THERE is symbolism in the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers' decision to take its 15th annual convention and exhibition to Orlando Feb. 19-22.

NATM's membership has reached an all-time high at 570, boosted by the highest yearly addition of new members (157) in the association's history. Orlando also has reached an all-time high, recently surpassing Mecca as the most visited place on the planet. So it's not only home to the “Happiest Place on Earth” - it's the busiest.

NATM hasn't held its convention in Orlando since 1994, just two years after it switched its name from the National Association of Livestock Trailer Manufacturers. It also hasn't held the convention on the East Coast since 1990, when it was in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The association has committed to holding the event in Las Vegas in even-numbered years, and using the odd-numbered years to alternate between eastern and western locations. It's just that the eastern locations were never farther east than New Orleans (1995 and 1997).

“A lot of people are excited about going to Orlando,” executive director Pam O'Toole said. “Some people who live in the East are enthused that we're closer to them. Many of our members are small businesses, family-run businesses. We hope some of the younger families will see it as a vacation opportunity and stay a few extra days and see the tourist attractions.”

O'Toole expects membership to top 600 by the time the association convenes in Orlando. She described the addition of 157 new members this year as “phenomenal.”

“A lot of new companies are joining because they want the guidelines and compliance consultation,” she said. “But we're getting some long-time companies joining because they hadn't heard of NATM before or because there is more emphasis on safety and compliance, with changes to the Early Warning Reporting System.”

Here's a look at how the four days will unfold:

Workshop

O'Toole will lead a workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 19, from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The first session will deal with the Model User's Manual, which covers the safe use of the most common types of trailers and trailer hardware. Each manufacturer, to accurately reflect their products, can adapt the manual. The manufacturer can then add material based on the special features of their trailers, their experience, and any incident reports for a customized manual.

The second session will be devoted to Guidelines Compliance Issues. Topics to be covered include VIN labels, safety chains, trailer lighting, tire/wheel selection, and brakes. O'Toole will share insights on how to stay in compliance when manufacturing trailers, explain what Guidelines Compliance Consultation constitutes, and describe the benefits of participating in the program.

Ken Schmidt has been associated with Harley-Davidson since 1985. His success in helping improve the company's reputation and creating demand for its products played a vital role in the motorcycle legend's turnaround from the brink of ruin to global dominance. In his role as Harley's director of communication, Schmidt shaped the company's positioning and messaging and served as its primary spokesperson to the media and financial communities.

Harley-Davidson history

Since leaving the company in 1997 to focus his energy on his family, Schmidt has continued to be a major force in the communication industry and has provided non-traditional communication and brand-building expertise to many of the world's best-known businesses. He wrote a book with the grandson of one of the company's founders, “The Official History of Harley-Davidson,” which was released in last August to coincide with the company's 100th Anniversary. He has appeared on network television numerous times and spoken to hundreds of audiences around the world.

Schmidt, one of the most popular speakers and communications consultants in America, has been referred to as the “luckiest man on the planet,” largely because he has parlayed his success into touring the world on two wheels, meeting with presidents and royalty, hanging out with movie and music legends, and appearing on network news programs.

“How the people of Harley-Davidson were able to turn this great company around, as successfully as we did, makes for one of the best business stories of all time,” he says.

His presentation, “The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Harley-Davidson” — scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 21 — is a riveting story of building a new corporate culture, rekindling relationships with customers, and finding new ones in untraditional ways.

His philosophy on life and business has remained the same: “Never do what's expected, make yourself as noticeably different as possible, and have a lot more fun than you're supposed to.”

From a devastating downturn in the 1970s, Harley-Davidson rebounded to the point where demand far outstripped the supply.

“The cool factor was always there; it just wasn't being taken care of,” he said.

So in 1981, 13 Harley-Davidson executives bought the company from AMF, and Harley began to reinvent itself.

“It became clear that what the company had been doing for years was unacceptable; [the customers] were disappointed about the quality of the motorcycle and the quality of the ownership experience,” he says. “If there's one thing that I learned in my years with Harley, it's that if you meet someone's expectations, you essentially haven't done anything. There's nothing memorable there; there's nothing that sets you apart from the competition because everybody fully expects his or her expectations to be met.

“They are met a thousand times a day. So when you do extraordinary things, connect with people and make them feel good, let them see the effort you're making on their behalf, they tend to remember, and they tell other people. It not only sets your business apart, but it also creates demand for your business.”

Delos R. Smith, senior business analyst for the Conference Board, will present an Economic Update from 10-11:15 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 21.

