NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The International Tire and Rubber Association's first convention outside of Louisville, Ky., earned mixed reviews from attendees and exhibitors. Some liked the change of venue to Nashville's Opryland Hotel, after 41 years in Louisville, while others missed the comfort of the Ohio River city.
Some exhibitors said they had a successful show, selling all their equipment on display; others lamented the lack of traffic.
But nearly everyone agreed on one aspect: Moving the show from April to June was not an ideal choice.
``It's awfully hard to get away in June, especially this year when it's been so hot,'' said Ronald Johnson, owner of Johnson's Tire Service in Clarendon, Pa. ``March and April are the perfect months.''
But whether it's Nashville in June or Louisville in April, Mr. Johnson viewed the World ITRA Expo as a must-attend event. It's there that he buys the equipment he can't seem to find in his local area.
At this year's show, Mr. Johnson, the owner of a single-location retail, commercial and OTR outlet, was looking to acquire a run-flat tire changer and calcium pumps and tanks.
Last year he purchased a truck tire puller. ``I would have never bought it if I hadn't see it,'' Mr. Johnson said.
But with business booming back in Clarendon, he couldn't think of bringing along an employee or even his son to this year's expo. In fact, he said, it was hard to pull himself away. ``As bad as I hated to leave, it's a must (to attend the show),'' he said.
Although total attendance fell by 655 to 3,363 from a year ago, ITRA officials still felt ``pretty happy'' about their first effort in Nashville.
The workshops and general session were well attended, particularly the mock trial, ITRA Executive Director Marvin Bozarth said in a press conference on the last day of the show. And despite the difficulty in finding one's way around the mammoth Opryland Hotel, most attendees seemed satisfied with the new facility, said ITRA Vice President Bob Sherwood.
Bill Babek, chairman of the ITRA's convention committee, suggested the show should be measured not on attendance but on what each attendee gets out of it.
And he noted that many of those who registered were owners, buyers and managers—people with buying power.
While fewer dealers and retreaders visited this year's expo, those who did, for the most part, seemed pleased.
Dick Dempster, owner of Dempster Tire in Middletown, Ohio, called the Opryland Hotel ``fantastic.''
The show, he said, was better this year than last, and he couldn't believe attendance numbers were lower than a year ago. ``Last year, (in Louisville) the place looked empty,'' he said.
Mr. Dempster said he values the opportunity to see equipment on the show floor and compare one company's products with another's. ``If you can't do that, there's no use in being here,'' he said.
But Mr. Dempster was certain about one thing: ``I want this show to continue,'' he said. ``I think it's valuable for the commercial dealer.''
Joe Casebere of Sutton Tire Co. in Greenville, N.C., said he came to the show with an open mind.
``I love Louisville,'' he said. ``I had favorite places to go and things to do. I'm not real hep on the month change.... However, we feel it's important to give the association and vendors support. Obviously the last few years in Louisville were not happy.''
For their part, exhibitors seemed satisfied with the show's international presence, an area the ITRA has been striving to improve. This year's show attracted 600 registered international attendees from 56 countries.
But they were critical about the overall lack of potential buyers as well as the higher costs associated with the Opryland Hotel.
``There aren't too many customers here, but the ones who are here are here to buy,'' said Daniel DeLoss, key accounts manager for Hennessy Industries Inc. ``I'm disappointed because I thought the move to Nashville would help.''
Mark Zipse, market and product manager for Iowa Mold Tooling Co., said he thought everything was more expensive in Nashville—parking, phone, fax—but the accommodations were good.
The international attendance was ``very, very good,'' he added. ``All in all, it's been a pretty well organized show.''
Exhibitor Wes Sprunk, sales manager for Tire Service Equipment Manufacturing Co. Inc., called the expo ``fair at best.''
``They need to figure out something to draw some people here,'' he said.
Mr. Sprunk said he disliked the added attractions found in the Nashville area, which could distract dealers who might bring their families to the show.
``You don't want a guy on vacation who's only going to spend a half day on the exhibit floor,'' he said.
But not everyone was disappointed. Pat Caprez, general manager, Latin American and Caribbean sales for Hercules Tire Co. of Canada, called the show ``excellent.''
``Over the years, this show has become more international, and this is the best international show, better than European shows,'' he said.
In moving the expo to Nashville after more than four decades in Louisville, the ITRA received extensive input from its members about what they wanted from the show.
``This is their convention,'' Mr. Babek said. ``We are constantly evaluating things we can do to improve the quality of the meeting.''
Retreading is a changing industry, he added. ``We're trying to make this event responsive to the changing needs of a changing industry.''
Next year, Nashville will again host the World ITRA Expo, with the show dates set for June 7-10.
As for 2001, the ITRA board is reviewing several possibilities. It can return to Louisville, stay in Nashville with an option of shifting to late April, or move the show to Orlando, Fla., although the facility there is still under construction and may not be finished in time, Mr. Bozarth said.
The ITRA also is in talks with The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations and other transportation organizations about cooperating on a show.
But no matter what the board does, many retreaders and exhibitors said they wanted to see the show succeed.
``I sure would like to see this show revitalized in some way,'' said Dean Rascoe of ASA Tire Systems Group in Nashua, N.H. ``We're supporting the ITRA regardless.''