WERE YOU WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKED? Printer-friendly format
just returned from the 1997 edition of Kart Expo International,
I'm wading my way through lots of thoughts about the event and the
karting industry in general. In the 3 years that I have been an
exhibitor at Kart Expo the overall caliber of exhibitors and their
exhibits has changed dramatically. Expo organizers have made it
very clear that, while these events are "selling shows"
for retailers, their primary focus is on manufacturers, distributors,
and dealers meeting each other and the public. Each year fewer and
fewer retailers set up stacks of bulk merchandise in hopes of selling
it "swap meet style."
more and more exhibitors have concentrated on promotion, rather
than direct sales. Chassis manufacturers show off their latest and
greatest creations, then refer potential buyers to their nearest
dealer. Accessory manufacturers, both strictly karting and more
generally motorsports related, offer some direct sales opportunities,
but their focus seems to be more on sales to others in the karting
industry, rather than to the karting public.
level of professionalism in exhibiting has gone up dramatically
as well. The curtain backdrops provided by the exhibition hall are
giving way to more hi-tech, hi-style professional displays. The
printed signs identifying the occupant of each booth are being replaced
by eye-catching, sometimes moving, company logos. In short, Kart
Expo is beginning to look like a real industry trade exhibition.
visitors to Kart Expo this year said a lot about how the event is
evolving too. A significant portion of the traffic this year was
people involved in the business of karting and kart-related activities.
Representatives of retail kart shops, engine builders, and others
toured the show, meeting current suppliers and looking for new ones.
People in the industry, even if they didn't think that their business
was big enough to exhibit at Kart Expo, came out to see what was
new and exciting, and what might have an impact on their karting
business. Along with scores of karters and other "casual"
show visitors, they worked the aisles up and down, carrying their
trade show bags of literature, catalogs, and samples.
has always struck me as interesting to look not only at who exhibits
at these events, but also at who doesn't. More this year
than ever before, visitors at Expo asked me "Where's so-and-so?"
"Does XYZ have a display?" At a time when American race
kart chassis manufacturers are under more pressure than ever from
their foreign counterparts, they were substantially outnumbered
by Europeans. Only Margay and White chose to showcase their latest
and best creations and to woo prospective buyers. Where were all
the others? Expo visitors from overseas might conclude that there
are only a couple of serious, professional chassis manufacturers
in the USA. And how far off would they be in that assessment?
about the manufacturers of clutches, wheels, brakes, tires, and
so on? Of these, only Ohio-based SMC and industry stalwart Max-Torque
were there to explain the workings and advantages of their clutches.
At a time when interest in tire selection, as it relates to track
conditions, is at an all-time high, no tire manufacturers were represented.
The only brake systems and wheels on display were foreign-made.
Why? Expo visitors had to draw their own conclusions. Some suggested
that these major players in the industry probably felt like they
had the business sewn up and didn't need to be there. The fact that
visitors asked about them, coupled with the traffic that visited
their competitors' booths, would suggest otherwise.
I was interested in the number of karting spin-offs that were at
Kart Expo. Junior dragsters, Mini-Cup cars, and 1/4 Midgets were
all represented. And they were not there to support karting. They
were there to poach; to capitalize on a complacent karting industry
and lure our participants, our customers, away from karting and
into their form of racing, their industry. And based on the level
of interest they generated, they probably will consider their efforts
at Kart Expo a success.
all know that karting is a wonderful family sport, and we can look
with pride at how karting has grown and developed. But the participation
in karting's only truly independent industry trade show reveals
how the karting industry has yet to mature. It suggests that many
in the industry, even at the highest levels, fail to recognize what
other industries have known for years; top-flight trade shows generate
industry growth, encourage cohesive marketing, and provide unbeatable
opportunities to advance both individual businesses and the industry
as a whole.
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