there who can answer specific questions and take some of the guesswork out,” Hoffman says.

Student design contest
The Fresh Wood student design competition is another highlight of the show focusing on student work. It is designed to give students in high school and college woodworking programs exposure to the business side of the industry. This year’s competition will feature 40 finalists.

Hoffman says that showcasing students’ work enables the AWFS to visually push the idea of career technical education to more people, while promoting the woodworking field as a career option to the participants.

Angelo Gangone, executive vice president of AWFS, says he’s confident that all of the newly implemented and improved programs will be valuable to this year’s attendees. He also believes that this year’s attendees will be a well-qualified group that will give solid leads to the exhibitors.

“All shows have seen a similar pattern since the events that transpired last fall, which set off a worldwide chain of panic and fear that spilled into the first quarter of 2009,” he says. “In fact, it was only a bit over one year ago, that we thought this year’s AWFS Fair would be our largest show ever in terms of overall exhibit space. The last 18 months have been challenging for everyone. It looks as though we may be finally reaching the point where people are saying ‘enough is enough, it’s time to get back to business.’”