IWF Atlanta, 2022
The International Woodworking Fair (IWF) trade show, held biennially in Atlanta, is a Pretty Big Deal, comprising and showcasing companies of all configurations which are associated with woodworking as it relates to the building construction industry. This is not a consumer concentric trade show. It is geared to the professionals who build—and finish—things out of wood products for all types of construction. It is held in the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), which is situated hard by Mercedes-Benz Stadium wherein the NFL Atlanta Falcons play their home games. This bewildering complex (Halls A, B, B-C, and C) is located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, of which I am not a fan. Congested, complicated by narrow pock-marked streets running helter-skelter, and claustrophobic-inducing massive hotels built with almost no green space in between. The palatial (by comparison) Orange County (FL) Convention Center (OCCC) and hotel row straddling International Drive in Orlando, FL it is not.
As for the positive aspects of GWCC and IWF Atlanta, it is just a three (3) hour drive from Knoxville (plus whatever traffic jams one might encounter along the way, whether it be major bridge construction in Chattanooga or the generic fender-bender for which rubbernecking drivers in ALL lanes insist on slowing to a CRAWL). Also, there is a Sonny’s Bar-B-Q restaurant in Marietta, just a few miles north of downtown. Sonny’s is one of the very few things we miss about Central Florida. Anyhow…
The show dates were August 23-26 inclusive and beginning on the 18th the place was a beehive of activity. Seeing a trade show from the inside is an education all within itself. It is a cacophony of sometimes barely controlled chaos, an anthill of fork lifts and miscellaneous other motorized vehicles serving to transport crates, boxes, and all sorts of various equipment necessary to put on one of these soirees, frequently turning into traffic jams worthy of an interstate highway multi-level cloverleaf. We arrived on the afternoon of Friday, the 19th, to unload our equipment at the dock.
Then we went to get checked in to our hotel (The Hilton Downtown Atlanta) which, as the crow flies, is about a mile and a half from GWCC. Unfortunately, navigating the maze of surface streets in between seemed like about five (5) time that. It is at times like these that you come to fully recognize that bellhops and parking valets are an absolutely essential component of this part of our economy.
Saturday, the 20th, was used to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings and plan for the next phase of our endeavor. The hotel restaurant had a limited menu but the offerings were quite good and the portions were huge. Whether we chose the breakfast buffet (to die for; if possible, it was even better than the one we had enjoyed at The Rosen Centre in Orlando), the breakfast sandwich (terrific), or their version of a club sandwich (yum) we quickly learned that there on each occasion was more than one meal before us. We adjusted accordingly and took doggie bags back to the room.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, the 21st, faced with logistical problems of travel between the hotel and GWCC, as well as an impossible parking situation at GWCC, I relied on a suggestion by Jamie and called a taxi. It took forever for the service to answer the phone but the fellow who later arrived had been a cabbie in Atlanta since around the time Rhett Butler was there. He gave us his own direct cell phone number, and from that time forward he took care of our logistics and transportation needs without any muss or fuss. That solved a MAJOR problem for us. It was an adjust-on-the-fly situation and he helped with that enormously.
Once we got to GWCC on the 21st to begin setting up our Booth we discovered that some of our equipment was missing and that our Booth had not been equipped as I had ordered and paid for. That took a while to sort out, but we did. We also discovered that, unlike OWCC in Orlando, GWCC does not operate the HVAC during the two days of setup. It was August. In Atlanta. It was miserable. Worse yet, there were no food vendors on the floor, so not only were we hot and sweaty, we were also hungry.
We did what we could do with what we had in hand but we were still waiting on some issues to be worked out, so we called our cabbie and went back to the hotel. There in the welcome comfort of AC and nourishment we planned our assault on GWCC on Monday, the 22nd. After a good breakfast at the hotel and a quick cab ride over, we got right to work on our Booth. Things came together pretty well, we managed to survive the heart by periodically going out to the concourse where the AC was ON(!) and we had brought a few morsels to fortify us until we could get back to the hotel. By late that afternoon we had the Booth ready for the show and we were dead tired.
