Meet Me in St. Louis - SFA Mega Workshop Report
Kevin M. Padden
AZ School of Rock & KM Padden Consulting

I have been going to many industry trade shows over the last 25 years that I've been doing slab fabrication, and the latest event that I attended took a new direction in showing tools for our industry - there actually was a place where people could try out new tools and techniques for fabricating natural stone slab products.

The event that I am talking about is the very first of its kind (at least that I can remember, anyway) and it happened in Collinsville, Illinois - a suburb on the eastern side of St Louis, and was the first ever SFA Mega Workshop. The Stone Fabricator's Alliance was formed back around 2006 when a number of us that were active on the Stone Advice Forum (on the internet) banded together and formed what is now known as the SFA.

The first industry event that the SFA participated in was StonExpo 2006 in Las Vegas. Since then, SFA has been an integral participating trade organization at Coverings, and StonExpo. Now in 2010, the SFA hosted its own industry trade show-a "Mega Workshop" that lived up to the expectations of the majority of the folks who attended, as well as those who were exhibitors.

I attended the show for all three days, and I can tell you that this show was unlike any other I had been to before. There are a couple of big reasons that the SFA Mega Expo will be used as a new benchmark for the way that trade shows (especially the ones that we in our industry are used to going to) will be done in the future.

The biggest difference that I can tell you that set the SFA Mega Workshop apart from other shows can be summed up in two words: THE CAGE. The "cage" was an area set up for people to actually try out new tools, diamond pads, cup wheels, blades and polishing systems- both for countertops and floors. Braxton-Bragg's new Roto-Zip tooling system for drilling holes for faucets turned a lot of heads and was making believers out of the skeptics in the crowd.

And speaking of crowd size - the SFA directors had mentioned to me that they were "hoping" for around 200 people to show up, and would be pleased indeed if that many people came. It appeared to me that their initial attendance expectations were met early on the first day, and continued to rise to between 500 and 600 people.

Now, when you talk about numbers for trade shows - 500 to 600 people is a drop in the bucket. But when you are looking at qualified prospects who are really "zeroed in" - 600 qualified prospects who are looking for new tools and equipment is a serious number of opportunities for businesses that want to deal directly with quality customers.

There were full processing systems on display and operating by CMS Brembana, Park Industries, GMM, Northwood, Sasso, and many other companies that came and ran their machines for the folks in attendance. In all there were around 40 slabs of granite that were actually processed into four complete kitchens, and all were donated to the local St. Louis Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

There were some folks in attendance who were from Italy, and they commented to one of the SFA Directors that the SFA Mega Workshop was better than Verona, because people could actually use the tools that they were thinking of buying! Apparently, this concept has not been done before-but I am thinking that other shows will take notice and perhaps add a "cage" or similar demonstration area that can be utilized for hands-on demonstrations for prospective customers.

I know that this new kind of event will grow, and the SFA will have bigger and more elaborate "Mega Workshops" in the future, where whole machine systems will be available for people to "test drive." This happened at a number of the big machine displays at the very first Mega Workshop in 2010, and this will no doubt grow in the future. Just the concept that a company's machine can be shown doing the actual task that it's designed to do in an environment that allows the machine to function - just as it would in a regular shop set up - is something that I think a lot of people have been waiting for, and this most recent event proves that not only can something like that be done, but done well-and by people who don't "do" trade shows as a regular part of their annual routine.

The SFA Mega Workshop's success can be attributed to the many members who attended, the sponsor companies (such as Braxton-Bragg) who had machines, tools and products on display, and available for attendees to try out. But the lion's share of the credit goes to the folks within the SFA who decided to do something like this on their own, and make it happen - in spite of the numerous people who said either "it can't be done" or "they really don't know what they are getting into."

In the end the show "went on" without a hitch and the attendees got a lot more than they had bargained for when it became clear that they could actually "try out" the tools and products that they were looking at. Trade shows in our industry won't be the same after what took place this year in the first of many "new" approaches to the way products are shown and actively demonstrated at trade shows - especially in our industry.

This first "new kind" of show took place on the border of the "Show Me" state, and believe me-there was plenty of "show me" at this first of many future SFA Mega Workshops. By the crowds response, and the positive comments I heard from pretty much all of the exhibitors, I would start making plans now to be in attendance for next year's SFA Mega Workshop. If you missed it this year, you have until September of 2011 to make preparations to be a part of the new industry event that is changing the way we look at tools, machines and products that help our community prosper.

Until next month... Best Regards & Happy Fabricating!

AZ School of Rock is a proud supporter of the SFA, and encourages it's students and alumni to join the ranks of the SFA.

For more information, contact Kevin M. Padden at , by phone at 480-309-9422 or via e-mail at

The big difference that set the SFA Mega Workshop apart from other shows can be summed up in two words: "THE CAGE." This was an area set up for people to actually try out new tools, diamond pads, cup wheels, blades and polishing systems - � both for countertops and for floors.

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