I could sense something different from almost the moment I picked up my registration packet and badge outside the Crystal Ballroom at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, Calif.
I have attended countless conferences, tire launches and assorted events during my three-plus years as editor of Tire Business. Each is unique in its own way, be it the location or the program or the activities or the tire dealer engagement or all of the above. Frankly, I have enjoyed each one immensely — the grueling pace of the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show (SEMA) notwithstanding — returning home better informed with a wider network of dealer friends.
This, however, was the first time I had attended the Tire Industry Association (TIA) Off-the-Road Tire Conference. And it had a noticeably different feel than all of the others.
As I listened to the program and meandered through the tabletop displays, I kept wondering what made this unique.
Then I began to talk with one of the vendors. He nailed it.
"The people who come to this show, the OTR community, they are a close-knit group," he said, looking around the large room filled with vendors and OTR experts alike.
"They are competitors, yes, from different manufacturers," he said, "but the people who work in this industry are friendly and really like each other.
"For those who work with (passenger and light-truck tires), it's more business. They don't fraternize with the competition as much," he said. "Here, we're all friends. Sure, we want to sell our product, but at the end of the day, we still work in the same industry."
As I looked around the OTR Tire Conference tabletop showroom, lively conversations were going on everywhere. Vendors from competing businesses seemed genuinely happy to rekindle old friendships. Conversations were as much family as business.
It is how this conference has been structured from the outset.
According to Dave Zielasko, marketing director of TIA (and the former publisher of Tire Business), the conference was founded by a group of OTR tire retreaders who wanted a meeting of their own, separate from a conference run by TIA-predecessor National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (NTDRA).
According to Mr. Zielasko, the founders insisted on a laid-back event that had an educational component and networking, held at a lavish location where spouses would want to attend and with a championship golf course nearby.
In its 65th year, the event still follows the basic format.
This year's conference was even more special, part of TIA's 100th anniversary celebration. Yokohama Tire Corp.'s Jeff Barna, president of the North American subsidiary, and Bruce Besancon, vice president, off-the-road sales, delivered the keynote address. (Look for my extensive interview with Mr. Barna in a future edition of TB.)
TIA used the opportunity to promote four industry events during its centennial celebration:
- Lobby Day, May 6 in Washington D.C. This annual event will have a twist this year, according to Roy Littlefield IV, TIA's director of government affairs.
Members will get the chance to tour the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol, as well as talk one-on-one with senators and congressmen about issues key to the industry.
Michael Steele, former chair of the Republication National Committee and a current political analyst for MSNBC, will be the keynote speaker.
In addition, the group will get the opportunity to discuss regulatory issues with members of several agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation (DOT) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA).
- National Environmental Summit, May 7 in Washington. This event will showcase some of the work TIA's Environmental Advisory Council is doing in areas such as sustainability, tire recycling and infrastructure. There is no registration fee for either event.
- TIA's 100th Anniversary Gala, Nov. 2 in Las Vegas. TIA will celebrate its 100th anniversary during the 2020 Global Tire Expo/SEMA Show with a formal event at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the eve of the show.
During the event, TIA will celebrate its "iconic history," according to TIA CEO Roy Littlefield III. Rocky Bleier, a four-time Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers who was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War, will be the keynote speaker.
- International Summit, Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during the 2020 SEMA Show. The summit, new to the TIA schedule, will focus on four topics: tire aging; tire registrations and recall; scrap tires and crumb rubber for roads and athletic fields; and periodic motor vehicle safety inspections.
According to John Evankovich, director of Walmart Inc.'s Sam's Club's Tire & Battery Centers, and past president of TIA, the association will bring in experts on each topic for a roundtable discussion. The panel also will field questions from the audience.
For those of you in the OTR business who want to experience the OTR Tire Conference for yourself, here's an early heads-up: Next year's event will be held Feb. 17-20 in Tucson, Ariz.