The war in Iraq and the tough economic times impacted attendance at this year's World Tire Expo in Louisville, which continued to attract fewer attendees than past years, the Tire Industry Association's top executive said.
Though the lower attendance was a concern for attendees and exhibitors interviewed by Tire Business, most said they plan to attend future expos. In fact, many exhibitors said they feared being noticed more for their absence if they didn't attend.
The show, which returned to its traditional home of Louisville after several years in Nashville, Tenn., drew 1,485 registrants, including 904 buyers, said Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), which sponsors the expo.
Absent from these numbers were 352 cancellations because of travel concerns, including 60 from Brazil, he said.
This year's show, held for the first time at the Kentucky International Convention Center, featured 134 exhibiting companies covering 34,300 square feet of exhibition space.
``I think given the economy and given what's going on with world events, that was great,'' Mr. Littlefield said, referring to this year's attendance and exhibition numbers.
Attendance at the World Tire Expo has been declining in recent years primarily as a result of consolidation within the retreading industry, according to association statistics. The 1997 World Tire Expo drew 4,200 total attendees and 217 exhibitors covering 92,719 square feet of exhibit space.
``(Retreading) is still a big business, but the number of players has consolidated,'' said Bob Stewart, a commercial distribution manager at Goodyear, who said he has noticed attendance steadily declining in the 16 years he's been attending the World Tire Expo.
The previous expo-in 2001-attracted 2,150 attendees and 154 exhibitors taking up 41,000 square feet of exhibit space, prompting the then International Tire & Rubber Association to move the show to an every-other-year schedule. Last July, ITRA merged with the former Tire Association of North America to create TIA.
For 41 years, the show was held annually in Louisville before ITRA moved it to Nashville in 1999, in an effort to re-energize the conference and to try and improve attendance.
``We lost a lot of momentum by being in Nashville the last three years and not having the show last year,'' Mr. Littlefield said. ``The momentum got away from us.
``Most people are happy to be back in Louisville and to keep the show alive.''
Asked whether this year's show would make money, Mr. Littlefield said he hoped it would, but added: ``I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't.''
Still, despite the decline in attendance, many attendees and exhibitors saw value in the show.
``It gives us a chance to get together,'' Mr. Stewart of Goodyear said.
Added Anne Evans of Tyres 2000 Unlimited in Hebron, Conn.: ``The people here wanted to be here to buy and sell and even to learn,'' she said. ``The recycling and scrap tire portion (of the show) is a huge portion and lot of buying and selling is in that.
``I think there's a need for this type of show, pulling on the strength of recycling and the retreading.''
Others underscored the point that the show has evolved into a chance to connect with existing customers more than an opportunity to create new ones. Travis Glidden, a sales representative for service truck maker Stellar Industries Inc., said the show gave his company time to reconnect with current customers and show them Stellar's latest offerings.
``We had no sales here, but we will get some,'' he said.
Walter Seidel, president of A-Z Americas L.L.C., said few other venues collect such a large number of his customers in one spot.
``That's always reinforcing your place in the marketplace,'' he said.
The smaller attendance didn't surprise show attendee Bob Majewski of Sumerel Tire Service Inc., a mold cure retread company in Newport, Ky. ``There are not as many people in the industry, so how can you expect to have the big shows of the past?'' he asked. ``Personally the show's OK, but there needs to be more workshops. To me, seeing the people is the most important thing.''
Other attendees told Tire Business the workshops were helpful, except that too many were scheduled at the same time, making participants choose among them.
Gene Graybill, president of New Holland Tire Inc. of Terre Hill, Pa., said he continues to visit the World Tire Expo because it gives him a chance to see the latest products available.
``It's always nice to know what's going on,'' he said.
But some attendees, like Mike Berra Jr. of Community Tire Co. Inc. in St. Louis, said they were disappointed in the lack of equipment displayed on the tradeshow floor.
Mr. Berra, who moderated two workshops during the convention, also noted the sparse attendance at some of the workshops. ``The 8 a.m. session was thinly attended and picked up at the 9:30 one,'' he said. ``It was a shame people didn't come down. They would have learned something.''
While most attendees agreed they didn't want the show scheduled later in the year when their business starts picking up, some said the March dates followed too closely to the Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Expo (SEMA/ITE) show in Las Vegas in November.
``We showed (new products) to the same people, and nothing's really changed from November until now,'' said Mr. Glidden from Stellar.
As to whether the show needs to be in Louisville, Ms. Evans of Tyres 2000 said not necessarily. ``It needs to be in a location where airfare is cheap,'' she said. ``But there needs to be an event someplace in the U.S. like this. If TIA doesn't do it, someone else will, and TIA is the natural to do it.