Show and tell
A casual observer might be tempted to evaluate last month’s SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show based on what companies and brands weren’t there and the apparent lack of major announcements at the event.
Only one of the Big Three, Michelin North America Inc., touted its flagship brand at the "Performance Tires and Wheels" section of the show.
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s Goodyear brand was nowhere to be found on the trade show floor (though its high performance Dunlop brand was well-represented with a massive display).
Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC didn’t have a booth on the floor nor did it hold a large-scale dealer meeting during the week like it has done in the past.
Continental Tire North America Inc. was absent from the trade show floor as well.
Few major tire industry-related announcements were made during the show.
However, critical issues -- like tire pressure monitoring systems -- were addressed at length.
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) introduced its much-anticipated Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) Training Program.
TIA also announced a commercial tire training program with Goodyear and promoted its new TIA-Care health insurance program to members.
On the product side, a thorough inspection of the trade show floor revealed that SEMA remains a preferred introduction point for new tires, sizes and line extensions.
Equipment manufacturers, software companies and wheel companies in the "Performance Tires and Wheels" section of the show also used the event as a forum to display their wares.
In addition, many attendees took advantage of the event's seminars, which included two back-to-back "Successful Tire Dealers Share Their Secrets" panel discussions and sessions devoted to TPMS service and related legal issues.
Perhaps the true value of the show is best gauged by how it benefited the independent tire dealers who attended.
Tire dealers that MTD spoke with during and after SEMA didn’t hold back in discussing what they liked about the show, what they didn’t like, what they got out of it and what they’d like to see in the future.
"I had multiple reasons for going," says Steve Disney, president of Disney Tire Co. in Louisville, Ky.
“I like to see the different tire lines on display. I like to see who’s selling what. You get a better idea of not only what you might want to sell but also what you’re selling against.
"Second would be key meetings with suppliers and vendors. That aspect has gotten much more important." During the show, Disney met with officials from SURE Tire, Goodyear and Hercules Tire & Rubber Co.
"You almost can't afford not to be there because there are so many opportunities to get quality time with your suppliers."
Disney believes the show has retained its business-to-business slant. "I'm not an exhibitor who pays a lot of money for a booth and sees a lot of consumer types at the show. It’s what you make of it."
Disney admits he would like to see "a more coordinated release of new tires" at future shows, "kind of like in the old days when September rolled around and all the new car models came out.
"But I know it’s not going to happen in today’s world with all the communication devices that are available" to tire manufacturers and marketers.
Tom White, co-owner of Akron, Ohio-based Tire Source, looked for new equipment and ideas at the show.
He found Post It-style notes from Myers Tire Supply that tell consumers how tires are repaired. "It's a little thing we should’ve had a long time ago."
White didn’t meet with any tire manufacturers during SEMA. Instead he spent most of his time on the trade show floor.
While he found plenty of tires and related equipment, "there's almost too much tuner stuff out there."
Many of the tuner enthusiasts at the event "aren't there to conduct business. The (show) was too heavy on wheels. I didn’t even look at wheels."
White also would have liked to see a bigger major manufacturer presence at the event. "Everybody should have a presence. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale."
Despite SEMA's heavy tuner focus, White says it remains a business-to-business show. "I recommend it to any dealer."
In the future, White and his partner, Drew Dawson, may reward two of their store managers with a trip to SEMA. (White was the only person from Tire Source who attended this years event.) "They might even look at wheels," he jokes.
"Our high performance volume has increased so dramatically we can’t seem to keep up with equipment," says Tom Bello, general manager of Mr. Fox Tire Co. in Buffalo, N.Y. He succeeded in finding new equipment at the show.
Fox Tire’s equipment repair tech "is on speed dial," he jokes. "We can’t afford any downtime."
Bello says SEMA was well-run but could benefit from extended hours. "Nine to five is tough. Once you start talking to people, time flies by. I missed about a half dozen people" he originally intended to see.
Bello believes SEMA should open the show an hour early each day. "People in our business are early risers anyway."
Ron Bray, director of wholesale for Free Service Wholesale Tire Center in Johnson City, Tenn., used the show to confer with tire suppliers. "We got to meet with people who are in the decision-making process."
Bray spent a good deal of his time on the trade show floor. "It looked so much bigger this year."
He noted the absence of the Goodyear brand and Bridgestone Firestone. (Free Service is not direct with either company.) Oblast year they had a huge presence."
He also noticed more custom wheels than in the past. "The presence of the wheel manufacturers crossed over into tires. Sometimes I’d like to see (wheels and tires) segregated. But they’re all relevant to each other.
"The biggest improvement I saw this year is that the (models) were dressed more nicely. They had clothes on instead of paint!"
"The cheaper the wheels are, the less clothes the girls wear,” says Peter-James Gregory, president of Atlas Tire Wholesale Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario.
"This is a business-to-business show, and SEMA needs to improve the professional aspect of the show. Pretty hostesses are good, but there is no need to show underwear, etc., and create a traffic jam while people take pictures."
Gregory doesn’t believe that SEMA officials succeeded in keeping out non-business attendees. “SEMA should be a business-to-business show. They have to tighten up their controls.
“I would like to attend a true business-to-business show, with professional standards for deportment (for both exhibitors and attendees).”
