AKRON (May 9, 2001)—By most accounts, the International Tire & Rubber Association's just-concluded World ITRA Expo in Nashville, Tenn., was a success.
Despite fewer attendees and a smaller trade show, most in attendance seemed pleasantly surprised by the opportunities and information the show provided. But the program lacked one important ingredient–excitement–which may have given retreaders and tire dealers added incentive to attend.
It's clear ITRA and its Expo are at a crossroads, particularly since the group's long-time and respected executive director, Marvin Bozarth, has decided to step down at the end of the year.
Expo attendance has declined by double digits the past few years and the size of the trade show is half of what it was 10 years ago. Now the event is moving to an every-other-year schedule.
Some of this change is due to the consolidation taking place in the retreading industry. There are far fewer retreaders than in the association's heyday and the number of truly independent retreaders–those not affiliated with one of the major retreading suppliers–has shrunk to about 400.
What's more, by having their own meetings and educational programs, these big suppliers such as Bandag Inc., Goodyear and Michelin Retread Technologies have assumed some of the role once played by ITRA.
Still, there's strong value in having an independent organization representing all retreaders and commercial tire dealers–one that can provide an objective forum not tailored to a particular supplier's point of view.
The ITRA board should not lose sight of this as it goes about replacing Mr. Bozarth and examining the role the association and its trade show should play in the future.
If the association wants to increase attendance, it should consider beefing up its educational program.
That means developing workshops and seminars that don't shy away from controversial subjects–something that, unfortunately, has been lacking in recent years.
Controversy once was a hallmark of the event.
The organization, in fact, was built on controversy when it broke away from the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (now called the Tire Association of North America) in the late 1950s over which should get credit for talking the U.S. Army out of having all its retreading done inhouse.
Early convention programs featured such provocative speakers as auto safety advocate Ralph Nader as well as controversial subjects such as whether retreaders needed to mix their own tread rubber rather than purchase commercial stock of inconsistent quality.
In seeking a path to the future, the ITRA might do well to examine its past.