We were in Hall C which was still a pretty chaotic scene and on the way out I managed to trip on a roll of carpet. I did a face plant—literally. I didn’t get my hand down quickly enough to break my fall and my face took the full blow. I didn’t know the extent of the damage until we got out to the concourse to wait in the AC for our taxi. Then I noticed the blood. My glasses frames were way out of whack, and I was sure that I had broken my nose until I realized that the blood was coming from a fingernail which had been bent back in the collision with the carpet roll. I hoped it wasn’t an omen. Long story short I spent the rest of the show dealing with glasses frames which could not be repaired, and other residual effects of the fall. I survived. But not without some soreness and more than a little bruising of my pride.
On Wednesday, the 23rd, the first thing on my to-do list was to take possession of the scooter I had reserved to get around on. Given the disjointed layout of this complex and the distances I would have to travel in the Hall to make contact with the manufacturers and distributors I had my sights on it was imperative that I have some mode of transportation other than my feet. The scooter made it possible for me to get from one end of the Hall to the other in a matter of a couple of minutes—in case I needed to get back to our Booth in a hurry. Naturally it turned out to be an ordeal to find the scooter vendor, which was tucked in to a little nook that was not visible unless you were standing almost directly in front of it. Finding it raised my blood pressure about 75 points. And then, once I finally had the scooter under me, it took me a while to work my way through the maze to find Hall C, and then our Booth. In the meantime, Joyce had gone directly to the Booth to greet any visitors who stopped by. So far, so good.
I made a quick recon of the Hall to locate the food vendors and restrooms and discovered that our half of the Hall was not cooling properly. A few phone calls to Staff personnel got that sorted out and the HVAC working correctly in a reasonable amount of time. In my initial travels around the Hall, I had also found that there was a decent number of food vendor stations situated around the perimeter of the Hall, so I knew that we wouldn’t starve to death. As is typical for a trade show, none of the food vendors were 5-Star quality (or even 3-Star) but the variety made it almost passable. I took lunch back to our Booth for Joyce and myself and then got to work.
At long last I could finally focus my full attention on the reason that we went to IWF Atlanta, 2022, as an Exhibitor, i.e., to make contact with potential manufacturers and distributors of my inventions once I have secured the patents. I planned to methodically visit those exhibitors that I had previously identified using the online Show Map as potential lessees of my patents, etc.
Despite that I was hampered by the fact that I still did not have approved patents, all three (3) applications had been filed and were now pending probable acceptance from the USPTO. With that confidence I cruised up and down the 28 football field length aisles of Exhibit Booths, stopping at the ones which I deemed to be potential partners, introducing myself to the principals, and inviting them to visit our Booth. The reception I got served to reinforce what I had experienced at IBS/NAHB in Orlando in February just six (6) moths past: there is nothing else even remotely comparable to my inventions currently on the market, or even conceived by the existing industry. The field is there to be taken, and my revolutionary system stands poised to do just that.
As for the results of the Show itself, despite the lingering residual effects of the COVID pandemic (the 2020 Show had been cancelled due to the plague, thus it was the first one since 2018), this particular event featured more than 900 exhibitors representing more than 540 product categories. Total registered attendance was announced to be 25,524, coming from all 50 U.S. state, the District of Columbia, as well as 92 countries and provinces—all insiders of whom were eager to see what’s new, and to take the temperature of the industry. All in all, it was a success.
On Thursday, as I again cruised the Exhibit Floor, renewing and reinforcing my contacts, I began to plan the most efficient way to make our eventual exit and on Friday afternoon, as the Show wound down, we disassembled the elements of the exhibit, hand carried it all out to the concourse, called our cabbie, and in short order we were on our way back to the hotel, now n possession of the contact information I would need once all of the patents have been granted, the first two of which were published on October 25th and November the 1st of 2022.