RESTON, Va.—It's the first week of November 2001, and John Smith, an independent tire dealer in New York, couldn't afford to leave his dealership to travel to the annual International Tire Expo and SEMA Show in Las Vegas this year. But with the click of a mouse, he has print-outs of new-product information from all the tire makers exhibiting at the show, the latest news from the Tire Association of North America and has seen the auto makers' 2002 models on display.
Welcome to the new millennium in the tire industry and automotive aftermarket.
This hypothetical scenario is what TANA plans to make a reality in two years as it, in collaboration with the Specialty Equipment Market Association, develops an online ``virtual'' trade show to complement the ITE.
The virtual show will allow non-attending dealers to access the show's news and ``talk'' to exhibitors via the Internet, said TANA President Jim Shook.
``The show floor at the International Tire Expo in Las Vegas has grown over 80 percent in the past two years, and our hotel space sells out months in advance,'' Mr. Shook said. ``The virtual trade show will help accommodate this growing demand to participate in (the ITE). Most importantly, it will give tire dealers a prominent site to find new business opportunities on the Internet.''
Though TANA still is working out the details of what this virtual show will look like on a PC screen, the group aims to make it an interactive, year-round addition to its Web site: www.tana.net.
``It's a big enterprise to put together a show, to have it last only four days,'' said David Poisson, TANA's executive vice president. ``(a virtual show) allows for the market to remain open year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week...and put that information at everyone's fingertips whenever they want it.''
Visitors to the virtual show will be able to click on the name of each company they're interested in viewing, just as they would walk from booth to booth at the actual show. The ITE and SEMA shows each will have their own links on the site to click on and access exhibitors, he said.
The site will feature updated industry news and product information long after the Las Vegas show ends, Mr. Poisson said. Vendors will need to register with the virtual show and receive passwords to access and modify their exhibits on the site.
Mr. Poisson noted that other trade groups—such as the computer and drycleaning industries—already have implemented Internet versions of their trade shows.
Those Web sites feature ``visual brochures''—text, graphics and/or video that present an exhibitor's booth and product information, Mr. Poisson said. Web surfers can even see the interior of an exhibitor's booth, including people, thanks to digital cameras.
Although TANA still needs to consider costs and find out what its members would like to see from the online show, Mr. Poisson said it is possible that TANA's site will feature video and audio for some exhibits, such as a booth with a demonstration of tire-changing equipment.
The association hopes to have a prototype of the virtual show on display at this year's ITE, scheduled for Nov. 2-5, so TANA can get feedback on the site, Mr. Poisson said.
Currently, TANA has no plans to charge a fee for ``attendees'' to the virtual show, but will charge exhibitors for the right to display their products online, Mr. Poisson said.
But will an online show deter attendance from the actual show in Las Vegas? Mr. Poisson said he doesn't think so, but believes the virtual show will enhance the real show.
Buyers who attend the Las Vegas show can browse the site and arrange to meet with product managers before the show's start, he said.
If anything, an online show is advertising for TANA and can attract new buyers, Mr. Poisson said. He pointed out that the Internet hasn't stopped 200,000 people from attending the computer industry's annual Comdex show anymore than VCRs have killed movie attendance.
``I think that as long as people are people, they're going to want to get together, and there are things about the virtual trade show that will never replace the opportunity that people take to get together and network with one another.''