The Conference Board is a non-profit organization that creates and disseminates knowledge about management and the marketplace to help businesses strengthen their performance. Smith, one of the highest-rated speakers at previous NATM Conventions, is an authority on the world's leading economic indicators.

Smith's knowledge of the economic factors affecting the trailer industry along with his insight and wit combine to make this a valuable session.

Last year, Smith provided a disclaimer before he launched into the meat of his annual economic forecast: Don't expect anything truly concrete.

“If I reach any kind of conclusion at all (today), I apologize,” he joked. “It would be a terrible mistake on my part.”

Product liability speaker: Tom Kuzmick

Tom Kuzmick, a partner at the law firm Rawle & Henderson in Philadelphia, is chairman of the firm's Product Liability Section. Last year, Kuzmick gave an overview of product liability issues and concerns. With that as a backdrop, he will provide participants with a “hands on” understanding of what to expect to encounter if they become involved in litigation. The session is from 9-10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22.

He will outline a brief factual scenario and set forth the progression of events that normally occur in a product liability lawsuit. Following the formal presentation, a panel of experts will be available to answer questions and discuss product liability issues in depth.

Early Warning Reporting: Kim Mann

Kim Mann, NATM General Counsel, will give an update on the NHTSA Rule on Early Warning Reporting of Safety Defects and NATM's efforts to exempt manufacturers of trailers under 26,000 lb GVWR.

Following the formal presentation, set for 1-2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, panelists will answer questions about the implications, requirements, and costs associated with complying with this new rule. Panelists include: Mann; Norm Helmke, NATM President; and Vic Cook, manager of engineering for Sundowner Trailers.

The TREAD Act — which stands for Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation — requires vehicle and equipment manufacturers to report periodically to NHTSA a wide variety of information that could indicate the existence of a potential safety defect and to advise NHTSA of foreign safety recalls and other safety campaigns.

The TREAD Act mandates NHTSA a final rule that establishes an Early Warning Reporting System, which came in July in the form of a 63-page document.

NHTSA has divided manufacturers into two groups, both of which must file quarterly reports:

  • Manufacturers of light vehicles, medium-heavy vehicles and all buses, trailers, and motorcycles who produce, import, offer for sale, or sell more than 500 units annually in the United States. They must report on deaths, injuries, property damage, consumer complains, warranty claims information, field reports, and production.

  • Those who produce, import, or sell fewer than 500 in the US. They must report the same information about incidents involving deaths, but are not required to report any other information.

According to NHTSA, here's what trailer companies that surpass the 500-unit threshold will be required to report:

  • Deaths

    Manufacturers must report certain specified information about each incident involving a death that occurred in the US that is identified in a claim against and received by the manufacturer. They must also report information about incidents involving a death that is identified in a notice received by the manufacturer alleging or proving that the death was caused by a possible defect in the manufacturer's product. Finally, they must report on each death occurring in foreign countries that is identified in a claim against the manufacturer involving the manufacturer's product, or one that is identical or substantially similar to a product that manufacturer has offered for sale in the US.

  • Injuries

    Manufacturers must report certain specified information about each incident involving an injury that occurred in the US that is identified in a claim against and received by the manufacturer, or that is identified in a notice received by the manufacturer which alleges or proves that injury was caused by a possible defect in the manufacturer's product.

  • Property damage

    Manufacturers must report the number of claims for property damage that occurred in the US that are related to alleged problems with certain specified components and systems, regardless of the amount of such claims.

  • Consumer complaints

    Manufacturers must report the number of consumer complaints they receive that are related to problems with certain specified components and systems that occurred in the US.

  • Warranty claims information

    Manufacturers must report the number of warranty claims, including extended warranty and good will, they receive that are related to problems with certain specified components and systems that occurred in the US.

  • Field reports

    Manufacturers must report the total number of field reports they receive from the manufacturer's employees, representatives, and dealers, and from fleets, that are related to problems with certain specified components and systems that occurred in the US. In addition, they must provide copies of certain field reports received from their employees, representatives, and fleets, but are not required to provide copies of reports received from dealers.

  • Production

    Manufacturers must report the total number of vehicles, and tires, by make, model, and model year, during the reporting period and the prior nine model years. They must separately report the numbers identified above for each model and model year, as the rule defines it.

In addition, all manufacturers must provide copies of all documents sent or made available to more than one dealer, distributor, owner, purchaser, lessor or lessee, in the US with respect to customer satisfaction campaigns, customer advisories, recalls, or other activities involving the repair or replacement of vehicles or equipment.

