Brian Donahue, IWF 2020 Show Chairman

North America’s largest woodworking event, IWF (International Woodworking Fair) plays host to professionals involved in the production of cabinetry, furniture, architectural woodwork, closets, components and other facets of the industry. A showcase for woodworking technology and supplies, IWF takes place Aug. 25-28 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

Woodworking Network talked to IWF 2020 Show Chairman Brian Donahue, president of Safety Speed Mfg., for news and highlights of the biennial show.

IWF is one of the few industry events to be held since the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19. Why is this show so important for woodworkers to attend?

IWF has been a tradition for decades for the wood industry worldwide. More importantly, it has been the top venue for U.S. woodworkers and associated panel process industries to educate themselves, get a hands-on experience with existing and new products, designs, and network with other like-minded individuals. 

My goals as 2020 IWF Chairman, as well as an exhibitor at the show, are no different than previous years, however, we all know that the way we present and attend the show will have to be different.  All of our business models have changed, and will have to continue to change and adapt as we maneuver through this new challenge. Our industry has always been resilient and creative, and now is the time for us to carry on that resilience and find ways to build for a new and different future.

What are some features and highlights awaiting attendees at this year’s show?

The 2020 show’s main event continues to be the products and knowledge exchange that happens each year between exhibitors and attendees. IWF is where the woodworking business does business. That means IWF 2020 advances its role as North America’s number-one source for the latest developments in manufacturing technology, innovation, product design, emerging sectors, and more.

And how does all that happen? By giving the woodworking industry a one-stop resource for everything in the supply chain, beginning to end, from raw materials, supplies and finishing accessories to woodworking and material processing machinery. At the end of the day, IWF’s core mission is to help woodworkers increase sales, grow market share and find new paths to sustained long-term growth.

What are your current projections for on-site attendance? Will there be a digital component/version of the show for those unable to attend in person?

This is a tough question as we deal with the current challenges due to COVID-19. IWF has always been the largest North American attended event in our industry and I have no doubt that overall attendance will be negatively affected by the current circumstances, even as the health situation improves.

Prior to the crisis we were trending ahead on registration, however, in the past two months we have fallen behind 2018 registration. Now that businesses are opening, opinions changing daily, and overall the nation has done a good job at lowering the infection rates I believe we will see attendee confidence grow as we move closer to the show. Historically the three months prior to the show is the largest registration time, so in the coming weeks we will be able to gauge the confidence of our attendee base much more realistically.

What makes this event successful for all involved is, of course, attendees excited to look and educate themselves on equipment that they see helping them be more efficient and prosperous in the future. The final part of that equation equals a purchase, now or in the near future.

We have been working behind the scenes since the early days of this outbreak to include a virtual platform as part of the 2020 show. A virtual platform of this size is not easy to implement in such a short period, but every effort is being made to make it available to both exhibitors and attendees that are unable to attend the show.

IWF 2018 boasted the largest exhibitor space and exhibitors since 2008, with more than 1,025 exhibitors spanning across 625,000-plus net square feet. How does 2020 look to compare?

Our current booked square footage makes us larger than the 2018 show, however, at 955 contracted exhibitors (as of May) we have not yet reached the 2018 company count. The few months prior to the show generally is when many companies requesting smaller booths decided to participate, however, we may not see as many late additions this year as we have seen in the past.   

As North American manufacturing begins the process of slowly but steadily returning to business, what role will IWF have in helping woodworkers?

Business is changing and evolving at a faster pace each day, and as we have all witnessed in recent months, things can change overnight.  IWF will continue to be that security light during the night, helping like-minded manufacturers learn how to continue moving forward together, opening our eyes to new products and efficient processes by showcasing new technology, educational events, and giving us a chance to share our past experiences with familiar faces.

Many of us, as essential manufacturers, have had to continue working through the past months to satisfy the needs of other essential businesses. We have learned a lot about our businesses, including what we need to do to forge ahead in a challenging time. I personally look forward to hearing those stories and understanding what our customers need from us in the near future.

What steps has IWF undertaken to allay fears of attendees and exhibitors with regard to the coronavirus?

As everyone knows today’s guidelines may change tomorrow. However, I’m confident as we have moved further into this time of unknowns we have learned many new precautionary steps that we can take to help safely operate our businesses and get back to working toward the future. 

For the past few weeks, and all weeks leading up to the show, a weekly news bulletin entitled We Want You To Know describes the safety precautions that are being implemented by us, the Georgia World Congress Center, and other vendors associated with the show.  Every precautionary step is being investigated for the show and can, and will, be adjusted as we all learn new and safer ways to manage through a new set of circumstances.

For the latest information on IWF 2020 Show Preparedness and COVID-19 policies and procedures, go to  iwfatlanta.com/exhibitors/covid-19%20show%20preparedness (bit.ly/IWF-COVID19-Prep).

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