The aisles were teeming with visitors during the 2002 AHR Expo. (Photo by Einzig Photographers Inc.)
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Lesson for today: Don’t believe everything you hear.

Months — perhaps even years — prior to the 2002 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo), more negative than positive talk surfaced regarding the 54th annual show. The site, Atlantic City, seemed to elicit the most complaints. Atlantic City’s distance from a major airport was a sore spot for many attendees and would-be attendees. The closest major airport is in Philadelphia, an hour’s drive from the New Jersey coast.

That did not stop contractors, wholesalers, manufacturers’ reps, and international representation from taking the trek. Before the close of the second day, the 2002 version had more visitors than the three-day totals from Atlanta last year.

The final totals: 28,513 visitors from around the world. With a total of 15,636 exhibitor personnel, overall attendance was 44,149 for the three-day event. Total visitor attendance last year was 27,012. Atlanta

had bigger attendance numbers overall (48,974), only because the exhibitors brought more personnel last year with them (21,962).

“We knew we were going to have a good turnout for this show, but because of the challenging economy, we did not anticipate these numbers,” confessed Clay Stevens, president of International Exposition Company (IEC), which produces and manages the AHR Expo.

Even though attendance was meek — per usual — for the final day (Jan. 16), the majority of the more than 1,400 exhibitors went home pleasantly surprised.

“We’ve been exhibiting since the expo has been around,” said Rian Scheel, general manager for Lockformer. “We sold a high-pressure water jet worth $200,000 within the first hour of the show opening.”

Gregory Henderson, regional sales manager for Baltimore Aircoil Company, gave the turnout two thumbs up.

“We’ve had a lot of people stop by and ask lots of questions, and we’ve gotten many good leads,” he said the second day of the expo. “We’ve also seen a lot of our customers here. This is a good place to stay in touch with our customers and an excellent opportunity to remind them why they continue to buy from us.”

For the exhibitors, there was a steady flow of traffic in the aisles on the show floor that lasted throughout the first two days.

“We’ve been an exhibitor for more than 15 years, and we’re very pleased with the quality of traffic,” said Gordon Pedwell, director of Sales and Marketing, Delta Controls. “People coming by our booth have a genuine interest in the information available and in doing business. Our goal wasn’t to see as many people as possible. Our goal was to talk to people interested in our products, and it seems to be working.”

“We’ve had what feels like an inquiry per minute throughout the show, especially today,” said Atonio Gobbi, president of Full Gauge Controls, the second day of the show. “Our primary reason for being here is to educate the North American market about the company, and many people have stopped by asking for information. I believe that a lot of our follow-up contact from the show will result in sales.”

The broadest smiles belonged to Clay Stevens and the representatives from Atlantic City. Stevens said he had faith in the drawing power of Atlantic City. A good indication for him was the 21,000-plus people who registered in advance.

“What makes Atlantic City an attractive venue is that it is easily accessible from a large number of metropolitan areas,” he said. “Also, many exhibitors have said that the Northeast is their strongest market.”

Atlantic City could not thank the hvacr industry enough. The expo was the largest show hosted by the city in 35 years and, according to some reports, had an economic impact of approximately $50.8 million in the region. Plainly put, attendees spent, hotels were booked, and restaurants were busy, busy, busy.

The last AHR Expo in Atlantic City was in 1983. That year there were 636 exhibitors. This year more than 1,400 companies exhibited. According to Hank Stevens, owner of IEC, 25 companies that did not exhibit since 1999 returned this year. Also, 142 exhibitors were from 22 different countries. Last September’s terrorism did not have a direct effect on the show, either.

“Since 9-11, we added 108 new companies,” said Clay Stevens.

The pattern of growth is continuing. Next year’s show has the potential to be the largest AHR Expo ever. According to Clay Stevens, nearly 900 exhibitors have signed up for the show in Chicago. The expo was last held in Chicago in 1999.

The News begins its full AHR Expo coverage next week. Find out what new products the exhibitors showcased.

Publication date: 01/28/2002