by Paul Abelson, technical editor
ust about everyone in trucking has heard about the Mid-America Trucking Show. MATS is “THE Happening” in our industry. It covers about a million square feet, has free concerts featuring some of the top names in country music, has more exhibitors, more new trucks and trailers and more product introductions than any other truckshow in America.
I’ve never been to Frankfort or Hanover in Germany (they’re really big events and last about 10 days), but Louisville may be the biggest “trucks-only” show in the world. Many people attend just to have fun, to see what’s new and to enjoy the atmosphere in the company of fellow truckers. Others come to meet their electronic “pen pals” from the Internet bulletin boards like Layover.com and Truck.Net or to pay their annual OOIDA dues (more later in this article). Some learn at seminars on how to be more successful as a trucker, while still others head to the recruiters’ pavilion to see if they can find better opportunities.
There are a great many ways to spend time at MATS, but only three days to do it — if you can get there for the whole show. It takes about a day just to walk through the entire show, which covers three halls at the Kentucky Fairgrounds and Exposition Center. Out back, the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship has the finest collection of working show trucks anywhere, including Europe, in terms of both quantity and quality. If you love trucks and you’ve never been to MATS, plan on going. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.
If you are there to get business done, you’ll need a plan to make sure you accomplish what you need to in the time you have. Here are some of the things experienced show-goers plan to do:
If you’re in the market for a new rig, it’s easier to go to one place where all the equipment is than to run from dealer to dealer. At MATS, you can look at trucks, sit in trucks, and go back and forth between trucks, all under the same roof. I’ve overheard drivers who, before attending a show, would say, “There’s only one truck for me. I’ve been running Brand XYZ ever since they had solid rubber tires, so take it from me, everything else is junk.” I bet you know a few like that yourself. After doing some comparison shopping, they start to sound more like, “Gee, I didn’t know Brand ABC had that feature. That’s some truck!” Minds have been changed at truckshows.
The same can be said of seats from different manufacturers, transmissions, clutches and even engines.
Many new companies chose MATS to introduce themselves to the industry, and many established suppliers use the show to add new items to their line. Last year, Bendix introduced X-Vision, their infrared night vision system at the show. Eaton first presented AutoShift there, and this year, I am told, Truck-Lite will have a dramatic new development in LED lighting.
You may have to look for innovations from the newer, smaller manufacturers. They’re usually found in the smaller 10-foot and 20-foot booths that line the walls or fill in the spaces between the major exhibitors. That’s where you find Ten-Four Stairs, the innovative safety stairs for platform and van trailers, heater systems from Espar and Webasto, and Smartbrake, the new quieter supplemental braking system we discovered at the International Trucking Show in Las Vegas.
If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to resolve a product problem with a dealer, or if you’ve heard, “You’re the only one who ever had that problem,” one time too many, you can meet with supplier personnel at the show. If you can’t get satisfaction from a factory representative, ask to talk with a manager. There’s always one or more assigned to every booth. If a manager can’t help, he or she will have a customer service or engineering contact you after the show. You’ll be on your way to getting resolution. Just remember you don’t have to come on like a raging bull to get your message across. I once overheard a very wise executive say to a furious customer, “Sir, at this point in time, only two people in the whole world are interested in resolving your problem, and one of us is quickly losing that interest.” It helps to be civil.
Our industry has the highest turnover rate of any major segment of the economy. Some companies experience more than 100 percent turnover annually. There’s obviously a great deal of dissatisfaction, but if you call a company and talk to a recruiter, you’d think their company was the greatest place to work, a heaven on earth. At MATS, you’ll have a chance to compare recruiting pitches, and to check out stories against other companies.
Some of the most successful drivers in the industry are at the show, but not necessarily at the recruiting booths. Many are out in the back parking area, competing in the Paul K.Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship. These drivers have to be successful to take their rigs off the road for a week at a time, several times a year, and to pay for the fancy sleepers, murals, chrome and lights. Almost all I’ve ever met are nice folks whose “pride in the ride” extends to their companies, too. Most have had experience with many different ones. Ask them what they like or dislike about their carriers. Talk to other drivers, too. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect company, but some come a lot closer to your idea of perfection than others. It’s better to ask around first than to find out the hard way.
Try asking a recruiter what he or she thinks of a competing company. If they start bad-mouthing, avoid both operations. They should be able to emphasize the positives about their own operation, and there may be some truth worth investigating about what they say about their competitor. If they politely decline to comment, or even say, “They’re good, but here’s why I think we’re better,” they are probably worth listening to. Owner-operators looking for a new home should be sure to ask for a copy of the lease so you can take it home and read it thoroughly at your leisure.
