It’s a familiar story. Talking with shop owners about the key thing that transformed their business and made it a success, I’ll always ask where they got that “big idea.” And often as not, the answer is a trade show.

That’s what trade shows do that is hard to equal in the virtual world of online information or even in our print pages. A trade show confronts you with things you didn’t know anything about. Encountering something new can be life-changing all by itself, but in the case of business ideas, change rarely can happen without lots of other questions being answered. That’s the unique power of trade shows, because the people and products are right there to answer the questions and get you started.

Trade shows are also good for putting a little reality into the preconceived notions you might have brought with you. Thinking you are going to operate one way and finding out that won’t work or that there is a better way is also a common trade show experience. That can be just as valuable as the “big idea” because it can save you trouble and time from going down the wrong path too far.

I can’t count the number times over the last 20 years that I’ve heard of struggling woodworking businesses that took on a totally new and successful direction after learning about some new product or technique at a trade show. But for every one of those businesses that learned something new at a show are hundreds – perhaps thousands – who stayed home and just kept doing things the same old way.

Why is that? It seems that woodworkers are less likely in general to step outside the comfort zone of their shop. And who is to argue that travel these days, especially involving any significant distance, is a hassle. But wouldn’t the hassle be worth it to encounter that one “big idea” that turns you business around? And what’s the risk? A few days lost shop productivity traded for the chance to dramatically improve the way you do business? Seems like a pretty fair tradeoff to me. Have you made your reservations for IWF yet? What are you waiting for?

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.