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AWFS Fair is coming to Las Vegas live and in person

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Woodworking spoke with Angelo Gangone, the executive vice president of AWFS Fair, which will be held July 20-23, in Las Vegas, Nevada about what convinced them to hold the first ‘post-pandemic’ industry show while many others, even later ones, are still being cancelled.

“We are doing great and everyone that wants a vaccine can get one,” Gangone says. “Unfortunately, it’s not like that for you guys (in Canada) or Europe and of course that will affect what we will see at the show.
He adds that while they are finding that domestically, registration is going very well, which is good and overall registration is in fact up when it comes to attendees, he says it is down when it comes to exhibitors at this moment.
“But we are of course talking about a moment in time and that can change quickly.”
And their overall international registration is down, which is something they anticipated.
“What we did not anticipate was that the U.S. would be this far ahead with its vaccine distribution and countries across the world would be this far behind,” Gangone says.
“For the shows in the U.S., their bread and butter has always been a domestic audience. Our’s would be mostly west of the Mississippi and IWF would be mainly east.
So what we’re doing with a county as large as ours is that we are addressing the entire country, but we are doing it over a period of two years, which is why we have the two shows for different parts of the country.
“So really, our true focus this year is going to be even more on domestic attendance than it has been in the past, because we know that our international is going to be down, including Canada unfortunately. 
Gangone says Canada was one of these countries they just did not see on the radar being this far behind.
“We just did not see that. And Canada usually makes up the largest part of our international audience. But now we have to take a wait-and-see approach, because we don’t know if the border will be open again and what travel restrictions will remain in place.”
And that is also affecting a number of their Canadian exhibitors who had to bow out as exhibitors, because of the current restrictions in place 
and not knowing where that is going to be headed.
“So let me explain how 
we came to our decision to 
go ahead with the show,” Gangone says.
“One of the things that really showed is the sentiment of people out there that wanted to come to the show, we found that out through our survey.
“Reading some of the comments people had, it was really clear that they really wanted to have a show and for us not to cancel it.
“People were tired of things being cancelled, tired of not being able to conduct business face-to-face, which still just cannot be replaced with virtual meetings even though people have done an amazing job and try to adapt to virtual platforms.
“And we’re seeing that virtual just does not replace face-to-face and then there are technical issues that come into play and overall we’ve found that our exhibitors are just not happy trying to do things only virtually and they are not seeing the results they were expecting, Gangone says.”
“So we do not plan on having, at this point, any virtual aspect to our show. We want to be live and we want to get people back to the shows.
“We realize we are in a very unique situation because we are one of the first shows coming out of the gate in a post-COVID world,” he says.
“So our expectation simply is that we do believe – and it is more of a gut feeling at this point – that it is going to be a good show and we do believe that the people that are going to be on the show floor are going to be a lot more serious than what you have been seeing in the past in terms of their buying intentions.
“Overall, I think there is a pent up market and you have to remember there hasn’t really been a show for our industry since out last show in 2019. IWF unfortunately had to cancel, that was a big disappointment, but of course we realize why they had to do it. And then LIGNA cancelled, which came as a bit of a surprise because they had rescheduled it to the fall, but seeing how they are truly, truly an international show, I do understand and respect why they had to make that decision given all the travel restrictions still likely to be in place.”
Gangone adds, “fortunately, our industry had made it through this pandemic much better than anticipated.
“Yes there are huge supply issues right now, but unlike the shock of 2008 and 2009, when everything just collapsed, this is not the same case. This has been a totally different kind of shutdown.”
The unique situation AWFS faced in 2008/2009 was that the woodworking industry was impacted through the collapse of housing and lack of demand, in this case, AWFS Fair was also hit hard because it is part of the hardest hit industry, which was live events.
“So both times, we were unlucky to be in both the hardest-hit industries,” Gangone says.
“And now, as we are approaching this post-COVID world, we are going to have challenges, which we do anticipate, however, overall for the exhibitors that are going to be at the show, we are anticipating that there is going to be good demand.
“In addition, people are going to be anxious to see the products that have been released over the last couple of years that they weren’t able to see in person.”
Gangone says the number one reason, over and over again, for people go to shows is to see new products. “It’s the number one reason.
“Yes they go there with buying intentions, but they also want to see ways that they can improve their manufacturing processes. That is whether it’s in technology, for efficiencies they can apply or in supplies, or from a functional or decorative side of their business.
“Another important component for us is that AWFS, for a long time, has been a big proponent of career and technical education and that work continues because we have been and continue to face a real skills gap in the industry.
“And since that’s something we still anticipate to be the case down the road, it makes it interesting for people to see the kind of technology that will enable them to overcome some of these labour challenges.”
And after companies have added more automation to their shops, they will then of course need skilled people to run that machinery, he says.
“So we are tackling both sides of that issue here at the show by offering education and the technology you need.
“On one end we’re saying come here and have a look at what’s being offered where you might be able to streamline and automate your manufacturing processes, while at the same time we’re out there trying to push and bring young people into the industry and showing them that you have a really viable career path here and you need to take advantage of it.
“Another thing, and that’s why it is so frustrating for us, AWFS is doing so much and not just the show, but also this career technical education, and yet one of the things we have been facing for a very long time is this overall image of the woodworking industry that there are all these old and dusty shops, but that’s just not true.
“We have some of the coolest technology out there now and if more people would actually just go to these shows and see the technology they would realize just how much our industry has changed.”
And that is another reason AWFS want to hold a strong industry show, they are trying to bring more young people into the industry to show them there are many great opportunities for them out there.

