It seemed like old times. I heard that repeatedly as I roamed the miles of exhibits at this year's International Tire Expo '98/Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas. For once, no one was complaining about poor attendance or too few exhibitors.
Instead, I heard lots of groans about tired feet from tire dealers and others struggling to see everything on display.
This year's SEMA/ITE trade show, part of the huge Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week, was just what the Tire Association of North America needed.
Showgoers mobbed exhibit aisles, gleaming displays commanded attention and exhibitors and attendees alike looked happy as they worked the giant trade show floor.
What a difference a couple years make.
It was only 12 months ago that TANA was hoping to revive its ailing exhibition after merging it with SEMA's, following a disastrous 1996 trade show in Atlanta.
Attendance had been declining in recent years and exhibitors were clamoring for change.
Following last year's event, which was held in a tent outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, a few doubts may have lingered.
TANA needn't worry anymore.
This year's International Tire Expo was a resounding success.
ITE '98 and its many events were well run and interesting.
The three 7 a.m. breakfast meetings drew respectable crowds.
The TANA staff appeared enthusiastic, in charge and organized.
Most importantly, more dealers attended than the year before, up 13 percent to more than 4,600.
As with any event, this year's show had some weak spots. TANA should address one in particular.
As a small part of a huge event, TANA must find a better way for tire dealer attendees to network.
Conventioners are scattered in hotels throughout Las Vegas. Finding another dealer to talk to on the trade show floor is hit or miss at best.
Yet one of the best reasons for attending the show, any dealer will tell you, is the chance to talk with other dealers.
Creating an area where dealers could meet and rest their legs within the exhibit hall would alleviate this problem while helping keep the tire dealer portion of the show from being swallowed up by SEMA.
TANA should make this issue a priority for 1999.
This suggestion, however, should not overshadow the tremendous strides TANA has made to revive its annual convention and trade show.
The excitement is back. All tire dealers should earmark the 1999 SEMA/ITE show as a must-attend event.
Mr. Zielasko is editor and publisher of Tire Business.