I've been to dozens of trade shows and generally leave feeling physically exhausted, lugging bags filled with information on new tools and machinery, and anxious to get home. To my mind, that means I saw everything there was to be seen, I've accomplished all of my fact-finding goals and I just really like to get home.
But I've often wondered: Is there a better way to get information about the woodworking industry?
So last month I got on a plane to the NexGen event in North Carolina. Ten companies held "open houses" at their manufacturing facilities and showrooms. In two full days, I managed to visit eight of the 10 companies. And I left exhausted with my bags full and anxious to get home.
A trade show and the NexGen event are two entirely different experiences. A trade show, such as the IWF in Atlanta, features hundreds of exhibitors under one very large roof at the Georgia World Congress Center. It's a one-stop shopping experience for supplies, tooling, machinery and a wood education. But it's much more than seeing cool tools. The chance to meet and connect with people from every corner of the vast woodworking industry is unmatched. If you're serious about growing your woodworking business, you have to attend at least one of the big trade shows.
But there were some very appealing factors to the NexGen event. The weeklong event drew about 250 attendees from 150 companies. That meant there really weren't any crowds to deal with. I pretty much had the place to myself as I went from company to company. I had one-on-one interaction with company presidents, technicians and sales staff. And if I wanted to see a machine run, all I had to do was ask.
For example, I had the chance to get "under the hood" of several high-production edgebanders and wide belt sanders to really see how they can improve a shop's output. From a catwalk at Holzma U.S., I watched a demonstration of three work cells with different machine configurations, showing how the manufacturer can meet a shop's specific needs. At a trade show, with bigger crowds and higher noise levels, these demos might have been less effective.
Here's a very helpful hint: If you plan on attending a future NexGen event, make sure to get a rental car with a GPS. The participating companies are generally not far off the major highways between Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, but we spent hours in the car over a two-day trek. And while appointments weren't required, we arrived with a set itinerary to see as much as we could.
If you're looking to buy machinery from one of the 10 participating companies, I recommend attending the next NexGen event, which is scheduled for the fall (see story on Page 10). Many of these companies won't be exhibiting at IWF 2010. This event is too narrow in scope to replace the trade show experience, but then that's kind of the point.
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I'll close with a somewhat desperate plea for panelists to join my educational session on estimating at IWF 2010.
Ideally, I'd like to have three panelists responsible for giving a 20-minute presentation on estimating for the mid-sized shop. The 90-minute session is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, with the final 30 minutes devoted to questions from the audience.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue.