W&WP July 2002
I attended my first International Woodworking Fair in 1986. Buses were used to shuttle attendees between the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta Civic Center, which was pressed into service to house overflow exhibits. Combined, the two facilities accommodated 690 exhibitors in 435,000 net square feet of space.
I returned to Atlanta in 1988 and again in 1990. For IWF '90, show management scrapped the civic center and instead used virtually every nook and cranny of the GWCC to cram 898 exhibitors into 498,000 net square feet of space.
A much-needed expansion of the GWCC welcomed us to IWF '92; the show grew to 972 exhibitor displays covering 585,000 net square feet.
I notched my eighth consecutive IWF in 2000. For the second time in as many shows, the neighboring Georgia Dome was used to handle exhibits that could not be contained by the GWCC's exhibit halls, meeting rooms and concourses.
With 1,250 exhibitors spread over 706,000 net square feet of space, IWF '00 was big. Thanks to the recently completed $220 million expansion and renovation of the GWCC, IWF '02 will be even bigger. Not only will this record-breaking show have nearly 50 more exhibitors than IWF '00, the display area will be about 100,000 net square feet greater.
A Little Perspective
To put the size and scope of IWF '02 into an historical context, consider that attendees will have 37 hours of exhibit time - if they stay all four days - to cover a show that has about 85 percent more exhibitors and exhibit space than IWF '86. (Ironically, because IWF '86 opened a day earlier at the Atlanta Civic Center and closed a day later at the GWCC, visitors actually had up to 43 show hours to take in everything.)
If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that the bigger the show gets, the more grueling it becomes to thoroughly cover it.
We're fortunate to have more than 20 members of the Wood & Wood Products and Custom Woodworking Business staffs to man our exhibit booth and get around the show. I can't imagine how companies that send significantly fewer people to IWF for less than the full four days can possibly come away from Atlanta and in good conscience say they have seen it all.
Admittedly, not every booth offers something for every attendee. But considering that there will be nearly 1,300 exhibitors, including more than 200 new ones at IWF '02, individual companies will no doubt miss seeing many products that may help their businesses and bottom lines no matter how hard and smart they work a show this huge.
What's the Solution?
I don't think splitting IWF into separate machinery and supply events is the answer. Extending IWF to five days, in view of its incredible growth, merits serious thought, though.
IWF is the North American woodworking industry's most important event. Exhibitors expend considerable time, money and energy to plan, market and participate. Considering the investment and the stakes, is the big show not worthy of one additional day every two years? Most importantly, if IWF 2004 were five-days long, would sufficient numbers of attendees extend their stays for the sake of gathering additional product information and manufacturing the intelligence?
We'll know more next month, when IWF '02 convenes. It will be interesting to see if many people clamor for the opportunity to someday put their aching feet, hoarse voices and in some cases, livers, to the test for an additional day at IWF.
If nothing else, I expect to hear fewer exhibitors argue that IWF's floor hours should be shortened.
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