Episode 89 + SSYTC045 The Future of the Woodshow

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.

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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).

SSYTC045 Stitches

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.

Location

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.

Cost

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.

Retailers

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.

Demonstrators

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.

Innovative Products

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).

Advertising

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.

Entertainment

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.

Wrapup

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.

14 Responses

  1. Stu,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with many of those points! I went to the last wood show in Adelaide 2 years ago, it was my first one as I wasn’t into wood when they were around previously (about a 4 year gap in shows).

    I have been to many other shows, be them getting dragged to craft shows with mum when I was younger, boat shows with the boys, or all the wedding and bridal shows of late. All of them were leaps and bounds ahead of the wood show!

    Working as a rep for a company whose turnover is over a billion dollars annually also gives me a different perspective than most. I can honestly say that none of the small retailers/displays had any idea of how to market themselves! The only stand that had half a clue was carbatec.

    I was quite interested in purchasing from some of the smaller guys, but recent deposits paid on wedding items left budgets somewhat tightened. Explaining this to them and stating that I was in a position to buy in 3-4 months was often met with an arogant attitude. As much as I’d like to drop a few hundred dollars at every stand on tools or timber it isn’t possible for a lot of us and they should know that. The ones that did help me by giving me a card so I could contact them later even stuffed that up too, their business cards or flyers contained websites that no longer existed or phone numbers that are disconnected! Of the 12 or so stands I was interested in, only 4 were happy with a sale that wasn’t there and then, and out of that 4 there was only 2 that gave me accurate contact details.

    The special guest you mentioned would be a good draw card, I’d go just to see either if them. Having said that, what they’d charge for appearances being worked into entry prices for a show with rapidly diminishing attendances would need to be carefully managed.

    My local carbatec (the only decent stand at the last show) have indicated they probably wouldn’t attend further shows as the costs of machinery transportation and display stand space are prohibitively high for the returns they generate. They said they get much more interest and sales out of their regular ‘3 day sales’ than they ever did at the wood shows.

    • This year I have attended three shows the first was a trade show at jeffs shed which was a quite small area crowded with with stands showing off new products all aimed at the professional cabinet/ furniture maker company or smaller trader /builder looking to upgrade their machinery or at least get to know what was out there .Everyone attending was registered and any enquiry you made was noted and followed up over the following months but it seemed that few sales were made on the day and as a punter I couldnt say how successful it was. The second was the tradies tool expo at the showgrounds here I saw a large number of retailers from many different building trade quite a lot involved timber plus government involvement in workcover, apprenticeship ,and small business. Prior to the show there seemed plenty of advertising on radio and TV. The day I attended there were large numbers of punters seeing and purchasing the latest and greatest tools and equipment and as a punter it had a great vibe and comparing my purchases afterwards seems like I did do well comparing to normal retail if only by a few dollars . The wood show I attended as a volunteer helping out on a stand the contast seemed enormous. The venue smelled and looked like a cowshed cold and uninviting in the morning and as the temperature rose during the day it became smellier , humid and hot. This didnt seem to change over the three days. Unlike the earlier show I attended(tradie expo)there the floor had been cleaned and disinfected and didn’t smell of livestock. The exterior advertising was very small and iIl placed. In my circle of friends and family who are non woodies there was a zero awareness of the show and when I mentioned I would be attending some arranged to visit and were underwhelmed by the signage and parking but really liked the show and spent money however they both thought the show must have been a club run event as it didnt seem very professional as they put it.
      I also have heard from retailers during and after the show that things (whatever they are) need to change or they are not coming back.
      I am in no way an event organiser and dont really have any clue as to how to fix the show other than some combination of all three that I have attended would be awesome.

  2. 100% agree with you here Stu and of the main points, a change of venue would be the first way to go. Yes, Jeff’s shed would be the most appropriate, something more intimate and close to the city.

    I have to disagree with Ben. I spent little or no time at Carbatec, it was just a regurgitated version of their (un-stocked) Melbourne store. Carroll’s got it 100% right this year, the buzz around their stand was palpable. Ken Wraight was tireless and a great drawcard.

    I usually spend 2 days at the show but this year, 1. It felt like a baron wasteland this year. I’ve got the 2011 show vendor list with me here and have compared it to this year. 21 less vendors. I’m a woodturner and was pleased with what was on offer but at the end of the day, there was nothing for the other disciplines there.

    I’ll go next year and hope things will change. Given the current owners of the expo, I doubt it.

  3. By the way Stu, have you given thought to the demographics of the Stitches and Craft show? There would be more females at this show than the woodwork expo. Woodwork, as a whole, needs to attract more females. This is where pyrography, marquetry and scroll sawing could come into it’s own. Maybe there should of been a “wife/partner” retreat at the show?

    • Sam, I understand that the carbatec stand looks like a scaled down version of one if their stores. The point I was trying to make was that at the last show that was in Adelaide their stand was the only one that had any form of thought to the layout and marketing of themselves. The rest of the stands looked like they were thrown together the morning the show opened, and really didn’t seem all that interested in being there.

    • Anyone selling pyrography, marquetry and scroll sawing would have made a killing at Stitches and Craft- there was none there, and yes, it is a great fit.

      The idea of using it to attract another demographic to the wood show is excellent. If managed correctly (ensuring a proper display area set aside, and looking like S&C does, with a number of retailers), it could be marketed to the massive number of quilting, embroidering, sewing etc groups out there. A massive market, and many with partners who need a hobby, and what better hobby than woodwork?

      Men’s Sheds are a great institution for some, and more power to them, but they do not cater for those still in the workforce at all, and from a commercial point of view, they do not result in sales. Why buy a tool when you can use the one at the club/Men’s Shed? Showing people how they can get into the hobby themselves, at home is what will reinvigorate the market.

      I was in Denver a couple of years ago, a city about the size of Melbourne, and the local Rockler store was full of people, in the middle of the working day. And down the road is a Woodcraft store of similar size. Why does Denver have so many more woodworkers than Melbourne? You have to build your customer base, not by attracting them to the store (existing woodworker) but by getting them into the hobby/obsession(!) in the first place. There are a lot more people who don’t woodwork that would be interested if guided in the right direct than existing woodworkers. Build the client base and they will become customers.

      For the woodshow, advertise to them as well “come along, see what woodworking is about- you may find the hobby/past time/passion/ etc that you are looking for is woodworking. Come to the show and see what it is all about. Find out how easy and rewarding it is to make the grandkids some toys, or beautiful boxes for Christmas etc. We guarantee you will find something interesting to see, or try for yourself at one of the many interactive stands. Pick up a passport card as you enter, and get it stamped as you try each of the different activities listed. As you leave, full passports will be given a special showbag. If not, enter it into the draw.” (Eg pyrography stamp can be earned at any of the stands doing demos/classes etc)

      Marketing is not hard. You just have to know the audience you want to connect with.

  4. Since last year, I have been thinking for the kids (and the grown ups) it would be great to get a $20 (approx) showbag with a lump of wood in it. You take it around to the different stands (like the passport you get a school excursions), and turn this lump of wood into a tool box for them to take home. You can rip at one stand, drill at another, use 4 different type of box/dovetails, turn a handle, CNC a picture.

  5. Reblogged this on Tutorwood's Blog and commented:
    I’m not one for re blogging articles on my site but this excellent post from Stu of Stu’s Shed raises a lot of very good points which will be echoed by woodworkers such as myself who despair over the future of the working with wood shows in Australia

    Cheers

    Bryan

  6. I attended the Brisbane show, which was the first one i had been too in many years as i have just stared to get back into wood working, firstly i had to know in advance it was on, i was exceedingly difficult to find online, i searched for Brisbane wood show etc and eventually found that it was a sub page under the promoters web site, it did not have its own web site.

    Stu your points are well made and all i am sure true, but if they cannot even pay the few dollars to have a web site then it is unlikely that they can think about such issues as you raise and i fear for the future of the show.

    Best regards

    Jeremy

  7. Great insight Stuart.
    The problem I see is the Aussie attitude.
    What I mean by that is the Americans, whether it is Aviation, Automotive or wood working shows or products, have everything in abundance and at cheap prices and throw themselves at you to help.
    (As you did when I went into carbatec to buy a saw blade!)
    The Aussie retailers in general think the opposite,
    this is a big problem but not insurmountable.

    A great example of this is recently after reading your blog, I ordered an Amana mini router bit from the states, it took a while to get here and it happened to be the wrong bit, so I wrote back and was asked for an order number. Without any further correspondence I learnt that they had shipped out the correct bit for free.
    This has never happen here for me. As a matter of fact I have had to fight for replacement goods, but In this case I actually feel an obligation to buy more because of the way they have treated me.

    You often hear the phrase ‘only in America’ used derisively but in this case I wish the Aussies had the same attitude.

  8. I can only agree with Stu’s comments. I travelled from Adelaide as the show has not been on there for a few years. I was surprised when I entered the hall I was expecting a more exhibitors. I did enjoy the wood turning exhibitors, but I had seen these guys at the last Adelaide show.

    Carroll’s stand was excellent and I did manage to pick up some tools and blanks for turning. It would have been great to see wider variety of timber beyond blanks and slabs.

    I had a great chat with Colen Clenton a really nice bloke but sadly his tools are out of my price range.

    I too found it difficult to find online references to to the show. I knew it was going to be on. I think that there were less exhibitors than the last Adelaide show, and that was discontinued because of poor sales and attendances.

    May be in this day of online ordering and YouTube there needs to be more emphasis on the how to. Combining it with a his and hers type show ( I can hear the siren warning of the politically wailing) might be the way forward.

    I don’t know about alternative venues in Victoria, but the Adelaide show grounds I suspect would have a similar price point for exhibitors.

    I really like the idea and enjoy the environment of the show. Talking to others afflicted with the same passion is great. Somewhere with a greater focus on demonstrations and competitions and a cheaper set up cost for exhibitors might move things forward.

    Bernie

  9. The Whittlesea Show is on this weekend and by comparison, have a look at the environment and space there, would be a brilliant space for a wood show. And look at the attendance at this show, it’s going to be huge.

    This leads me to an idea. Maybe the Woodwork show can piggy back on another show or vice versa? Stitches and Craft plus Woodworking?

    • Wow it sounds to me as if you guys don’t want a dedicated wood show.

      Come on guys do you really want a wood show attached to a craft show. I believe it would be hard to get near the wood exhibitors for information due to the abundance of non wood visitors. I would actually prefer a quieter show as this would allow me more time to have a one on one with the exhibitors without all the tyre kickers getting in the way.

      I cant see anything other than a small wood component being attached to the Stitches and Craft show and then there will be metal thrown in as well.
      I actually enjoy getting away from the wife and going to my show where I can be with men who share my passion for wood working.

      Have you ever been to a show at Rosehill Racecourse in Sydney. How would I get my timber and tool purchases to my car as they make you park in the middle of the racecourse and walk or catch a bus that is no longer road worthy to the buildings.
      The first year I went to the caravan and camping show at Rosehill I spent too much and vowed that I would never do it again as getting my purchases to the 4wd was a nightmare. I still go every year but because of the parking location I only spend very little.

      I save up all year and buy at the wood show so that I can support the exhibitors and show itself as I would hope that you all do. The shed is never full enough.

      I went to the Sydney wood show this year at the Sydney Showgrounds and loved it. I went last year to the show at Moore Park and although enjoyed the show the venue was a hassle the location and parking costs were not visitor friendly.
      The New venue at the showgrounds was fantastic easy to get to and plenty of parking and I can even take a trailer. If I only go to one show in 2013 this will be it.

      Come on show your support for a dedicated wood show stop talking it down, start saving your pennies, get off your backside and go to the
      dedicated wood show don’t let it be destroyed by negativity and a craft show.

      Cheers.

      • Some really good points in here. I’m not looking to criticise the show, or any group either. My only interest is doing what is necessary to ensure the long term viability of a woodworking show in Melbourne.

        Not combined (but nothing stopping woodworking elements creeping into other shows- increases woodworking population, great for everyone so long as we don’t loose our own show!)

        Wasn’t directly comparing Melbourne with Ballarat, but I think lessons can be learnt there. The price may be wrong- happy to stand corrected, but was taking the price of a stand that I’d been told then dividing it down to 9m2

        A venue change may not be necessary, other than indicating ‘change’ in itself. I haven’t seen the customer parking- the exhibitor parking is much MUCH more convenient than Jeff’s shed.

        After being to the camping show at Caulfield (which is a huge show), perhaps that would make for a good venue (or 2nd venue?)

        We just need more exhibitors and they need more paying customers!

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