Two years ago at the AWFS fair in Las Vegas, tumbleweed was seen floating down a vacant aisle. The reports couldn’t be verified, but it was entirely possible given the low turnout and a woodworking industry mired in a dismal economy.
The 2011 fair, held July 20-23 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, had a more upbeat feel. It sounded more like a woodworking show with the return of the big machinery manufacturers and, while the aisles weren’t anywhere near capacity, people certainly outnumbered vegetation.
On the final day of the show, Angelo Gangone, the trade show’s executive vice president, said he was pleased with the attendance (the official count was unavailable at press time), saying it surpassed the approximately 9,200 at the 2009 fair, and the presence of more than 500 exhibitors.
“In my opinion, I feel like the response was highly positive. I feel like it’s been a much more positive show than in 2009, which was a difficult year with so much uncertainty,” Gangone says. “Now, we feel there’s a little more optimism. Sure, attendees are still hesitant in terms of the economy, but there’s also a sense that people want to get back to work,” says Gangone.
Exhibitors interviewed by Woodshop News were generally pleased with the quality of buyers at the fair.
“We’ve been very busy,” says Tom Onsrud, president of C.R. Onsrud Machinery. “We’ve got people who say they’ll be buying. Our sales staff says the quality of the customers is really good and that the people visiting our booth are serious. Many of them already have CNC equipment and are looking for more. The buyers were not shocked by prices, knew what they were looking for and were asking questions. It’s much better to have quality over quantity when it comes to consumers.”
“Lots of customers have been interested in our new benchtop tool lines,” says Nash Wang of Steel City Tool Works. “We hope that we can always bring up new innovative products for our customers and accommodate different needs for our woodworking community. We were also here in 2009 and at IWF in Atlanta in 2010. Attendance at these shows is good for us because the woodworking community knows we’re still with them.”
Attendees had ample face time with exhibitors, who enjoyed steady traffic on the first two days of the show and looked for anyone to talk to during the final two days.
Gangone said the event’s educational seminars were well-attended, including the 46 sessions offered through the College of Woodworking Knowledge and safety training programs conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“I think education is more relevant now. As times have become more challenging from an economic standpoint, I think people are looking for answers. Attendees want to better themselves and, if there’s a way for them to run their operations more efficiently, that’s what they’re going to do.
“This year we had a whole new track for owners of small shops with 10 or fewer employees. From a percentage standpoint, I think there are more of those shops in our industry now due to downsizing.”
The fair also featured the Freshwood student design competition, 2011 SkillsUSA World Team Cabinetmaking Qualifying Event and a steady stream of networking opportunities.
“We’re not only showing attendees new and useful products; we’re bringing exhibitors together under the same roof for four days. In the future, we’re going to take more of a community approach because people want more of these networking opportunities and interaction between colleagues of the same profession,” says Gangone.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.