To help NHTSA identify trends that could indicate potential safety problems, manufacturers will be required, on a one-time basis, to report the number of warranty claims or adjustments and the number of field reports for each calendar quarter during the three-year period from April 1, 2000, through March 31, 2003, the date preceding the beginning of the first reporting period that is established by the final rule, April 1, 2003.

Nuts & bolts session

The final business session of the convention, from 2-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, will be a Nuts & Bolts session. Panelists will be available to answer questions and discuss issues of concern. To assist panelists, questions and topics of discussion will be solicited from members throughout the Convention. However, the floor will be open for questions. Topics may include technical issues, legal issues, or suggestions for new programs to benefit members.

All 100 exhibit spaces were sold by mid-October and there is a waiting list to accommodate any cancellations. All exhibitors will be in one room at the Radisson Orlando Universal. Set-up hours are from 8 a.m.-noon on Friday. Feb. 21.

Opportunities to unwind

The annual golf tournament, sponsored by Kampco, is scheduled for 8 a.m-1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20.

Celebration Golf Club is one of only three in the world co-designed by Robert Trent Jones, “The Father of American Golf Architecture,” and his son, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. It opened in October 1996, is rated Four Stars in Golf Digest's “Places to Play,” and is ranked in the “Top 200 courses in the country for service excellence.” Built on scenic natural wetlands, the course provides players with a genuine, uncontrived, Florida golf experience. It features an abundance of native wildlife and is unobtrusively bordered by early 1900s-style estate homes, giving the feel of a private country club.

Awards will be presented for first, second, and third place, longest drive, longest putt and closest to the pin. The format is a four-person scramble with a shotgun start. Callaway rental clubs are available at $45 plus tax. Golf transportation leaves the Radisson Orlando Universal Hotel at 6:30 a.m.

The grand finale is the Saturday Night Gala from 6-9:30 p.m., sponsored by Valspar, Interstate Insurance Services, and Champagne Metals. Members will dine at the world's largest Hard Rock Café, located at Universal Studios City Walk. Orlando's “Coliseum of Rock,” the restaurant is housed alongside the Hard Rock Live concert venue in a building designed as a retro interpretation of the Roman Coliseum.

Hard Rock Café Orlando and Hard Rock Live house the largest rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia collection — more than 1,000 pieces — of any Hard Rock location. This expansive display includes: original bricks from the Cavern Club where the Beatles launched their careers; a variety of instruments and clothing from U2, Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, and the Backstreet Boys; and a full-size, '58 pink Cadillac rotating over the bar in the Hard Rock Café.

NATM 2003 Agenda

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
3:00 pm - 8:00 pm Registration
8:30 am - 12:30 pm Workshop
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm Early Bird Reception
Thursday, February 20, 2003
7:00 am - 8:00 am Golf Registration & Breakfast
8:00 am - 1:00 pm Golf Tournament — Celebration Golf Course
2:00 pm - 7:30 pm Registration
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm Board of Directors Meeting
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm New Member Reception
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm President's Reception
Friday, February 21, 2003
7:00 am - 6:00 pm Registration
7:30 am - 8:30 am Breakfast Buffet
8:00 am - Noon Exhibitor Set-up
8:30 am - 9:30 am Keynote Address Ken Schmidt — Harley Davidson
9:30 am - 10:00 am Coffee Break
10:00 am - 11:15 am Economic Forecast
11:30 am - 12:45 pm Awards Luncheon
1:00 pm - 6:00 pm Exhibition
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm Dismantle Exhibits
Saturday, February 22, 2003
7:00 am - 1:00 pm Registration
7:30 am Breakfast Buffet
8:00 am - 9:00 am Breakfast & Membership Meeting
9:00 am - 10:00 am Product Liability
10:00 am - 10:15 am Coffee Break
10:15 am - 11:15 am Product Liability Panel
11:30 am - 12:45 pm Networking Luncheon
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm NHTSA Rule on Early Warning Reporting
2:00 pm - 3:30 pm Nuts & Bolts Session - Technical Issues
6:00 pm - 9:30 pm Saturday Night Gala Hard Rock Cafe Universal City Walk

NATM exhibit space sells out

THE BALLROOM just is not big enough.

Deciding to squeeze all of its exhibits into one location (rather than the two exhibit areas the association has had in recent years), NATM had slightly fewer booths to sell this year. The result: the 99 available booths sold out by October.

