ST. LOUIS — It turns out that St. Louis is a pretty good place to visit in February. After worrying for the past couple years that the potential for cold winter weather would deter exhibitors and operators from attending UMA Motorcoach Expo 2017 in this Midwestern city, it wound up being a very successful event.
“It exceeded all our expectations,” UMA Board Chairman Dale Krapf said after the Expo exhibit hall closed on March 1, “especially after two years of being unsure.”
Victor Parra, who was attending his last Expo before retiring on March 31 as president and CEO of UMA, said he was “excited” by how well the show went.
“The numbers are good,” Parra said. “It was kind of a stretch to pull it off, but we pulled it off.”
The signs were good leading up to Expo, with the exhibit hall floor selling out in August and individual attendance tracking ahead of Expo 2016 in Atlanta. UMA had to book rooms in four different hotels to accommodate the attendees.
And next year’s Expo in San Antonio, Texas, promises to be a good show as well, with exhibit floor sales for the Jan. 6-10, 2018, event reaching a record by the end of this year’s Expo.
Comments by a cross-section of exhibitors at Expo 2017 backed up the positive numbers.
“This is the most important(show) for us because all our customers are here,” said Ismail Arslan,vice president of business development for De Leo Transportation Fabrics in High Point, N.C.
“Our customers are seat manufacturers,” Arslan said. “They’re doing good. If they do good, we do good. I’m talking with my customers and everybody’s happy, so we’re happy, too. It’s more than order writing, this is just a PR kind of show for us. Face time, networking, building relationships.”
Gene Willingham, CEO of motorcoach interior specialist Willingham Inc. in Maple Valley, Wash., said he has attended numerous industry shows.
“This has probably been one of the most successful shows we’ve been to,” Willingham said. “We’re selling more stuff than we’ve got in stock, just about. We’re having a very successful show. We’re getting a lot of traffic, writing orders. Yes, (we’re) busy.”
Another indication that Expo was successful, and that the motorcoach industry is improving from its recessionary doldrums, was the number of financial companies in attendance.
Peter King, vice president, specialty markets division-motorcoach, for TCF Equipment Finance in Minnetonka, Minn., noticed the competition in attendance.
“There seems to be a lot of equipment being sold in the market and there’s a lot of liquidity in the financial markets as well,” King said. “A lot of banks have a lot of money to lend and you’re seeing a lot of banks at this show. I think there are 11 or so signed up for the show, which is more than I recall seeing before. So there’s a lot of competition for that business as well, so there’s a lot of…choices for the operators.”
LaMotte McCall, manager of Priority Start, which sells a battery protection system, said that as a first-time Expo attendee he was impressed by the foot traffic and the diversity of potential customers.
“We have met with people not only from motorcoaches but also the smaller shuttle buses and school buses,” McCall said.
While some exhibitors said the floor traffic didn’t necessarily translate into strong sales, they consider Expo worth attending because of the opportunities to meet with customers and lay the groundwork for future business.
“We were excited to have lots of people in our booth mingling around and it’s always good to see industry friends, of course,” said Michaela Grundman, director of marketing for CH Bus Sales in Faribault, Minn., the exclusive distributor of Temsa motorcoaches in the U.S. and Canada.
“Compared to past years, there’s not as many written orders, but there are a couple customers in here that come and we’ll sign orders for the show, so that’s exciting,” Grundman said. “We definitely walk away with a lot more solid leads.”
Doug Dunn, CEO of Alliance Bus Group in College Park, Ga., also said the networking opportunities were one of the best parts of Expo.
“It’s a great place to come do that. People come looking for you here. I’ll see people maybe a couple times a year and this is always the main one.”
For Harun Edermir and his wife, Gamze Erdemir Severoglu, who run family-owned vehicle glass supplier Interglass Oto Camlari in Turkey, Expo was a chance to learn about the American motorcoach market.
“This is our first time in the United States — we are so proud to be here,” Severoglu said. “This is a very friendly environment. Everything is positive. We are just trying to understand what our strategies should be to enter the U.S. market.”