SEMA SHOW, Aftermath: Attendance was down but not out (hopefully)

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Attendance at both the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show and AAPEX (Automotive Aftermarket Parts Expo) was clearly down.

There has been no official word yet from either of the organizations -- or the Tire Industry Association (TIA), which sponsored the Tires, Wheels & Equipment section in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center -- but there were fewer attendees in general and tire buyers in particular.

Given the current state of the economy, that's not a surprise. Also, the three largest tire manufacturers in the world did not have booths for their namesake tire brands at the SEMA Show (see our Web poll question), which had to hurt attendance.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. supported its Dunlop brand with a booth at the SEMA Show; it trumpeted its non-tire rubber products and portable navigation systems at AAPEX. Bridgestone Americas also promoted its Firestone automotive products at AAPEX.

Michelin North America Inc.'s main presence at the show was Francois Michelin, the 82-year-old retired managing general partner. He made a surprise appearance to personally accept his TIA Tire Industry Hall of Fame Historical Contributor award.

Without the "Big Three," Continental Tire North America Inc. was the largest tiremaker at the show ("We finally made it!" joked Executive Vice President Andreas Gerstenberger). Continental took advantage of its advantage with two large booths promoting new Continental and General tires.

I can't help but think many of the other tire producers present, especially those from Asia, also benefited.

Anyway, I estimate close to 100,000 dealers and exhibitors visited Las Vegas during Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week. These were the highlights.

A bit surreal. A 42-inch wheel?! There was no tire on the wheel, but Lexani Wheel Corp. showcased its stand-alone behemoth right next to a 32-inch Asanti wheel, shod with a 335/30VR32 Yokohama Parada Spec-X. "It's stupid," said one passerby of the 42-inch wheel.

There was a 63-inch foam rubber OTR tire in the Titan Tire Corp. booth. It fooled many people, who disregarded the "Do not touch" signs on the prop and put fingerprints all over it.

A job well done. Outgoing TIA President Peggy Fisher left a legacy with the organization, not an easy task when you serve only one year at the top. Her greatest accomplishment, according to incoming President Dan Beach, was setting up “formalized systems” designed to give TIA committees consistent guidelines from which to operate. TIA also added three staff members and increased its membership by more than 1,000 people.

"Boy, time sure flies when you’re going crazy," she said.

Big names from around the globe. Showbiz personalities were few, but tire industry "celebrities," in addition to Mr. Michelin, were out in force. Bruce Halle (Discount Tire Co. Inc.), Orland Wolford (Tire Kingdom Inc.) and Dick Borgman (Les Schawb Tire Centers) represented the three largest independent tire store chains in the United States.

Many other dealers in the MTD 100 also were on hand, including current and former Modern Tire Dealer Tire Dealers of the Year Ken Towery and John Marshall. It's no coincidence the most successful domestic dealers check out the SEMA Show.

Jin Ming Da, chairman of the Shanghai Huayi (Group) Co. in China, supported one of the group's 120 companies, Double Coin Holdings Ltd., with a visit to Vegas.

Double Coin, which has increased its truck tire market share in the U.S. significantly the last few years, also had a booth at the show (through its China Manufacturers Alliance LLC subsidiary). Double Coin's largest domestic customer, American Tire Distributors Inc., was represented by a number of executives, including CEO Dick Johnson.

Mr. Jin told me that by the end of the month, the first 27.00R49 Double Coin OTR tire will be manufactured in Shanghai. That's another tire segment in which the company is increasing market share.

Plenty of options. Overall, it was near impossible to check out all the new tires, tire service equipment and automotive parts and accessories on display at the SEMA Show and AAPEX. That includes plenty of tire pressure monitoring systems, and who among you has that service down pat?

The options alone were worth the price of admission. The buyer-supplier relationships, of course, are priceless.

As dealers, don't take your success for granted. Make plans to attend the 2009 shows. And, for the same reason, that goes for the manufacturers as well. -- Bob Ulrich, editor, Modern Tire Dealer

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