LAS VEGAS-It was a classic good news-bad news scenario for organizers of the recent Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW). They faced a pleasant predicament: For the first time, the combined trade shows that have become an annual fixture in the gambling mecca of Las Vegas sold out.
A record amount of booth space was committed, but a number of exhibitors still wanted into the shows, billed as the biggest AAIW ever. At least a half-dozen manufacturers clamoring for booths stood by waiting for no-shows.
In the end, probably to the dismay of the Las Vegas fire marshall, everyone got a space, though one trade show official admitted, ``We crammed them in pretty tight.''
Every product under the sun-from air fresheners to high-performance tires-jockeyed for some of the more than 2 million square feet of show space, not to mention the attention of the estimated 58,000 who attended the industry extravaganza. Only Europe's Auto Mechanika, regarded as the flagship of auto aftermarket trade shows, is bigger, at 3.2 million square feet.
Based on computerized attendance figures provided to TIRE BUSINESS by Epic Enterprise Inc., the AAIW trade shows' management company in San Diego, some 1,210 independent tire dealers attended the shows, with three-quarters of them registering in advance. Eric Cooper, Epic's attendee services manager, was confident that was a ``pretty pure list'' of tire dealers, because persons attending the shows had to register their specific type of business.
The AAIW is sponsored by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA); Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA); Automotive Parts & Accessories Association (APAA); and Automotive Service Industry Association (ASIA).
Among the myriad of automotive-service-related companies exhibiting at the AAIW, every major tire manufacturer was on the show floor, as were a number of tire-industry-related suppliers and private-brand tire marketers. The tire dealer marketing group American Car Care Centers Inc., for example, bypassed the recent National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (NTDRA) convention and trade show in New Orleans in order to set up a booth at the SEMA show.
It was nearly impossible to get a negative comment about the AAIW, as far as tire-and auto-service-related companies were concerned, though most interviewed by TIRE BUSINESS admitted they approached the AAIW and the NTDRA shows with very dif-ferent goals.
And perhaps so did the showgoers.
They maneuvered the crowded AAIW aisles shoulder-to-shoulder at both show sites, gawking at hundreds of new products and services, but attendance was extremely sparse at seminars geared specifically for tire dealers.
At the Sands Exposition Center-home to the MEMA/APAA/ASIA show-tire dealers could, for the first time, participate in workshops on such topics as: ``Repairing high performance tires''; ``Managing a successful service shop''; and ``How to find and keep quality employees.'' Some seminars averaged from a dozen to about 40 participants, often with only a couple tire dealers there.
In one case, no one showed up for a talk on ``Lifestyles of the rich and famous tire dealers-maximizing sales and profits.''
At a time when the NTDRA, the American Retreaders Association (ARA) and other rubber-industry-related associations are considering sponsoring a combined trade show along the AAIW's lines, the jury is still out on just how beneficial the AAIW venue is to independent tire dealers.
Marvin Bozarth, executive director of the ARA, went on a scouting mission to Las Vegas to explore his first AAIW show, admittedly to get some ideas about its structure and how it compares with the ARA's annual World Tire Conference and Exhibi- tion in Louisville, Ky. He called the AAIW an ``impressive'' show, though he was ``really surprised at how little play the tire-related workshops received.''
Mr. Bozarth said he ``didn't see that many tire dealers'' at the AAIW, and saw no retreaders there. ``It draws a huge crowd-but it's a very, very different show from ours. . . . ``However, the show's organizers told me they're making a definite play for the tire industry.''
For dealers who went to the AAIW strictly for tires, Mr. Bozarth thought it was ``a waste of time,'' but ``a great show'' for those interested in aftermarket items.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s AAIW booth-featuring the BFS-sponsored Pat Patrick Indy race car-was ``very successful for us in terms of meeting with existing BFS dealers'' as well as making contact with others not currently selling the company's products, a spokesman said.
``Our marketing people found it very valuable to visit other booths and see the latest in the automotive aftermarket trends. That has a lot to do with how we develop tires.''
Virtually none of the tire manufacturers debuted any new tires at the AAIW shows. However, the BFS spokesman said ``it would be a good place to introduce a new tire. The media contingency there is tremendous.''
``Money well spent'' is how a spokeswoman summed up the AAIW shows for the Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., a first-time exhibitor.
