Powder Coating '04 was held in Charlotte, N.C., September 21-23, the fourteenth tradeshow sponsored or co-sponsored by the Powder Coating Institute (PCI). Trade show attendance has been dropping for several years now, in our industry and in most industrial sectors. It is difficult to take the time and spend the money to travel these days. Company staffs are lean and expense money is tight. The powder coating industry and the trade show were on trial to see how many people were in the market for new goods and services.

There were 199 exhibitors in all with more than 1,300 people registered as exhibitor personnel. More than 2,050 attendees registered, around 450 conference attendees and over 1,500 for the exhibit only. The total number of people that attended was approximately 3,400.

Clyde Fessler, retired VP, Business Development, Harley-Davidson Motor, kicked off the show with his story about the turnaround at Harley. The story of how this near-bankrupt company picked itself up and learned how to compete with imports was inspiring and informative. It revved up show attendees and started the show on a very positive note.

For attendees, success depends on how much they were able to learn and the quality of the information that they were able to get from exhibitors. Examples of general comments on attendee evaluation forms include, "was a very educational show and extremely well managed," "a very good show and conference," and "the show was very informative and the speakers were very helpful."

The educational program included information on efficiency and cost reduction with existing systems as well as information about new markets and methods to be developed. And of course there were great programs to introduce new users to quality design practices and methods. Program materials were organized on a CD with a small notebook that included the program titles.

For exhibitors, the success of the trade show depends on business opportunities. They want to be able to point to the show as the source of sales and profits. One of the keys to evaluation is sales opportunity (long-term) and the other measure of success is immediate sales (short-term). The number of attendees is an issue but the real issue is how many buyers spend time at their booth. How many leads do they get that are legitimate business opportunities? Based on sales and the general condition of the economy the past three years, the expectations were not high but many of the exhibitors were able to make a lot of good contacts.

Among the other activities at the show, the PCI Technical Committees met to plan the upcoming year and set goals for development of programs and market opportunities. The Application & Recovery Equipment Committee is particularly busy. The PCI book, "Powder Coating, a Complete Finishers Handbook," was recently completed and introduced at the show. This is a major update of information on the technology of powder. They also have developed a new program for colleges that provides a discussion on powder coating. They will be offering this program to colleges for no charge to introduce them to the technology and how it works.

One area of intense interest among attendees is the aluminum architectural market. With so much more aluminum being powder coated in Europe than in the United States it is an area that could be developed for growth. Look for more information to flow from PCI and member companies in the coming months.

All in all, it was a great show with something for everyone. The outlook for the future of powder coating is bright.