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Editor's Notebook

One Should Mean One

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Hindsight is a strange exercise in revisionist history. It’s always 20/20, even when dimmed vision clouds the reasons why things happened as they did.

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That’s why I shook my head when so many jumped on the it-shoulda-been-done-long-ago bandwagon after the proposed merger of TANA and ITRA was announced.

Sure, it should’ve been done years ago, but attitudes and situations were much, much different 10-20 years ago.

Few remember the highly competitive and often acrimonious relationship between the old NTDRA and ARA. Fewer still recollect how and why the ARA came to be. Time has smoothed over their respective warts, barnacles and bullheadedness. Even when the NTDRA was literally minutes from flatlining, such a merger could never have happened.

Those days, gratefully, are passed. But gone, too, are the 75,000 tire dealers, 20,000 retreaders and hundreds of suppliers that once graced this industry – well more than enough for two associations!

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Contraction and consolidation have made the tire world a much smaller place. And while both the ITRA and TANA are healthy and serve their constituencies well, the needs of the whole are much different today.

That’s why this merger needs to happen. The time is finally right. And the benefits to all far outweigh any perceived negatives.

But it is also why this new single association must immediately deal with a crucial issue – the continuation of dualing trade shows.

The merger announcement at the ITE/SEMA Show left many questions unanswered. But the three words folks were looking for – "one trade show" – weren’t there. And association officials suggested we may never see them.

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Based on the post-announcement aisle-way politicking going on, the trade show issue is a big one – especially among exhibitors.

Trade shows are the major fundraiser that keeps associations working. Few national trade associations – let alone local units – can survive and serve on member dues alone.

And who are the cash cows that keep associations viable? Industry suppliers – aka "the exhibitors."

It’s hard to appreciate the real costs for an exhibitor. A 10×10 space alone is about $2,000. Then there’s a booth, materials, shipping and storage, show fees and registrations, airfare, hotel, meals and ground transportation. And let’s not forget hospitality suites, other entertainment and sponsorships.

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Some larger exhibitors will drop a half a mil or more, and they often aren’t the ones looking for customers.

In fairness, not all that green goes into an association’s coffers – a good bit does – but every dime of it "supports" the association and its members.

And attendees have an even harder time. Sacrifice two weeks out of their year to take in two shows. Travel, hotel, meals and registration costs average $2,000 per person per week, even with all the discounts rolled in. How can these members justify two shows when information on any product or vendor is just a phone call or mouse click away?

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Only a handful of companies exhibit at both shows, and few dealers make both trips. Many more could, certainly, but they’ve been forced to make hard economic and time choices. The result is a disconnect between prospective customers and suppliers that only devalues one of the shows.

We experienced the "BB in a boxcar" days at the final few NTDRA shows. We’ve seen the dwindling attendance at the last few ITRA gatherings. We said little while others used those maladies to scream for one consolidated trade show.

Why? Because at that time consolidating the shows would have been done for the wrong reasons, and surely would’ve killed off one of the associations. That would have served no one.

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Those conditions don’t exist anymore. Now it’s time for one true industry-wide show.

We appreciate the concerns for preserving "cultures" and maintaining "traditions" of the old associations in the new. But one association cannot truly be effective until it’s one association – from top to bottom.

This industry doesn’t need a patchwork association made up of bits and pieces of cultures and traditions. We need one new association, with a new attitude and a renewed sense of purpose, to equally and effectively represent all the interests of our industry.

To get there, some hard decisions will have to be made. And the first should be: "one trade show."

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