CHICAGO — If numbers do not lie, there’s no doubt that the 2003 Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) was a record-setter in both attendance and in exhibitors present. The real question is, though, was there quality in the record numbers? It all depended upon whom you asked, but there appeared to be more positive than negative replies from those manning the booths, as well as those walking the aisles.

“It is a terrific show this year,” said Jerry Ackerman of Clearwater Systems, LLC (Essex, Conn.). “By far the busiest — five to six times busier than last year. We’ve had great leads and good networking with people that want to work for us.”

Mike Milliron of Bry-Air Inc. (Sunbury, Ohio) echoed his fellow exhibitor’s sentiments near the close of the second day.

“Leads are of high quality for the second day,” he said. “We are pleased with the show organization and support of the personnel. This show could be the best in 40 years of participating.”

He’ll get no argument from Cincinnati contractor Bob Gersden, who allowed The News to shadow him for a few hours during opening day to record his experiences. (See the story “The Expo From A Contractor’s Perspective” in this issue.)

“This show is a little bit back to where it was,” said Gersden. “It has come back more to the residential side. A guy in a pickup truck can really appreciate it.”

The biggest smile belonged to Clay Stevens, the show’s manager and president of International Exposition Company (IEC). For the record: More than 58,000 HVACR professionals (over 38,000 registered visitors and 20,000 exhibitor personnel) from 117 countries filled the aisles of Chicago’s McCormick Place January 27-29. The number of 2003 registered visitors breaks the old record of 36,881 established at the 1995 show in Chicago. Likewise, the 1,877 listed exhibitors breaks the old record of 1,771 established at the 2001 show in Atlanta.

In the North Hall of McCormick Place, many international exhibitors displayed their wares, including World Aeroplast Co. Ltd., of Bangkok, Thailand.
“The exhibitors we spoke to were very pleased with the quantity, quality, and upbeat mood of buyers looking to purchase equipment,” said Stevens.

“What amazes me is that anybody in the industry would choose not to come to this event,” said Randy Schaeffer, a WMS Sales manufacturer’s agent.

The recent expo broke another record: consumed exhibit space. At more than 400,000 square feet, it topped 1999’s numbers. New all-time records were also established for the number of foreign exhibitors (254) and number of first-time exhibitors (259).

“The 2003 AHR Expo has set new records in square footage occupied by exhibits, total number of exhibiting companies, and total registered visitors (excluding exhibitor personnel) in very challenging economic times,” said Stevens. “This can be taken as a clear indication of the importance of the HVACR industry in our global economy and the essential role played by the AHR Expo in our industry’s growth and development.”

Jennifer H. Lee, overseas sales team, executive, of SPG Korea Co., Ltd., stands before the products offered by Sung Shin Co., Ltd., one of the many international exhibitors at the show. The head office of Sung Shin is in Puch'on-Shi, Kyunggi-Do, Korea.

It’s A Small World

Just as noticeable as the large turnout were the over 250 exhibiting companies from outside the United States — again, the most ever. This year, the first word stood out in the event’s official title, the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition.

“We’re seeing more and more internationals,” agreed Hank Stevens, principal of IEC. “They’re acclimated to this kind of marketing.”

Among the visitors was a delegation from China that included the China Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Industry Association (CRAA). Leihua Zhang, a first-time visitor who is with CRAA, said he was excited “to see new products and technology for central air conditioning equipment and ventilation.”

Sung-Zo Choi, an importer/ex-porter for Imco Boiler Co., Seoul, Korea, came to Chicago for several reasons, foremost among them the networking opportunities.

“This show is a chance to see everybody in one place and to meet with the high- and low-level people all at once,” he explained.

Jennifer H. Lee, an overseas sales team executive with SPG Korea Co., Ltd., Puch’on-Shi, Kyunggi-Do, Korea, said her company was exhibiting “to gain prominence” in the North American market.

Meanwhile, first-time visitor Frederic Cosquer, an export manager from Spain’s Nova Vent, said he was pleased to be in attendance.

“I’m looking at this as a chance to get to know the U.S. products and market a little better,” he said.

Brass fittings were among the new products featured at the Pel Pintossi Emilio S.p.A. booth. The exhibitor is headquartered in Brescia, Italy. There were over 250 exhibiting companies from outside the United States, the most ever for an AHR Expo.

Unofficial Records

Though no official records are kept, the 2003 version may have showcased more new products than any other. In the program directory published by show management, 652 exhibitors indicated they were displaying a new product. No telling how many exhibitors actually did so — or, how many more did but did not necessarily inform show management accordingly. What was for certain were the numerous “New Product” signs prominently displayed at booths.

“The signs are a great way to help our attendees quickly identify which exhibitors are showcasing new products and technologies,” said Clay Stevens. “It’s proven to be a very popular timesaver.”

Speaking of unofficial records, this had to be the most giving bunch of exhibitors ever. Promotional gadgets and gizmos were free for the taking at most booths, maybe the highest number in the 73-year history of the show. Up for grabs were everything from small toy glider planes to stuffed animals to … well, you name it. According to Lisa Tryson, marketing communications manager at Danfoss Inc. (Baltimore), Danfoss distributed 10,000 of its red baseball caps within 13 hours of the show, and the hats were readily visible on the heads of those walking the aisles.

Among the new features added this year were the New Product Technology Theaters, which were designed to provide a resource for exhibitors to preview their new products at the show and share their outlook on the industry. Another popular attraction was the inaugural presentation of the AHR Expo Innovation Awards to companies in seven different HVACR product categories. (For a list of the winners, see “AHR Expo Innovation Award Winners Announced,” in the Jan. 13 issue of The News.)

For instance, TurboCor (Dorval, Quebec) won the top prize in the “Energy” category for its TT300 centrifugal refrigerant compressor, an oil-free compressor designed for middle-range chillers and rooftop HVAC applications in chilled water and direct-expansion systems.

“At an operating sound level of less than 70 dba, the compressor is so quiet that, given typical equipment background noise, one literally cannot hear it run,” said Eugene Smithart, vice president for sales and marketing.

The competition was jointly sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI); and IEC. ASHRAE and ARI are also co-sponsors of the AHR Expo.

Even the cold Chicago weather did not seem to bother attendees. Warmer weather should prevail next year. The 2004 AHR Expo moves to Anaheim, Calif., at the Anaheim Convention Center, January 26-28.

Look for more 2003 AHR Expo coverage in future issues of The News.

Publication date: 02/17/2003