With the biggest show of the year, IWF, nearly here, the attention of many shop owners is focused on new machines and tools. That's certainly as it should be, and there's no better place to think about those things than IWF. But there are other tools besides the machinery type that also should be top of mind.

Economic pressures ranging from astronomical fuel prices to the downturn in housing and new construction are leading many shops to look much closer at their operations. Adding new machinery presents opportunities for increased productivity and additional capacity for new work. But it also requires planning, training, and thoughtful integration into existing systems. That's where another tool is so important, and that tool is information.

Shop owners who study their options carefully and are well informed always have a leg up on the competition. The crucial knowledge you need ranges from simple basics such as knowing your market to the nitty-gritty details of getting maximum performance out of the latest CNC marvel machine.

Do you know where your shop stands compared to the rest of the industry? Are you using the right measuring tools to evaluate your performance and move your business forward? How good are you at managing the flow of your business? Are you committed to continuous improvement or stuck in the same way you've always done it? Times have changed; has your shop changed with them?

So, now you've decided to buy that shiny new machine at the show. Have you really explored everything that should go with it? Have you considered all the related issues of dust collection, vacuum, electrical, software and training? What about the basic logistics of moving a new machine in and getting it set up? Have you considered the potential shop down time and how much of your time personally may get taken up?

None of this is to discourage you about moving forward. Instead, it is intended to help you to progress faster and on surer ground, knowing you have what it takes to succeed. Getting that knowledge is even easier now because of the emphasis on education at IWF. As much as the booths full of machinery, tools, and supplies should be attractive, the long list of workshops and special presentations should also get you excited.

This year CabinetMaker is sponsoring two workshops at IWF. One is looking into the nuts and bolts of automating small to medium-size shops. If you are even just considering the concept of automation, this is the place to get the knowledge you need. Our other presentation has to do with key business metrics every shop owner should know about. These are tools by which you can measure your progress and performance. Check out these workshops and others at the IWF Web site, www.iwfatlanta.com. Then you can come back from the show not only with the machinery and supplies you need, but the knowledge to get the most out of them.

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