LAS VEGAS—Now that the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association's annual trade show affiliation next year with the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) extravaganza is a fait accompli, there seems to be two overall reactions to that news. Many heaved a collective sigh of relief, with comments akin to: ``Well, the NTDRA show had nowhere else to go but up.''
For others, there is perhaps an underlying fear that the NTDRA event will lose its identity, will be swallowed up whole, like a mouse by a snake.
The NTDRA's decision to join the Specialty Equipment Market Association/Auto International Association (SEMA/AI) venue just adds to the girth of the AAIW scene, which gets bigger and bigger every year. The 1996 shows, Nov. 5-8, drew a record 64,345 attendees from across the globe, with 9,345 of them coming from 117 countries other than the U.S.
A record 29,672 buyers—including 6,643 international ones—attended, up substantially from the 25,087 who came to the 1995 event. Booth numbers climbed to 8,332, a 7-percent increase over 1995, and a record 2,577 companies displayed their wares.
The 1997 AAIW will be held Nov. 3-7 in Las Vegas.
During the course of the '96 AAIW, TIRE BUSINESS interviewed a number of attendees—including tire dealers, association officials and manufacturers—about their impressions of the show merger.
Nitto Tires was a first-time exhibitor at the '96 SEMA/AI show. Executive Vice President Gary Ceazan said the firm ``stuck with the NTDRA show as long as we could,'' but decided not to participate in the association's trade show last fall in Atlanta.
``For us, this is the only place to be—our lines are slanted heavily toward performance tires,'' he said. ``We're glad to see the shows combining.''
In the early hours of the '96 AAIW, Mr. Ceazan said he had ``already seen most of our dealers. There's only a couple who were not planning on being here.''
First-time AAIW showgoer Larry Mullins, general manager of Brandon Tire & Auto Service Center Inc. in Ortonville, Mich., was impressed with the layout and presentations at the shows.
An NTDRA board member, he acknowledged that a number of members were looking at the AAIW because ``a lot of our suppliers have been coming to the event.
``It gives us a broader outlook on the accessories and automotive markets that our NTDRA shows haven't had.
``As a tire dealer, our time is getting more and more important to us. We cannot afford—financially and time-wise—to go to multiple shows every year.''
Brandon Tire, a one-outlet dealership in a growing suburban area, relies on auto service for more than half of its volume. Mr. Mullins was at the show looking for accessories and equipment.
He believes ``the other thing we dealers like is the camaraderie a show offers. It has social benefits, and allows us to find out what's going on with our fellow dealers around the country.
``But as an industry, we collectively need to join forces. It's the only way we'll survive.''
Bolstering the total number of 2,288 tire dealers at the AAIW shows was Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s annual consumer dealer meeting, which itself drew more than 2,000 dealers to Vegas.
At that meeting, Art Hein, a partner in Cincinnati-based Mid America Tire—four outlets that belong to the Zurcher Group—told TIRE BUSINESS he welcomed the shows' merger, saying it ``means the continued survival of both'' the NTDRA and SEMA.
Paul Bobzin—the NTDRA's pres-ident in 1996, under whose watchful eye much of the merger talks were conducted—also participated in the BFS meeting, Nov. 5-6.
``We, as an association, need to specialize in what we do best,'' the president of La Canada Tire in La Canada, Calif., said. ``But we need to realize we can't be the best in everything. . . . You have to be state-of-the-art in what you're doing. And tire dealers need to specialize so that they can be the best they can be.''
``Dealers need to be here. They need to be inspired,'' he continued. ``I think they're going to see a lot of benefits'' to joining the AAIW. ``NTDRA members will see what their association is doing for them. They'll pick up a lot of new ideas, new products and, at the same time, get the benefits of belonging to the association.''
As a Firestone dealer, he found the BFS event ``inspiring. I brought all five of my managers, because they need to be inspired, too. They need to be involved in this industry.''
With the merger a done deal, ``we now have a time to refocus and come away stronger. . . ,'' Mr. Bobzin added. ``It's a blessing.''