At MATS, show management tries to make your tasks as convenient as possible by grouping similar types of exhibitors. Truckmakers are in the South Hall, along with major component (engine and drive train) suppliers, and many trailer builders. Wheel and tire manufacturers, many component suppliers and the rest of the trailer builders are mostly in the East Hall, the original site of this show more than 30 years ago. Recruiters are located primarily in the West Hall. The problem is many components, seats and lights for example, are in both the South and East Halls, and some new companies may be mixed in with the recruiters in the West Hall.
To minimize wasted time and maximize your productivity, prepare before you start to walk the show. Before you leave for Louisville, decide which types of companies you need to visit, and which you’d like to visit. Make a list in priority order, and grab a directory as soon as you can. Then you can look up exhibitors by type in the back of the program, and get each company’s booth location while you’re waiting in line to register. Go to the show map and mark the locations. It’s easy to develop a priority route that gets you to all your must-see locations in the shortest time.
Look up the seminars. Mark those you want to attend and note their locations. Most are in the South Hall lobby. Include them in your route. When you’ve fulfilled your needs, you can then take the time to walk the show. Remember, time is precious. Since no one can spend quality time at every booth, stay focused.
Grab literature. When you break for lunch or a rest, go through it and discard what you’re not interested in. Go through what’s left again that evening, and just keep the information you plan to act on.
Many booths have giveaway items. Some are nice, like candy for you or the kids, or key chains, pens and other trinkets. Ask yourself if you really need to lug them around? Even though things are free, don’t take them unless you have uses for them. They just weigh you down.
If at all possible, get out back to see the show trucks. The best of the best come to Louisville. They’ll be there after the show closes each day, so that’s a good time to see them. Last year, there were a total of 130 trucks.
One more thing — stop by the OOIDA exhibits. Inside, it’s booth #117. Outside, OOIDA’s red Western Star and new trailer will be in the southwest parking lot at the side of the pavilion. If you’re already a member, stop by and say “hi.” It’s also a good time to take advantage of the show special to renew your membership (dues are only $25 if you sign up at the show). If you’re not yet a member, stop by to learn all the benefits of OOIDA membership. Have a good show!
How much are tickets? There’s a full page ad in this magazine. Tear it out and use it for free admission, but you’ll still have to wait in line to get your badge made up.
Where and how do you get the concert tickets? The concerts are free, sponsored by major industry suppliers. The sponsors hand out tickets at their booths. Another line to stand in.
If I’m driving my truck, is there a place I can park? There are spaces for a few (hundred) bobtails and combination vehicles at the fairgrounds, but you’ll have to be there early to get one. There’s onsite truck parking in two big lots. Lot K can accommodate overnight truck parking, no hookups, $20 per night. Lot L is for RV parking with hookups available, $25 per night, call (502) 367-5000. Additional truck parking is available at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Shuttles will be available to take attendees to and from the show. RV hookups are available on-site for attendees wishing to bring their recreational vehicles. For reservations or additional information, call Ernie Whitehouse at (502) 367-5384. You can also park at one of the nearby truckstops and take a shuttle bus. Do not park illegally on Louisville streets. The fines are quite high.
Are there places to eat on the grounds? There are concessions throughout the halls. They serve the usual hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. Some have other specialties. Outside the main entrance, the Pork Producers Association sells the most delicious pork sandwiches this side of Walcott.
If I need a motel, can I get one at the last minute? Only if your grandfather died and left you a room reservation in his will. Seriously, most nearby hotel, motel and even bed & breakfast rooms are booked six months prior to the show. Many experienced attendees make their reservations for the next year’s show when they check out. If you don’t have reservations now, you may have to stay an hour or so away. If you plan to return in 2003, stop in at the area motels right after the show ends. A source of up-to-date hotel availability is MATS hotel reservation center, DestinationKY. For help making reservations (from Super 8 to higher rate rooms), call 1-800-368-4052 or go to www.destinationky.com/midam.htm.
MATS entertainment brings back familiar favorites, introduces fresh faces
Each year truckers journey to Louisville, expecting their familiar truckshow favorites — the truck beauty contest, the Midnight Trucking Radio Network, pork sandwiches and Alabama. This year they all will be there, along with a few new faces — Mindy McCready and Kid Rock.
Kicking off the three-day show, the Mid-America Jamboree is known for introducing up-and-coming country artists. This year Eric Harley and Joe Kelley, hosts of WBAP Radio’s Midnight Trucking Radio Network, will welcome country music award winner Mindy McCready. All three will be available for autographs from 1-4 p.m. Thursday, March 21.
Alabama’s concert, sponsored by Kenworth, will be Friday night, March 22, at Freedom Hall. Tickets will be available the first two days of the show at the Kenworth exhibit. Sorry, no advance ticket handouts.
There’s a new kid in town this year, so check out the Saturday night concert — Kid Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker Band — at 7:30 p.m.