To start, (and in part because there are a number of sites linking to this page), let me again show you the essence of the current show, as experienced October 2012
Episode 89 The Future of the Woodshow
The full 20 minute feature of just some of the cool things you get to experience at the current wood show can be seen by following this link to Episode 90
For the customer/visitor to the wood show, the show has 100s of years of combined experience, and all very approachable people who are only too happy to share their knowledge with you. The following article is not condemnation of the show, nor should be taken as being negatively critical of any group (exhibitors, organisers, visitors). It is, in my humble opinion some observations on how we may make the show even greater, in financially tumultuous times. I don’t want to see the show lost, decreased in frequency, or to loose its primary focus of being a show for woodworkers, by woodworkers, about woodworking. So with all that in mind, and combined with the variety of opinions, ideas and suggestions in the comments, I return you back to the original, unedited article.
Before I say another word, let me be very clear: I really enjoy the concept of the woodshow. I’d go even if I wasn’t on a stand, demonstrating, presenting etc. Every year. The video preview just released, and the full version to come is still very much what the show has to offer. I don’t want to discourage people from going, the opposite is true. But I think it can be better (I know it can be), and that is what I have been hearing from all sorts of directions.
I also am well aware that this is not likely to be a popular article….. but for the sake of the show, I do believe someone has to say it.
First, some of the feedback I have been hearing, either said to me directly, or overheard between retailers and customers.
From the customers:
– the show is not as big as last year
– there are less stands than ever
– perhaps I’ll skip it next year – there is nothing new
– where is all the timber? There are only slabs…or bowl blanks (and I am not a turner)
From the retailers:
– where are all the customers?
– you could fire a shotgun and not hit anyone
– there is no advertising
– the space is so expensive
From the organisers (at the first day debrief):
– numbers are down from last year
There was a lot more, but that captures some of the essence.
I want to show you something. This video was taken earlier today at the Stitches and Craft show (where ManSpace magazine created a “men’s” retreat).
Few things I see here:
Crowds. Lots and lots of people. Conversations left right and centre. Money being spent hand over fist. So much for a downturn in the economy – sure it is depressed, but if something is on offer and the desire is created, wallets (or purses!) are still opening readily.
Many, many small stands (3mx3m), rather than a few huge ones.
What I really see? What the wood shows used to look like…. at Jeff’s Shed. Stands with people standing 3 and 4 deep – everywhere. Enthusiasm, excitement, variety of stands, affordable purchases.
The Showgrounds are a reasonable location, plenty of room, cheap parking. But after a number of years there, it has always been tainted by the decline in show popularity. As a significant way of demonstrating an attempt to change the show around, a return to Jeff’s Shed says so in spades.
It is at the same time as other expos, so there is a cross-visiting benefit. Couples head to the area, split off so one goes to the baby show, the other to the wood show.
But most of all, it is where the show was still pumping.
The cheaper the entry fee, the more people will come, and potentially the more money made. More people, more food sales, more sales at stands, happier retailers, more retailers, better show, more people.
Stand cost: I only hear second hand about the cost of the stand, but it sounds huge – very very hard to make enough sales to cover the cost. Up at the Ballarat show, a 3m x 3m stand is $75. At the Melbourne show, it is something like $2000. Now the organising company has to make money, but there must be a way to achieve both. Perhaps retailers have to decide to opt for smaller stands which keeps their cost down. Perhaps instead of storing stock on the stand, a system of storing stock ‘out back’ and easily accessed would be better. I seem to recall that out back there were shipping containers for stock at Jeff’s Shed. Seems to have gone. Storing stock on a stall is an expensive way to use precious real estate. Stored stock is not generating sales – it is fulfilling the order once a sale is made.
The show needs retailers – and it needs a lot. A few with large displays doesn’t cut it. Small stands with so much variety is the best, and is how the shows used to be.
What Carrolls did at the last show (Carroll’s Boulevard) was awesome. Small displays, lots of variety, lots of demos. A model worth expanding, or at least encouraging.
It used to be a set programme of demonstrations, and not just wood turners. If the customers are not entertained and informed as well as having lots of temptations to spend, they will not consider it a great show, and want to come back. Demos used to be scheduled, programmed and coordinated.
