Having received notices from four of the largest equipment suppliers to the U.S. woodworking industry that they will not be exhibiting at this year’s IWF tradeshow in Atlanta, with hints that there will be other dropouts revealing themselves in the days to come, I start to wonder what the consequences will be, both in the short and long terms.

A similar thing happened at the Las Vegas Fair last year, and while that show was down from previous years’ levels in the number of exhibitors and attendees, it survived. Woodworking company owners still came, they looked, they shopped. Some exhibitors said they had good shows, some complained about not enough attendee traffic — that happens at every show in good times and bad. Some seemed to enjoy having a bigger spotlight for themselves, with their larger competitors absent. Life went on.

But now it’s happening again, and it raises the question of what will be the end-result this time, and will it go beyond the fact that IWF will not be a record-breaker in 2010?

If the companies that are this year’s no-shows find that they can generate equal profits by showing their wares in other ways, will they continue to stay away — and will more of their peers decide to follow suit and desert next year’s exhibit halls? Without the draw of big machines on the show floors, will attendees be less likely to come?  And without attendees there to also see the latest in hardware, finishing materials, software, substrates, surfacing materials, will it take away the incentive for those companies to buy booth space?

Not to mention that there will be no serendipitous moments, when a woodworker notices a small booth in the corner where an obscure newcomer is introducing an invention that could solve a nagging design, production or installation challenge and be the greatest discovery of all.

I realize that mounting booths at national tradeshows has become an expensive undertaking, especially for equipment companies with huge machines to transport, set up and operate. But if this is another step in what will be the eventual path to the end of large tradeshows as we know them, even if the individual companies survive, I think there will be an overall loss to the industry.

What do you think? Will this change the face of the industry?


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