When David Poisson, the NTDRA's new executive vice president, announced the trade show merger during the '96 AAIW, he still held open the possibility of working with the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA).
Whether or not the door on any joint NTDRA-ITRA trade show has been shut is uncertain.
The ITRA should consider being a part of the SEMA/AI show, Mr. Poisson stated, partially because he felt it ``is a good venue for them. . . . This should be attractive to the ITRA because it's where everybody's going to be.''
It was indeed where the Louisville, Ky.-based ITRA's Joe Kilcoyne and Gretchen Schrantz were during the '96 AAIW.
As they cruised the show floor—and made contacts with members of foreign delegations and embassy representatives at the AAIW's international conference room—both were impressed by the sheer size of the shows.
``In a word, it's huge—and different,'' remarked Ms. Schrantz, the ITRA's convention/meeting director. She and Mr. Kilcoyne, ITRA member services director, were trying to drum up some international attendance for the ITRA's annual Louisville exposition in the spring.
However, second-year showgoer Mr. Kilcoyne felt the AAIW's size hampered it. ``It's very difficult to see everything. There's no concentrations of equipment that our members are interested in.
``What I see here are many trade representatives looking for products to represent, and many of the exhibitors looking for reps.''
``I haven't seen a lot of commercial tire dealers here—mostly retailers,'' he said. ``There doesn't seem to be any commercial exhibitors at the SEMA/AI show.
``Yes, it's big, has lots of products. But I don't think it's that applicable to the tire industry. It's primarily a trade show.''
He personally feels the NTDRA ``will probably get lost in here.''
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Falken Tire Corp., trying to hone its image as a performance tire marketer, finds the SEMA/AI show a great place to be seen.
``It's a good forum for our current dealers,'' commented Mike Brown, a Falken district manager, as he greeted attendees at the SEMA/AI show. ``From my area alone—everything west of Denver—I've met with at least 15 dealers, and still have a lot of meetings scheduled.''
And John Burkett, who covers the central, northern and Midwest regions for the company, said he had a ``lot of meetings with prospective Falken dealers—I've got a lot of prospects.''
Mr. Brown felt the show merger ``will be an improvement over what the NTDRA has been experiencing the last few years, with the loss of participation.''
The AAIW seems to have a natural synergy for tire dealers and, from Falken's standpoint, ``better brand awareness,'' he said.
Myers Tire Supply from Akron had a 40x80-ft. booth in SEMA/AI's tool and equipment section—up from its 10x12 booth last year, the company's first appearance at the show.
``We came to the '96 show with high expectations, and it's meeting and exceeding them,'' said Greg Lee, Myers' national accounts sales manager.
He said he's ``all for'' the shows' merger, ``only because attendance has been so poor at recent NTDRA shows. This will spring some life into it.''
``The NTDRA has been losing its emphasis over the years,'' remarked Jerry Griffin.
The marketing manager of tires, batteries and accessories for Universal Cooperative Inc. in Bloomington, Minn., said he quit going to NTDRA shows a couple of years back ``because all the information there and more is readily available at the SEMA/AI.'' He called AAIW a good place for dealers to have, in one week, meetings with most of their suppliers, tire makers and ancillary companies.
``The quality of SEMA/AI has been better than the NTDRA show, and better organized,'' he continued, though admitting that AAIW is ``overwhelming, and jamming the NTDRA into it makes it even more overwhelming.''
Due to the increasing technical nature of vehicles, he believes many dealers are ``doing a lot more business in the peripheral areas,'' such as accessories, which provide a good stream of revenue.
Universal Cooperative—one of the largest private brand marketers of farm tires in the U.S., if not the world—does $100 million in tires and an additional $6 million to $8 million in batteries and accessories, he said, and also manufactures lubricants.
While Mr. Griffin fears the NTDRA will get swallowed up and lost in the AAIW, he believes the association had to compromise.
``But the NTDRA will have to come up with a sweet marketing plan to set itself apart from this show,'' he advised. ``Unless they do something to catch people's attention, they'll just become part and parcel of SEMA.''