Pre-AWFS Fair Q&A with Angelo Gangone
This week I had the opportunity to ask Angelo Gangone, Executive Vice President of the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers, questions in anticipation of the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas coming up next week July 24-28, and he responded in fantastic style:
How do you approach organizing an event the size of AWFS?
Fortunately, we have a team that has been through this process numerous times. They know this show inside and out and can respond to any unexpected developments at any point prior to and during show days (including setup and tear down). With that in mind, every show is different in some manner. In 2021, for instance, we had to plan the entire event without knowing whether the Fair would ultimately take place until April of that year. Although it was a very stressful and unprecedented time, the entire team was able to bring it all together in a very professional manner despite the uncertainty and pressure that everyone was certainly feeling since the start of the pandemic. As a show organizer, whenever we were forced to make decisions during any crisis, it helped us in the long run, by teaching us how to be flexible, resourceful, and adaptive. So, even though this year’s show has been very different to plan compared to the previous one, we try to take every event as an opportunity to deliver the best experience possible to Fair participants, regardless of any circumstances we may encounter.
There is so much to see and do at AWFS. What is something that you are excited to see or be a part of this year at AWFS?
This year’s show will have 43% more exhibitors than our previous show, including 170 exhibitors that will be participating in our Fair for the very first time. Many of these up-and-coming companies are new to our industry or are introducing a new product or service that our attendees will benefit from. Year after year, the number one reason that buyers attend trade shows is to have a glimpse at what’s new and get a first-hand look at the equipment and supplies they can purchase for their manufacturing facilities in the near to intermediate term. Based on my own personal experience, I can remember many instances when an exhibitor that I hadn’t previously known, introduced a product to our audience that was exceptionally innovative. This scenario happens at every event. In fact, the entire show staff gets just as excited seeing the new products on the show floor as our attendees do, whether it’s at our event or at the IWF. This is my 15th AWFS®Fair (ninth as a member of the AWFS® staff) and I can honestly say that there has never been a show where I haven’t been impressed by the products on the show floor and I’m sure that this year’s event will be no exception.
What is the importance to the industry of coming together at an event like AWFS? What is the importance of the association outside of the trade shows?
I think that if there is anything that we took away from the last few years, it’s the importance of face-to-face interaction. At one point, trade shows had no option but to explore virtual events. Now, I am not saying that there isn’t a place for such events, but it’ll never replace the ability to walk through the halls of a convention center and see machinery in operation or find a new material or component supplier, which in some cases, may have not even been on your radar prior to event. Think about it. Where else would you have the opportunity to compare products from different manufacturers in one location and in real time?
Then of course, is the networking aspect that any show has to offer, whether it’s on the show floor, in the classroom or catching up with long-time friends and acquaintances after show hours. In the end, a trade show is really a huge support system in many ways. As show organizers, we bring the industry together by creating a marketplace in one location over the course of four days. In doing so, we are not only supporting our members/exhibitors, but also their customers, and the industry as a whole.
What many Fair participants are not aware of, however, is that the AWFS®Fair is owned and operated by the member-owned, not-for-profit, Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers®. Our Association began way back in 1911 as the Suppliers Chapter of the California Furniture Manufacturers Association. AWFS® was later incorporated as a separate entity in 1979. The Association was established with a clear mission to provide programs and services for its members, while contributing to the financial and competitive strength of the wood industry through advocacy for woodworking manufacturers and establishing and supporting educational programs that strengthen the industry’s current and future workforce. Ultimately, none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the Fair. The AWFS®Fair enables our Association to reinvest proceeds from our event into the programs that we believe will contribute to keeping our industry strong and ensuring that the wood industry remains competitive for generations to come. That’s how important this Fair and Association is to all of us.
I always tell our members that if they want to learn what AWFS® is really about, they should volunteer and serve on one of our committees or apply for a Board of Director’s position when one becomes available. Anyone that has ever taken me up on that offer, is always surprised to learn how much we do on our industry’s behalf, beyond organizing and managing the trade show.
Why have you put so much thought into your seminars? Can you talk about education from a professional development perspective and from a workforce development perspective?
The College of Woodworking Knowledge (CWWK) educational classroom seminar program is an important aspect of the AWFS®Fair. As a leading industry trade association and trade show organizer, we feel it is critical to provide opportunities for industry professionals to continually learn about ways to strengthen and grow their businesses. The CWWK sessions are intended to address current and high-interest topics for business owners and leaders from all industry segments. Attendees can take classes in leadership and management, marketing, financial concepts, and sales. There are also sessions on technical topics like machinery, new technology, tooling, software, finishing, and materials. Professional development is a key element to continuous improvement, we want all companies in our industry to thrive and grow, and we consider it an honor to be in the position to provide educational offerings for our business leaders.
Workforce development is a leading issue for companies throughout our industry (and the larger economy), especially right now. While some reasons for this challenge are a lack of training programs (in the U.S.) and a lack of young folks entering the industry, the issue requires effort from all sides. Businesses need to be prepared for new talent by creating a culture aligned with their desired outcomes. We want to encourage companies to attract, retain, and train employees. At the AWFS®Fair, we provide a platform for professionals who have success or expert insight into these topics to share case studies and actionable takeaways with other companies.
Could you talk a little bit more about AWFS’s mission as a non-profit and the programs that you have created to support technical education in the workforce?
As a not-for-profit trade association, our primary role is to serve our member companies and help their businesses thrive. Their success is of course intrinsically tied to the strength of their customers and the industry as a whole. In this current climate of “workforce shortage” and “skills gap,” we feel it is our duty to take a lead in supporting education and workforce development opportunities and encouraging our members and companies within the industry to engage as well. There are many ways to approach the workforce challenges, in addition to professional development opportunities through CWWK classes at the AWFS®Fair, we try to find ways that work best for our members and companies in our industry to continually engage with technical education. For AWFS, this currently includes:
- A leadership role in the Wood Industry Resource Collaborative (WIRC), the group responsible for the YouWood industry career awareness campaign.
- Our Southern California chapter, Society of Wood Manufacturing (SWM), which is a network of volunteers connecting with teachers and students directly.
- The Fresh Wood competition, which showcases student work and brings students and teachers to the AWFS®Fair to interact directly with industry professionals.
- Active promotion and support of “MFG Day” (Manufacturing Day) events, which welcomes students to manufacturing facilities to learn about companies and career opportunities.
- Leadership in SkillsUSA, a national Career Technical Student Organization, and the US representative for WorldSkills. AWFS® and SWM staff and volunteers organize and lead the SkillsUSA California woodworking contests.
- Volunteer leadership roles with Career Technical Education organizations, such as ACTE (the Association for Career and Technical Education).
That was an incredible interview! Thank you, Angelo Gangone, for giving us at Wood Industry the inside perspective to the AWFS fair and the organization. We hope to see you all in Vegas!
Tyler Holt is the Editor of Wood Industry / Le monde du bois magazine. He has a master’s degree in literature and publication, and years of experience in the publishing and digital media industry. His main area of study is the effect of digital technologies on industrial and networked production.