A smaller show
Gangone says by March of last year, before anyone could really predict how the pandemic would develop, they had already sold 83 per cent of the show. But then companies had to change their plans.
“We had 634 exhibitors at the last show in 2019, this year we’ll anticipate we’ll have somewhere between 400 and 500, but we don’t know for sure,” Gangone says.
“So the footprint will be smaller, which is not necessarily a bad thing because we have to look at the context of the overall situation. And it will be in the new building across the street from the old one and that is super exciting.
“Some of the exhibitors who signed up had to pull out strictly because of the travel restrictions and they were very disappointed because they know how important the American market is. And we have worked with them because of course we don’t want to penalize anyone who really can’t come into the show because of the restrictions,” he says.
“Now of course if some of those companies have people here in the U.S. who can be at the booth, then we expect them to be at the show, because that’s only fair.
“We also aren’t sure yet about mask mandates and social distancing regulations because we will be one of the first shows coming back to Las Vegas. But I just saw an announcement that Las Vegas is lifting restrictions by June 1, but we just aren’t sure yet exactly what that means for social distancing and wearing masks.
“I expect all that will be clarified by the time our show comes around, but exactly how it will impact how we do things is still very fluid.”
They were originally expecting that attendees would have to wear a mask at the show, however, “now I am just not sure, we will just have to wait and see.”
Gangone says they decided when we saw the strong preregistration numbers, that although they were going with a smaller footprint, the important thing was to have a good ratio of attendees and exhibitors.
“There are so many unknowns right now, but as long as we have that ratio where you have a good amount of attendees to exhibitors than we consider that a good show.
“And it is still going to be a sizeable show and people will see many exciting things and they will be able to finally interact again. And there are many people out there who are eager to do this, because we have to move forward.

Seize new opportunities at AWFS 2021
Whether you’re looking for ideas to help you overcome disruptions in your supply chain, source the best new products, or opportunities to reconnect with other forward-thinking woodworking professionals, you’ll find it all in Las Vegas, July 20-23.
Organizers hope you will join them for a highly interactive experience in a safe environment that delivers exactly what woodworking professionals need to capitalize on opportunities to grow their business.
Known as the industry’s innovation marketplace, AWFS Fair is the “go to” event for thousands of woodworking manufacturing professionals who need cutting-edge solutions to make their operations more competitive and more profitable.
Addressing that quest for innovation, the 2021 AWFS Fair once again brings the industry together for an in-depth review of the new developments and advances that are driving the market. Participants benefit from high-quality educational programming in the industry (the College of Woodworking Knowledge), to a show floor that features top suppliers and resources, and a variety of opportunities to network, learn and acquire the relevant information and strategies to help them grow along with their industry.
The industry is constantly growing and changing, and so is AWFS.
Several exciting developments 
are in store for this year’s event, including a new location in the state-of-the-art West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the move to a more convenient Tuesday-Friday format.
And as organizers prepare to resume life in a pre-pandemic setting, AWFS Fair’s primary goal is still to keep attendees safe. Show management is keeping a close eye on the constantly moving target that is COVID-19 guidelines and what that will look like for attendees on the show floor this July.
“We can assure you that the show will operate in accordance with current safety guidelines from the CDC and local government.”

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