Something new – special guest (on top of the local experts, some external talent) Suggestions: Chris Schwarz, Norm Abrams, Marc Spagnuolo
As far as the locals, encourage an actual presentation from local experts, and not just what they do on their stand. Get people like Neil Ellis to give an actual presentation on finishing, on a stage (or staged area). Terry Gordon talking through manufacturing of a plane, or the use of profile planes or similar. There are plenty of others to choose from. Bring the demos to the audience. Provide notepads (in the entry showbag). This doesn’t detract from having demos at the different stands (they are still a must), but add to the experience. Encourage and inspire the customers. At the Stitches and Craft show, there were lots of stands where you could try out the activity. No signs declaring it- a sea of “come and try” when you look down the isles achieves little. Come and try what exactly? By the time I have gotten to a stand, I can see for myself if there is a participation element, and what the stand is about.
How about some master classes, as well as introductory ones? How about one on dust extraction in the shed. Another on what different tools are and why they are useful. Then one on handcutting dovetails, how to bend wood, how to inlay, or veneer or whatever. The knowledge is out there, the presenters are too. Inspire the customer and they will get into the spirit.
If the cost of being at the show was controlled, shows could be more like the US ones, where the debut of new products plays a significant role. We want to inspire people, give them something to look forward to, not just sell em the same old thing over and over.
At the Stitches and Craft show, I saw row after row of robotic sewing machines. CNC sewing. At the wood show I saw 2. The CNC shark which has been there for a few shows now, and a new one from Vicmarc. And I’m sure CNC machines are not the only new product or technology that is here (or is coming).
I assume there was some. I got some emails, but then I already knew about the show so it was an aide-mémoire, rather than a hook for new, interested parties. I met a lady at the Stitches show who was very disappointed to miss the wood show – she wanted to go, but didn’t see any prompt. Was there any newspaper ads? radio? I saw a couple of TV ones, but it was not a great promotion of the show to the unfamiliar. And it showed a number of products/stands that were not there anyway.
What about more promotion through the new media? Blog, Twitter etc?
There used to be a big toy competition, sponsored by Triton. It isn’t just the organisers who can advertise a show. Everyone should be promoting the hell out of it, and not just to their existing customer base.
How about embracing the skills around – live blogging/video blogging from the show? Wonder if there is any blogger down under with that sort of skill set? But you can’t rely on goodwill and free advertising. There has to be a quid pro quo.
How about having Wood Show TV, both reporting from the place to a screen at the place (interviewing different displayers etc), and to something like channel 31? Generate excitement.
The show needs to have more family interest, kids involvement activities, wider range of interest, and less tyre kickers looking simply for an outing of entertainment for a nominal entry fee.
The show should be a great place to stock up on items otherwise hard to find, from retailers local and national. There has to be a point to go to the show. Discounts are definitely one way (and real discounts, not just nominal ones).
Show bags, show bags, show bags. Real ones! Say a $100 show bag with your choice of a Chris Vesper marking knife or a HNT Gordon mini spokeshave, and a bunch of other stuff. etc.
One thing I have suggested for years, is to examine some of the international show successes, why their shows work and adopt good ones for ourselves. One thing they do in the US is power tool racing (power sanders). If the litigious US can do it, surely our nanny state could manage it.
Dovetail olympics (and other traditional tools). Sort of thing Stan is doing with his stand on a casual basis, but a more formal comp.
There is a whole heap more I could think of the add on here, but in the end there is no point unless there is real commitment and buy-in from all parties.
What I propose is a forum to discuss what can be done to save a great show. Not a blame-fest, but a professionally moderated brainstorming, with existing (and previous) retailers, demonstrators, customers, and show organisers. The goal – to come up with a number of strategies to build the show, to promote the show, to build interest (and increase the number of woodworkers out there – the more there are, the more customers), and to save what would otherwise be a terrible loss.
Going to a 2 yearly cycle would be terrible. There are always new woodworkers, and a 1 year gap is a long time as it is. We want to build the show, not pull the rug out from under it. Going to 2 years is defeatist, and a coffin nail (or a bunch of em!)
So I throw it out there: build a show back to days of old, or kiss it all goodbye. Other shows are managing it successfully – why can’t the wood show?
Instead of blaming the economy on why the show isn’t working, learn to adapt the show to the circumstances. If people are not buying big tools, concentrate on smaller items. People don’t give up woodworking when the economy declines- they change what they do in the shed to include different woodworking activities. Adapt with them.
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