``We were looking for some exposure and doing some image-building in the industry. We wanted to show off a little of our technology and our full range of product capability,'' she said, ``and I think we accomplished all that. I think we generated a lot of interest in Cooper at the show.''
The company, based in Findlay, Ohio, saw a ``considerable number'' of its house brand dealers, she said, and ``most of our private brand customers go to that show.''
Michelin had a dual presence at the AAIW, with exhibits specifically featuring Michelin- and BFGoodrich-brand high-per-formance products.
The Greenville, S.C.-based tire maker, which has participated in the SEMA/AI show since 1988, met with more than 100 tire dealers at this year's Las Vegas shows, according to a spokesman. But for each brand, the goals were different.
For BFG, the company's aim was ``to showcase the brand, since it's high-performance oriented,'' explained Tom Harley, BFGoodrich marketing manager. The show also provides an opportunity to make contact with other manufacturers, such as Boyd's Wheels, which signed an agreement with Michelin at last year's AAIW.
Ron Wood, marketing manager for Miche-lin high-performance tires, said Michelin was out ``to increase our exposure as a marketer'' of those tires.
The Michelin spokesperson said that ``through conversations our representatives have at the SEMA show with tire dealers, we're able to determine what our customers want, and how we can serve them better.''
Michelin will participate in the AAIW next year, he added.
So will El Dorado Tire Co.
Earlier this year, the private brand marketer was acquired by Treadways Corp., which does business as Sumitomo Tire (U.S.). Sumitomo has exhibited at the show for several years.
Jim Tyler, El Dorado's national sales manager, said he picked up a ``lot of good leads'' from the firm's first-ever appearance at the AAIW. ``The traffic was just incredible.'' He met a cross section of dealers from small and large independent dealerships.
The company exhibited a prototype of a second-generation private brand tire, the Crusader II, set to debut in the first quarter of 1996.
Mr. Tyler said that for the 27th consecutive year, he attended the recent NTDRA show, and ``fortunately for us we did not have a booth there, because the total convention space was very minimal and the attendance was even worse, in my opinion.
``You're seeing more and more tire companies, manufacturers, suppliers and private branders at the SEMA/AI show than ever before.''
He cited the fluctuating entrance fees for dealers as one drawback to the NTDRA show, which this year had 722 booths on its show floor. In comparison, the AAIW had a total of 7,764 booths and 25,000 registered buyers; pre-registered attendees paid $10 to get into the shows; admission was $30 at the door.
Rud Chain Inc., a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based tire chain marketer, went to the AAIW to ``get some international exposure. Everyone here is looking for something unique,'' said Ron Rodemeyer, president.
According to Epic Enterprise, this year's show attracted almost 6,000 qualified international buyers.
Rud usually exhibits at both the NTDRA and ARA trade shows, but based on lackluster results produced at the recent NTDRA show, Mr. Rodemeyer said he will probably go to only one in the future.
Yokohama Tire Corp., with its reputation as a high-performance product marketer, finds the AAIW a ``very valuable'' show, a spokeswoman said. The company has exhibited at SEMA for a number of years.
It is ``not just a show to display things, but to interact with other companies and attendees,'' she noted.
A Goodyear spokesman said the company has different goals for the AAIW and NTDRA shows.
``We don't go to SEMA to sell products-that's not our main focus,'' he said, ``where at the NTDRA we're talking with people who are mainly buying and selling tires.''
It's a long way from Ellsworth, Maine, home of Harmon Tire, to Las Vegas. But tire dealer Albert Harmon has made the trek there for the last several AAIW shows.
``All the tool companies are here'' in Vegas, he said while eyeing a tire-changing machine on the show floor. ``If you need other types of aftermarket accessories, like I do, they're just not shown at the NTDRA.
``And the tire companies will pound your door off, anyway, trying to sell you stuff, whether or not you go to a show.''
Mr. Harmon's one-outlet dealership, which sells tires and does automotive service, has 11 bays, including six reserved for a car wash. He spent a week at the AAIW shows. ``I come here to meet my suppliers,'' he said. ``And I can find accessories for my car wash business.''
He has also attended about five year's worth of NTDRA shows, though he did not go this year and vowed: ``I'll never go again. There's nothing there for me.''
The AAIW ``was a good show'' for George M. Pehanick, vice president of East Bay Tire Co., Fairfield, Calif.
``We ran into suppliers and manufacturers that you can't meet on the phone. You can't do a handshake on the phone.''