LOUISVILLE, Ky.—A dwindling number of tire retreading operations across the country has forced the International Tire and Rubber Association to introduce innovative ways of improving the quality of its annual conference. And association executives said that's just what they did for the 40th annual ITRA conference and trade show, April 16-19 in Louisville.
Due to computer problems ITRA experienced during the exhibition, official attendance figures were unavailable before April 23 press time. However, Executive Director Marvin Bozarth said he thought the number of people that visited the show was fewer than in 1996.
Still, according to association President Bill Babek, those who did attend generally were responsible for making their companies' buying decisions.
``I think it went extremely well. The quality of the conference was one of the best we've put together,'' Mr. Babek said several days after the show ended.
During a post-conference critique of the event April 20, exhibitors spoke highly of the amount of business generated from those who visited their booths, Mr. Babek said.
That, according to Mr. Bozarth, was particularly true of international attendees. In recent years, ITRA has increased its efforts to attract an international contingency to the show, and those numbers have continued to grow. Preliminary estimates from this year's show bear that out, ITRA said.
``Expanding the Horizon,'' the show's theme, represented the changing nature of both ITRA and its members.
``The reality is that there is a dwindling number of retreaders and the retreaders who are left are getting bigger,'' Mr. Babek explained. ``... What we are learning is that people have to be retreaders'' and involved with the commercial side of the business.
Because of that, Mr. Bozarth said the association is working to include more commercial service items in next year's show, tentatively scheduled for April 1-4.
Retreader service packages of the future ``will include new-tire distribution, retread services, emergency road service, as well as new tire and casing pooling'' to meet the needs of today's larger fleet customers, Mr. Babek told attendees during his conference welcoming address.
Those changing needs help shape the type of show ITRA has come to provide, he added.
``We're not a display show,'' Mr. Babek said. ``We're an educational experience'' that includes new products, workshops and interactions with people from around the retreading and recycling industries.
The issue is not the total number of attendees, but rather the ``quality'' of the attendees, according to Mr. Babek, who operates Babek Commercial Tire Services in Avenel, N.J.
``If you and I were at the show and there were 20,000 people, we might never meet. We might not get the chance to talk,'' he explained.
Still, display booth space, as well as the number of booths, were down slightly from last year, the association reported.
According to official ITRA numbers, the 217 trade show exhibits in 1997—three less than the previous year—occupied 92,719 square feet of space, a drop of about 1,000 square feet from 1996.
``Overall I was happy. Obviously you always want more people,'' Mr. Bozarth said. ``We're not an industry that's growing. That's why we're going to do some things to get more people.''
That includes the merger next year of ITRA's show with that of the Service Station Dealers of America. (See story page 1.)
A host of retread and repair industry members were feted during the association's Hall of Fame Ceremony and Awards Banquet, held April 17.
They included Rudy Holman, Donald M. MacMillan and Les Schwab, who were honored for their past accomplishments by being inducted into the International Tire Retreading and Repairing Hall of Fame.
Mr. Holman developed the Orbitread in 1963, creating the first machine capable of heating raw rubber and extruding it like a ribbon onto the surface of a tire. Over the course of his career, Mr. Holman received 17 patents for his innovative inventions.
Getting his start in the tire industry as a manufacturer's rep in Georgia, Mr. MacMillan went on to develop the first successful electric mold. He formed the MacMillan Electric Mold and Rubber Co. to manufacture and sell the equipment, as well as rubber compounds.
He sold the company and went on to produce adjustable electric passenger, medium and large truck tire vulcanizers. He also introduced a three-section passenger retread mold. He later developed the ``H'' and ``L Series'' adjustable molds for passenger and truck tire retreads, respectively.
With $3,500, Mr. Schwab started his one-employee retreading shop in Prineville, Ore., in 1952. Since that time, his Les Schwab Tire Centers business has grown into one of the largest independent tire chains in the U.S., with 273 locations in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Today, his Prineville plant is the largest retreading facility in the U.S., producing 2,000 passenger and light truck tires, 600 truck tires and 20 off-the-road tires per day.
Other award recipients included:
Lewis Lakin of Lakin General Corp., Chicago; Thomas J. Sumerel of Sumerel Tire Service, Newport, Ky.; and M. Terry Westhafer of Central Tire Corp., Verona, Va. They received Industry Leadership Awards, presented to those providing overall leadership and innovation for products and services that promote the transportation industry.
Tony Battaglia of Thompson Aerospace in Miami, Fla., and Robert Snyder of Tire Technology Inc., Grosse Pointe, Mich., who received Industry Pioneer awards, presented for companies that developed or implemented products and services for the industry.
Dana Humphrey, a University of Maine professor and tire recycling proponent, and Stanley Alter, an advocate of retreads while working for the Ontario Department of Transportation, received Friend of the Industry awards.
In addition, George Bishop, CEO of Truflex/Pang Rubber Products Co., won the Tire Review Lifetime Achievement Award.