(All photos by Jim Johnson.)
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The 2004 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition definitely had that California feel. Here are a few telltale signs.

  • Where else but in California would there have been exhibitors promoting refrigeration for wine cellars? CellarMate shared a booth with Air Innovations. Another company, Wine Environments Inc., designs, manufactures, installs, and services custom refrigeration and humidity systems for wine cellars.

  • Wasn't that Disneyland almost directly across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center? It certainly was.

  • You could walk outside without freezing. (This was very welcome for visitors from the Midwest and back East.)

  • Finally, even though there was an onslaught of attendees the first day of the expo, it was definitely more laid back over the next two days.

    In the end, the numbers showed it was one of the best-attended West Coast shows. The International Exposition Company (IEC) was quick to note that the 2004 show eclipsed records from the previous West Coast records set in 1998 in San Francisco. Anaheim boasted more registered visitors (22,000-plus, not including exhibitor personnel), more exhibiting companies (1,652), and more net square feet of exhibit space (324,590).

    Counting the 16,000-plus personnel who manned the booths, there were more than 38,000 in attendance over the three-day event. While there were some vendors who were not necessarily pleased with the traffic, there were plenty who were.

    "It's been phenomenal," commented Andy Rowland, vice president of sales, Western Region, York International. "We planned a major new ‘top secret' product launch at AHR Expo that has been two years in the making. It's been a huge success because this is the perfect place to launch a new product. We had to add more booth personnel to handle the larger-than-expected crowds." (To read about the big announcement, see "York Makes A Colorful Introduction At Show.")

    Dick Shul, group vice president, Emerson Climate Technologies, also gave the show a thumbs up. "The quality of attendees has been excellent," he said. "We combined several of our divisions for the first time in one booth so we could present one face to all our various audiences. The reception and feedback have been very good. This is the best West Coast show we've been to."

    Happy Campers

    In the eyes of IEC, a growing economy and the promise of hundreds of new products contributed to the show's success. It attracted exhibitors and attendees from every segment of the industry and from all around the world.

    According to IEC, visitors came from more than 100 countries and international exhibitors (277) came from 34 countries. Those who regularly attend the AHR Expo were able to see products in Anaheim from 225 companies that had never before exhibited in the show.

    Clay Stevens, president of IEC, said that returning to Anaheim provided thousands of HVACR professionals in the western United States with a convenient opportunity to get a firsthand look at a huge number of new products and technologies on display from around the world.

    "The majority of exhibitors we spoke to were pleased with their presence at the show and were able to make contacts that would lead to a positive start for their new year," he said.

    First-time exhibitor Ensto Control Oy, headquartered in Porvoo, Finland, found the show to be "a very positive experience with approximately 100 leads each day to help us build our partnerships and presence in the U.S. market," said president Kai Qvist. "Having the show in Anaheim helped us to introduce our products to the western U.S. region."

    Fellow first-timer Ice Energy LLC, from Fort Collins, Colo., was just as upbeat. "We're very pleased with the activity at the show so far since this is our first time exhibiting," said Randy Zwetzig, vice president, Business Development. "This show helps us to reach our target customers, distributors, and partners, and is an excellent venue for our company to get noticed."

    Not-so-new exhibitors, like Rheem, were glad to be back at the expo. "It's been busy," said Tim Hawkins, engineering manager, Rheem. "This is our first time back to the AHR Expo in many years and it's good to be showing again. We're seeing our big distributors and showing new products."

    Wrightsoft Corp. President Bill Wright paid the show one of the higher compliments.

    "Our booth has been so packed all day long that we haven't had time to eat," he said. "AHR Expo has always been the No. 1 event for our company and we plan our new product introductions around it."

    A roomful of attentive attendees listen as winners of The News’ “Best Contractor To Work For” contest offer advice on how to hire and retain qualified technicians and employees.

    More Than Products

    A special attraction on the convention center floor was the presentation of the second annual AHR Expo Innovation Awards to companies in eight different product categories. The competition is jointly sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI); and IEC.

    In addition to encouraging product innovation throughout the industry, the proceeds from the entry fee were destined for an HVACR scholarship fund at a Southern California-area vocational school. (The winners are pictured in the story "Award Winners" in this issue. For complete details, see the Jan. 12 issue.)

    In addition to ASHRAE's Winter Meeting and short-course programs, the expo, ASHRAE, and eight endorsing associations offered free educational sessions.

    The News, in association with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), offered a session on "Ways to Find, Retain Qualified Technicians, Employees." The seven contractor winners in The News' 2003 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest drew a roomful of attentive attendees and offered some unique suggestions. (A full report of this session will be included in next week's issue of The News.)

    "It was a great opportunity for AHR Expo attendees to gain some valuable knowledge while at the show in Anaheim," said Stevens.

    Participating in the discussion are (from left) News Business Management Editor John Hall; News Editor-in-Chief Mark Skaer; Thomas Winslet Sr. of Engineering Excellence, Cincinnati; Wayne Reynolds of Tiger’s One-Hour A/C & Heating, Largo, Fla.; Eric Knaak of Isaac Heating & A/C, Rochester, N.Y.; Mark Schneider of Pacific Aire, Ventura, Calif.; Donna Lanier of All Seasons 500 Heating & Air, Huntsville, Ala.; and Ron Friedrich of A-Temp Heating & Cooling, Clackamas, Ore.

    The Winners

    In the end, the biggest winners were the attendees who walked the aisles. Each person was able to get the scoop directly from the 407 companies showing new products, the 198 companies showing indoor air quality-related equipment, the 225 first-time exhibitors, and the 277 international exhibitors.

    One attendee, Jeff Holland of Ace Mechanical Equipment, Golden, Colo., noted, "Each year we're seeing more smart equipment and more foreign companies exhibiting."

    Deanna Bebb of P&E Automation, San Diego, said she came to look at controls exhibitors. "My purpose is to see how advanced the technology is, and smaller companies are often on the cutting edge," she remarked.

    Another attendee, Jose Antonio Margalef, a contractor from Mexico City, said he would not miss the show. He comes to "contact new dealers and learn things for my business." He said his company started as a family business.

    "When we made the decision to expand and be bigger, we had an obligation to come to the AHR Expo," he said.

    Meanwhile, exhibitors like Wine Environments enjoyed introducing their company to inquisitive passers-by. In literature handed out by booth attendant Michael Indyk, the company noted, "At the outset, we used commercial equipment and found there were significant problems in the installations. The requirements for low noise, combined with limited installation and service access, led to numerous compromises. ...

    "We finally decided it was simpler to bite the bullet and build the equipment that was needed for the application."

    Only in California would you come across such an exhibitor at an AHR Expo. Or, perhaps it's more accurate to say that you would come across such an AHR exhibitor for the first time at the California show.

    Look for more coverage of the AHR Expo in this issue and future issues of The News.

    The 2005 AHR Expo will take place Feb. 7-9 at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla.

    Publication date: 02/16/2004