At AWFS, some hope for better days ahead

If you're a betting man, Las Vegas must be heaven. You're greeted by slot machines when you step out of the hotel elevator, gaming tables that are open 24/7, and sports books that offer such obscure action as which team will score the first free throw in the second half.


The woodworking industry was wagering that the economy would start turning around in Sin City during the biennial AWFS fair, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It might be a long shot at this point, but the mood of exhibitors was at least hopeful.

The pre-show buzz was about the big fish who didn't exhibit, such as Stiles Machinery, Weinig and Biesse. These companies spend a bundle on shipping and setting up their massive machinery, and on the travel expenses of their technicians and sales representatives who interact with the attendees. This year, AWFS simply wasn't in their cards. Maybe they'll be back in 2011 or maybe they'll spend their marketing dollars elsewhere. Only time will tell.

So this year's show was a bit quieter and there were fewer large exhibitors that occupied what seems like a city block on the show floor. But other mainstays, such as Grizzly, Delta/Porter-Cable, Holz-Her, Powermatic/Jet, Felder, Thermwood, ShopBot, Laguna Tools, General International and Williams & Hussey - to name just a few - were in Vegas. This was still a really big show with about 600 companies occupying several hundred square feet of exhibition space.

By Day 2 of the four-day show, I was still going with the "under" on attendance in comparison to recent shows. That's about as safe a bet as you can make in this town. There were an inordinate number of exhibitors with no one to talk to on opening day, but booth traffic steadily rose. Exhibitors were expecting a small turnout of willing buyers, and at-show discounts were the norm.

At Martin Woodworking, for example, attendees who bought at the show have traditionally received a 3 percent discount on their purchase. This year, it was 10 percent, according to company president Carl Stout. ShopBot was willing to cut a sweetheart deal on its display CNC router just to avoid the cost of shipping it home.

Exhibitors have scaled back on new-product introductions. While Grizzly, for example, can usually be counted on for at least a dozen new machines, this year there were only four.

And the number of post-show activities is far fewer than in the past. There has always been a party or dinner to attend after a long day at the show, but this year the buffet lines are even longer than usual. There aren't even enough sandwiches to go around in the press room.

Look for full coverage of the best tools and machinery from AWFS in next month's issue.

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In other news from AWFS, WoodLINKS USA announced that David Peel, president of Microvellum, will serve as president of the industry education partnership. Patrick Molzahn, program director of the cabinetmaking and millwork program at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis., will serve as vice president.

Mark Roberts of Mesa Community College in Tempe, Ariz., will serve as the WoodLINKS USA vice president of education.

The remaining board members are Urs Buehlmann, associate professor at Virginia Tech's Department of Wood Science and Forest Products in Blacksburg, Va.; David Hildenbrand of Thermwood Corp.; Anthony Lynn, president of Castle Inc.; Robert Stout of RLS Commercial Interiors; Herb Meldahl of Onsitewoodwork.com; Jim Ruffolo of Burger Boat Co.; David Spencer, president of Willow Creek Tool Sales Inc.; Mitch Kohanek, an instructor for the Wood Finishing Technology Program at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemont, Minn.; Thomas Tuck III of the SCM Group USA Inc.; and Paul Winistorfer, professor and department head of the Wood Science and Forest Products at the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech.

For information, visit www.woodlinks usa.org.

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue.