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IWF: North America's Largest.

The seed from which the mighty International Woodworking Machinery & Furniture Supply Fair has grown was planted in a hotel basement.

Sixty-eight years ago, the editors of Wood Products, a forerunner of this publication, lamented about the absence of a woodworking trade show. Furniture markets were common, being held regularly in Chicago, High Point, Grand Rapids and elsewhere. Ironically, there was no parallel event for showcasing new woodworking technology.

"Unfortunately there is no 'woodworking convention' where the latest types of machines and equipment can be displayed and their performance explained by specialists in constructing tools which better meet current problems," wrote Wood Products editors in February 1932. "Such a convention would help immeasurably to place the manufacture of wood products on a higher and more scientific level."

The answer to the industry's prayer finally arrived May 5-7, 1954. That's when the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America sponsored the Woodworking Industry Show at the Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids. It featured more than 100 exhibitors and was attended by 4,000 members of the wood industry. Though the WMMA had actually sponsored a smaller woodworking show six years earlier in a Grand Rapids hotel basement, the 1954 event legitimized the concept in the eyes of Wood & Wood Products editors. This magazine's June 1954 Editorial stated, "We don't think the active interest and the many orders placed at the Grand Rapids show can be be regarded as a 'flash in the pan."'

The success of the WMMA's show spurred the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers to stage its first Supply, Equipment and Fabric Fair in conjunction with its 27th annual convention at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, Chicago.

Southern Migration

Meanwhile, the WMMA moved its show to North Carolina, holding it in High Point in 1958 followed five years later in Greensboro. An estimated 12,000 people attended the 1963 Greensboro show, now dubbed the American Woodworking Machinery & Equipment Show. Several thousand of the Greensboro show's visitors also stopped by the Guilford Tobacco Warehouse (also in Greensboro), where 17 importers of woodworking equipment, whose wares were not welcome at the WMMA's show, held their own show over the same seven-day period.

In September 1966, NAFM held an "All-Industry International Furniture and Woodworking Supply Fair" at the Kentucky State Fairground in Louisville, The show's exhibit floor was open to domestic and imported machinery.

In 1968, only four months separated the WMMA's show in Greenville, SC, and NAFM's Louisville Fair. "Upwards of 15,000 people" went to Greenville to see the wares of 240 exhibitors, one-quarter of which represented overseas manufacturers. NAFM reported an attendance of more than 10,000 in Louisville; the show had 435 exhibitors, including most of the WMMA members who displayed at Greenville.

IWF Is Born

While WMMA and NAFM each claimed their 1968 event was successful, both organizations ultimately decided it was in their best interests to merge their trade show activities. Their collaboration resulted in the birth of the International Woodworking Machinery & Furniture Supply Fair.

The inaugural IWF was a five-day affair, held Sept. 19-23, 1970, in Louisville. It featured approximately 500 exhibitors from the United States, Canada and 12 countries overseas. More than 15,000 woodworking professionals attended.

A Chasm Develops

As the biennial IWF grew with each succeeding event, the tension mounted between the show's sponsors and many of the exhibitors representing foreign equipment, who claimed their interests were not adequately represented. The situation reached a head following IWF '78. The importers formed the Woodworking Machinery Importers Assn. and decided to pull out of IWF '80 in favor of scheduling their own show in Atlanta.

Thus, for the second time in 12 years, woodworkers had to choose between attending two major shows -- this time scheduled only two weeks apart. The WMIA's World Woodworking Expo, held at the Georgia World Congress Center, featured 341 exhibitors. IWF '80, held only three weeks later in Louisville, featured nearly twice as many.

Peace Restored

After the two shows went head to head again in 1982, the respective sponsors agreed to merge under the IWF umbrella. The 1984 show moved to the recently expanded GWCC under the joint sponsorship of the WMMA, WMIA and the new American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. which was created by the merger of NAFM and the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Assn. The enlarged fair featured 390,000 square feet of exhibits and about 27,000 visitors and exhibitors.

Ever since, IWF has continued to rack up records in exhibits and attendance and surged in international importance as a world-class show. The 1998 edition attracted total industry participation in excess of 53,000 people and featured 646,000 square feet of exhibits. Overflow demand for booth space was partly accommodated by pressing the neighboring Georgia Dome into service.

Looking ahead, IWF organizers will be hard pressed to satisfy all of the space wants for August 2000. But space constraints will resent a far less problem - in 2002 and beyond pending the completion of planned expansion that will increase available exhibit space at the GWCC by 50%.
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Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Previous Article:Schrock Cabinet Co.
Next Article:Wood Fights for Markets.

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