In my conversations with school bus industry suppliers, a recurring comment that I've heard from many of them over the years is that there is an overwhelming number of trade shows that they feel obligated to take part in.
I have to say that I see their point. Most states have at least one school bus association, many of which have their own annual conferences that include vendor shows. A supplier company has to commit a lot of time and money in sending its people and products all over the country to make it to the majority of these events.
Let me make a few things clear here: I fully support the role of trade shows in the right settings. National and regional conferences are great venues for suppliers to show their latest offerings and connect with a large number of attendees in one place.
I also fully attest to the importance of state associations in the pupil transportation industry. They are vital organizations for networking with colleagues, enhancing job skills and influencing state legislation that affects school busing.
Having said that, do state conferences need their own trade shows? Is it an unnecessary burden for the suppliers to schlep from state to state to exhibit to relatively small groups?
I realize that associations need financial support to hold their conferences. But suppliers can provide sponsorships without the added expenses of travel.
Nothing wrong with profit
If you've looked through our annual Fact Book in recent years, you've seen data illustrating the industry's woes.
School bus sales in North America have been falling for four years in a row. The 2010 sales total was down about a third from the peak in 2006.
The flagging sales hurt the school bus OEMs, of course, but also the many suppliers of school bus components and related equipment.
I need to stress here that there's nothing wrong with these companies making a profit. The more financially secure they are, the more they can invest in research and development to come out with new and improved products that will help school bus operations increase the safety of their passengers and run more effciently. And that is undoubtedly good for everyone.
A common concern
I know that this editorial might ruffle a few feathers. But having heard the same concern from so many suppliers throughout the years, I feel that this is a subject that needs to be thrown out in the open and discussed.
I've talked to companies that haven't increased the prices of their products for 10 years or more. Even as their costs of doing business and manufacturing their equipment have risen, they've done whatever they can to keep from passing on increases to their customers.
If cutting back on state-level trade shows will lighten the suppliers' load, then we owe it to them to at least consider it. It may well be in the best interest of the industry.