Volume 47, Issue 8 - October 2008

IWF Delivered Where it Counts
Quality over Quantity

by Drew Vass

The slow times were showing a bit at this year’s International Woodworking, Machinery and Furniture Supply Fair (IWF). Held August 20-23 in Atlanta, Ga., the show never tested the Georgia World Congress Center’s capacity limits. But, in spite of relatively barren isles, exhibitors still had smiles on their faces. Why? They say what the event lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality.

“We heard that the attendance was down 30- or 40-percent; however it seemed like the people who spent the money to come to the show were serious about it,” said Dave Schmucker, president of Global Sales Group LLC. Global is a Chico, Calif.-based machinery distributor that performed live demonstrations on the show floor.

This sentiment is backed by show officials who report that out of an approximate 40,000 attendees, nearly half were registered as potential buyers—not a shabby number for today’s environment.

The floor was packed, as usual, with equipment, with some setups nearing the size of a city block. Stiles Machinery, from Grand Rapids, Mich., occupied 42,475 square feet with its display. The company toted 73 machines to the show and officials boast that they had what they believed to be the busiest booth overall.

“Simply put, no other exhibitor at the show came close to the wide array of offerings to cover every aspect of our customer’s manufacturing needs,” boasted Stephan Waltman, vice president of sales and marketing. But did the company have to pack up all 73 machines to head home? Apparently 20,000 buyers to 73 machines was a good ratio, as Waltman reported that Stiles sold “most” of them.

Invincible Green
Roger Rutan, vice president of Timber Products Co. in Springfield, Ore., said his company held high expectations for IWF, in spite of fewer people, mostly due to the level of interest in green products. According to Rutan, the slow times don’t apply to every product segment and geographic area.

“There are some pockets in the U.S. that are strong,” Rutan said. “I was in Texas last week doing our Green Road Show and business is good. There are also some pockets in the Northeast that are strong as well. And the Pacific Northwest is perhaps backing off a bit, but it’s still okay.”

Rutan says the green movement provides an exception.

“We’re certainly in a challenging market, overall, here in the United States,” he said. “But the green market place is an exception to that. Our sales are actually growing; demand is strong and, furthermore, interest remains strong.”

Timber Products’ representatives sported green shirts at this year’s event and the company’s booth was set up with an organic, ecofriendly feel.

The show always draws a number of lumber and material providers promoting their particular products and species, and this year was no exception. Companies such as Kuhns Bros. Lumber Co. Inc. in Lewisburg, Pa., don’t show up with trailer loads of kilndried lumber to sell. Timber and lumber companies come to promote their specific niche offerings and to build relationships which, hopefully, generate future sales.

“We found IWF 2008 to be a good show for Kuhns Bros. Lumber Co.,” explained Scott Seyler, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. Seyler admits that the show’s turn-out wasn’t as his company had hoped for, but it still managed to deliver. “We did not have huge numbers of visitors to our booth; but we certainly made some interesting domestic and international contacts that should lead to future business. Buyer quality seemed strong,” he explained. “We have already made some sales from the show.”

Show and Tell
One of the greatest draws for any show is the ability for exhibitors to show and tell. When Contact Industries exhibits at an event such as IWF, the company’s primary purpose is to educate attendees on the company’s veneer wrapped moldings and OEM components, including a new fire-resistant door frame. Custom veneer-wrapped products are still gaining recognition, according to company officials, and they can also be difficult to conceptualize, so the show floor creates a perfect venue. And Jim Snodgrass, Contact’s vice president of export sales, says interest in the company’s fire-resistant door frames has come on strong since its introduction last year.

“Architects are really excited about the ability to have a wood frame with 20-, 45-, 60- and 90-minute openings,” Snodgrass said. “In the past they would have to use a steel frame for this.”

This year’s debut item for Contact was a reconstituted veneer wrap, which Snodgrass said generated significant interest.

“It’s been a good show,” Snodgrass reported. “Obviously we noticed the count was down, as far as sheer volumes of people, but the right people [were there].” Snodgrass has a theory. “In the past, I think some large companies may have sent eight, ten or even 12 people. Now, they might send two or three; but those two or three are key people, so we made some great contacts at the show.”

Door and jam machinery provider KVAL Inc. traveled from Petaluma, Calif., for the event, with one of its 979-2 CNC version machines in tow. The company’s chief executive officer Jerry Kvalheim said he was pleased with the event, overall. KVAL had a slight advantage at this year’s event, however. The 979-2 machine it displayed was actually sold prior to the event to a business located nearby.

Don’t Forget Stairs
One product that spans several categories is stairways. With elements of fine woodwork, specific machinery and even components that resemble fine furniture, there was no shortage of attractions for members of the stair industry at IWF. A number of component manufacturers and machine and software providers both attended and exhibited. Chas Wilson, vice president of business development, the Americas and Caribbean, for AppliCad was busy providing software demonstrations in his company’s booth. And he said AppliCad had no complaints about show traffic.

“We had an exceptional turnout and were very well received,” Wilson reported. The company had a projector set up in its booth that associates used to draw in passers-by for software demonstrations. The same tactic worked for Computer Associates Inc.

“While it seemed that the show was not as widely attended as in previous years, we were fortunate to have had a number of excellent conversations on the show floor with manufacturers of door systems, cabinets, staircases and other millwork products who, especially during today’s market, are  seeking ways to reduce costs, improve marginsand, essentially, do more for less through technology,” said Kenneth Stubert, account manager for Computer Associates’ Ponderosa Millwork and Building Materials Software.

The Stairway Manufacturer’s Association (SMA) exhibited and held both board and code committee meetings at this year’s event. Dave Cooper, SMA’s code development representative, manned the association’s booth.

“Ultimately we’re here to increase membership,” Cooper explained. “But we want to exhibit and let people know what the SMA does to improve the stair industry.”

Brad Rippel, an SMA board member and director of sales for Stair Parts Inc. said the decreased number didn’t come as a shock for him. “I’m sure that I’m not alone in noticing the reduction in the number of people walking the floor, but then I think that was expected,” Rippel said. “I felt that the IWF was a well-run show, with great exhibitors. Even though the attendance was down, I did hear from one of our SMA members who exhibited this year and he said that there was a lot of interest in his product and that he had a lot of leads to follow-up on.”

What the future holds for the building products industry is difficult to predict. Many suggest a rebound may not occur until 2010. Others feel next year will produce a much needed turn around. Whatever the case, as long as shows like IWF can continue to pack a small but mighty punch, people will always take the time out to participate.

© Copyright 2008 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.