Why small woodshop owners should attend a tradeshow

When you own a small shop that requires you to be in it constantly it can be difficult to justify stepping away for anything, especially out of town conventions. 
It is no secret that the AWFS Fair convention hosts some colossal companies that are geared toward large-scale production, and once seeing it in person, it can be quite intimidating. I know at IWF 2016 I felt like John Connor from the Terminator movies watching robots all around me doing my job. 
That being said, I can still make the case for the little guys (like myself) to attend - if not the big shows, then consider a local show, like Wood Pro Expo. There is great value in what it can do for your shop at home by giving you a chance to do live in-person research on products, discovering unexpected solutions to shop problems, and through connecting with peers, and tool reps. 
There have been so many times while working in my shop when I knowingly put off purchasing a new tool from a lack of ability to try it out or look it over in person. When you’re running a small shop, even small purchases can be financially impactful and it is hard to spend money on faith and brand reputation alone. At these trade shows, I go with a short prioritized list of shop needs, so that I can get some hands-on knowledge of things before purchase.
I’m also able to get one-on-one time with the reps to ask questions and learn about products. I can genuinely say just doing this has paid for my trips over time, saving me money from purchasing the ‘wrong’ tools. Also, many companies in attendance do show specials/discounts that usually aren’t available at any other show.
Another great reason for the small shop owner to get to the trade shows is discovery. Almost every time I have attended one, I have discovered a solution I had not considered or did not even know was available. When I say solution, what I mean is a product that solves a day-to-day problem or something that increases efficiency.
Most often, it’s a small product of a new innovation debuting at the show. When running a small shop, much of the time you are competing with large-scale shops and computer, robotic, and CNC-driven operations. If you’re stubborn like me and refuse to adapt out of concern for quality control, or if you resent that a machine is replacing a workforce that should be held as an esteemed trade, then you and every advantage you can get within your standards regarding efficiency.
My favorite part of attending shows like AWFS Fair is getting the opportunity to meet new people. Getting a chance to meet and exchange conversations with other shop owners can be an enriching experience that has always yielded inspiring ideas and needed solutions. It’s also comforting to hear others describe the same aches and pains of running a shop that I thought were unique to me.
Another valuable experience is establishing a response with the companies who make products I use daily. There is no substitute for a good old-fashioned handshake and exchange of conversation. This has been beneficial on many occasions at work when I need information on fixing a malfunctioning tool or just to speak to a person at a company.

After becoming more familiar with these companies on a personal level, getting help while on a tight deadline is always easier.

It took me years to become open to getting out of my shop and becoming more active as a business owner by attending shows like AWFS Fair. After being named a 40 Under 40 winner and attending IWF in 2016, I noticed the benefits within three weeks, both financially and productively.
Since then, I have attended several shows whenever the opportunity has arisen. And I would recommend that you all take the time and attend one yourselves. Worst case – you have some well-deserved fun and your body gets a break from the grind of the shop.

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About the author
Matt Buell | President/Owner/C-Level

Matt Buell of M. Buell Studio the host of the 2023 #YoungWoodPro contest and lead coach for the people who make up the YoungWoodPro audience. Buell has achieved national acclaim for his custom furniture and was honored as a member of the Woodworking Network 40 Under 40 Class of 2018.