That said, Gregory met with his tire and wheel suppliers to review 2006 programs and work on purchasing plans, and "canvassed all displays in the tire and wheel section to see new products, equipment, etc., and to identify potential suppliers.
“I would have liked to see more displays about tire pressure monitoring systems as this will be a very important thing in the tire industry. There are various systems, and these systems are going to develop demand from the aftermarket." He also would like to see more equipment exhibits at next year’s show.
Like Gregory, Glenn Feldman, owner of Performance Plus Tire & Automotive in Long Beach, Calif., believes there were too many bottlenecks caused by exhibitors "with massive amounts of booth space" and models.
"It just takes that much more time to walk through the trade show. I tried to walk through the Ford display, but it was incredibly packed.
"It's ego. One vendor had 15 cars in the booth. Basically, in the two days I was there, I got through the tire and wheel section, including the tent, but didn’t make it upstairs. If SEMA cut down the amount of booth space that vendors have, it would be easier to get through the show."
In addition to walking the show floor, Feldman attended four seminars; two of them were presented by Dale Carnegie Training. "It's the second year in a row I went to the seminars," he says. “I got a lot out of them."
Feldman brought a large contingent of people with him. Although they didn’t accomplish everything they wanted to, "we cemented some deals with suppliers whom we talked with prior to the show."
David Walsh, part-owner of niche tire wholesale company Dacotah-Walsh Tire Inc. in Chanhassen, Minn., says he attended the SEMA show as an educational mission and to check out his supplier options.
He was able to accomplish his goals because he studied the exhibitor roster, made a list of who he wanted to contact and stuck to it. He believes the show was satisfactory, "although I didn't have high expectations going in."
His biggest criticism concerned registration. He says even though his company was pre-registered, he still had to stand in line for an hour and a half.
“I understand that it was time-consuming because of security reasons, and I understand a new company was handling registration this year, but it was gridlock for a long time. They need to fine-tune the whole registration process."
Walsh feels the atmosphere at this year’s show was more "spirited" than previous shows.
As to what went on between Walsh and his suppliers behind closed doors, he reports, "Not enough."
He says that he received no special considerations. “I could have gotten the same deals by ordering off their Internet sites. There was nothing to induce me to buy while I was there at the show."
He did not attend any seminars while at the show. However, he did feel the displays catered to those in the tire industry.
Terry Myers, director of operations for Import Export Tire Co. in Latrobe, Pa., was looking for both a tire supplier and a wheel supplier. "It looks like I was 60% successful," he says. "I'm working a deal but haven’t signed anything yet with Kumho. And my new wheel supplier looks pretty good, but I haven't tied the knot yet."
Myers says the business-to-business aspect of the SEMA Show is important. “I don’t think the general public should be able to come onto the trade show floor. It’s kind of like going to a food show or an electronics show, where you have to have a vendor’s license to be allowed in. I think SEMA should stay on that track."
Is the show too big? Myers doesn’t think so. "I think it's enough for everyone to see. If you wanted to spend one day and have a goal, you could do it. If you wanted to stay three days and see everything, you could do it."
Spencer Carruthers, owner of Kenwood Tire Co. in West Bridgewater, Mass., says the seminars that he attended -- especially those that discussed TPMS legislation and service -- were the best aspect of the show.
“ I knew TPMS was coming but had no idea what we have to do to get ready for it.”
Carruthers, a first-time SEMA attendee, also picked up ideas that he wants to apply to his own business.
His only disappointment was not having enough time to see everything he wanted.
“I had a plan of where I wanted to go when I got there, but it kind of got swept away. You get unbelievably sidetracked.
“I went four days this year and tried to see everything. It just becomes a blur after awhile. I might go for two days next year and I won’t try to do so much."
Steve Craven, president of Fairfax, Va.-based Craven Tire & Auto, also attended several seminars Ð some he described as useful and some that were "weak," he says.
The "Successful Tire Dealers Share Their Secrets" panel discussions were worthwhile, Craven recalls. But he can’t say the same for seminars he attended about Internet marketing and public relations.
"There's usually a financial management seminar, but this year there wasn't one."
Craven didn’t attend any TPMS seminars since he says his employees are well-versed in TPMS service. "We're right there with it."
David Burnett, owner of Fleet Tire in Knoxville, Tenn., says he went to see the latest products. Burnett has attended SEMA for the last four to five years and now feels the show is too big. He doesn’t plan to go next year unless something happens to change his mind.
In addition, Fleet Tire does a lot of truck tire business, and Burnett feels there weren’t enough exhibitors with products geared toward his niche. “A lot of the stuff applied to the West Coast, but it doesn’t sell in conservative Tennessee," he says.
Burnett also feels there were too many consumers at the show -- especially those who were mainly attracted to the hip-hop performers.
Joe Salafia, owner of Action Tire in Lodi, N.J., categorizes the show as a business-to-business event and hopes it stays that way.
“I went to the SEMA Show to see what’s new and exciting, and to reinforce relationships with our current distributors and manufacturers. It was very productive. I had meetings at the show and dinner meetings."
Salafia says it’s important to be able to put names with faces. “A lot of times, we forget about the relationship part and concentrate only on the bottom line, which is important. But without the relationship, it’s going to be a struggle to achieve your best bottom line."