Yesterday, we saw an immediate flurry of interest in our coverage of developments with regard to the IWF tradeshow in Atlanta, centering around the fact that four of the largest equipment suppliers to the U.S. woodworking industry said they will not be exhibiting. Today, a fifth “major” also said it has dropped out, and IWF released a statement indicating that they expect 2010 exhibitors to number around 700. Compared to the 1,300 exhibitors at the previous show, that means several hundred others already have dropped out, too.  

We editors shared our thoughts as we mused about what this could mean for the industry and, if it signals the demise of woodworking industry tradeshows, what the consequences could be.

After pondering this for another 24 hours, an additional worry keeps nagging at me: Without an annual venue bringing an audience of tens of thousands intent on seeing what’s new — plus the side incentive of trying to outdo the competition — will industry suppliers lose some of their impetus to make constant improvements and push the envelope to develop new technology?

The annual tradeshows have traditionally served as a debut party for many exhibitors, giving them a deadline of sorts to come up with something new. In addition, awards programs like the IWF Challengers Award have spurred companies to innovate on a regular basis. Will they keep innovating to the same extent when they are only hosting small groups of people at their showrooms or sending sales reps one by one to individual plants?

Of course, that thought leads me to the flipside. Maybe companies will continue to develop technology at the same pace, but then how can the same numbers of woodworkers possibly see it? And if they don’t see it, how can they ever adopt it? There may be catalogs, spec sheets, demo videos, Web sites, online forums, advertisements and such to spread the word. But nothing is as good as seeing actual products at work to understand what they can mean for an individual company.

One person who commented about our blogs yesterday said, “I think the whole country is having to rethink how we operate.” Another said, “Change happens.” I think they are both right, and being an optimist, I assume that new ways of doing things eventually will work out for the best. I just hope there won’t be a giant lag-time, because in the meantime, I think something will be missing.

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