The exhibit will be open 1-6 pm on Friday, February 21. Here is a list of companies that are scheduled to be there:

Company Booth #
3M, Saint Paul MN 32, 33
A L Hansen, Waukegan IL 53, 54
ADCO, Michigan Center MI 44
Al-KO Kober, Elkhart IN 67
Allied Decal, Stow OH 72
American Star Valve Corp, Palm Harbor FL 86
Amerimax Building Products, Plano TX 64
Atwood Mobile Products, Rockford IL (see ad, p 48) 55
Bauer Products Inc, Grand Rapids MI 29
Best Fender, Mt Pleasant TX 97, 98
Blaylock Trailer Products Inc, Fort Worth TX 52
Bombardier Capital, Elkhart IN 25
Butler Products, Butler KY 13
Buyers Products Company, Mentor OH (see ad, p 7) 50, 51
C R Brophy, Clackamas OR 18
Carlisle Industrial Brake, Bloomington IN 89
Carlisle Tire & Wheel, Mansfield TX 90
Cast Products Inc, Athens AL 65, 66
Champagne Metals, Glenpool OK 99
Command Electronics Inc, Schoolcraft MI 20
Crysteel Manufacturing Inc, Lake Crystal MN 75
Curt Manufacturing Inc, Eau Claire WI 60
Dallas Tube and Roll Forming, Dallas TX 87
Dana Towing Systems, Tekonsha MI 85
Dec-O-Art Inc, Elkhart IN 43
Deutsche Financial Services, Irvine CA 71
Dexter Axle, Elkhart IN 35
DuPont Company, Wilmington DE 93
Exponent Failure Analysis, Boulder CO 38
Fastec Industrial Corp, Elkhart IN 15
Fulton-Wesbar Corp, Mosinee WI 59, 74
Global Direct Components, Temecula CA 58
Globe Specialty Group, Chicago IL 57
Green Touch Industries, W Palm Beach FL 11, 12
Greenball Corp, Long Beach CA 40
HammerBlow/Hidden Hitch, Wausau WI 96
Hayes Lemmerz International, Northville MI 1
HE&M Saw, Pryor OK 70
Hehr International Inc, Plymouth IN 30
Holland Binkley Co, Warrenton MO 73
Imperial Stamping Corp, Elkhart IN 6
Innovative Lighting Corp, Roland IA 42
KampCo Steel Products, Elkhart IN 82, 83
Kenny & Gyl Company, W Des Moines IA 7
Kodiak Trailer Components, Fort Worth TX 16
Laclede Chain Manufacturing, Saint Louis MO 9
Lucky “B” Manufacturing, Cookeville TN 3
M-3 & Associates Inc, Elkhart IN (see ad, p 50) 56
Newcourt Inc, Texarkana TX 95
North West Rubber Mats, Abbotsford BC 80
OMCO, Wickliffe OH 27
Optronics Inc, Muskogee OK 78, 79
Orrco International, Grand Prairie TX 76
Owens Corning Fabricating Solutions, Elkhart IN 22
PDG Associates, Batavia OH 81
Peterson Manufacturing Co, Grandview MO 31
Philips Products, Elkhart IN 36, 37
Powerbrace Corporation, Kenosha WI 26
PPG Industries, Strongsville OH 77
Prairie Ridge Partners, Buffalo Gap SD 5
Putnam Hitch Products, Bronson MI 49
Quality Custom Components, Burnsville MN 68, 69
Quality Resources, Atlanta GA 46
Quality Trailer Products, Azle TX (see ad, p 47) 14
QWorks Corporation, Dallas TX 21
RB Rubber Products, McMinnville OR 8
Redneck Trailer Supplies, Springfield MO 19
Reed Rubber Co, Saint Louis MO 45
Reliable Tool, Kendallville IN 24
Reliance Bearing Company, Houston TX 48
Ryerson Tull, Little Rock AR 94
Safeview Products Inc, Newtown CT 10
Salem Vent, Salem VA 62
Service Plus Distributors, Bristol PA 4
SFS Intec, Medina OH 92
Shelby Industries LLC, Shelbyville KY 91
Statewide Aluminum, Elkhart IN 28
Superwinch, Putnam CT 61
Textron Financial Corp, Sacramento CA 84
Tie Down Engineering, Atlanta GA 39
Timbren Industries, Ajax, Ontario (see ad, p 49) 2
Tireco Inc, Compton CA 47
Titan International, Quincy IL 17
TODCO, Marion OH 63
Unified Marine, Naples FL 23
USA Harness, Winnsboro TX 88
Valspar, Grand Prairie TX 34
The Wallace Forge Company, Canton OH 41