About 55,000 people�a 16% yearly decline and the event�s lowest turnout since its 2007 peak of about 92,000�attended the annual exhibition held on Feb. 2-5. However, the thin crowd�s mood was more upbeat this year, visitors said, and exhibitors were selling more, too�a sign that the economic slump may be near the end.
�I think, overall, the people are pleasantly surprised,� said Tom Cindric, show director with Hanley Wood Exhibitions. �We�re hoping that the industry continues to move forward.�
As usual, contractors attending the show scoured the aisles for tools and tricks to give them a competitive advantage. �It�s getting better, but we�re not out of it yet,� said Trevor Barrett, owner of trucking and excavation firm Barrett Enterprises in Nantucket, Mass. �Everyone�s just trying to get the edge.� Power-tool firms took a safety tack, showing off dust guards and shop vacs aimed at reducing the risk of silicosis, a growing health concern.
Some equipment exhibitors�many of whom trimmed down their booth spaces to save costs�promoted existing products over new ones. Terex salespeople showcased a Bidwell paver and talked about how the 50-year-old design costs 85% less than $1-million slipform machines. The pitch helped the paving unit grow sales 110% last year, while other suppliers posted double-digit losses. Also on display was a remanufactured Terex Advance mixing truck, or �glider,� which costs almost half that of a new, $200,000 rig; it was on its way to buyer Pocono Transcrete Inc. of Pittston, Pa.
Disappointed so far with outlays from last year�s federal stimulus package, infrastructure suppliers said they were heavily targeting Latin America and particularly Brazil, which is ramping up to host soccer�s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. �Rio�s a mess,� said Jeff Thress, regional sales manager for Terex-Bidwell. �You are talking about almost third-world modernization down there.�
Meanwhile, contractors in the States suffering from low sales, low utilization and high inventory have resorted to cannibalizing their fleets to save money. Concrete pumps �look like Frankensteins,� said Michael Wasserfuhr, CFO of Sturtevant, Wis.-based Putzmeister America Inc., who added that the parts business is starting to pick up again, a sign that the U.S. economy may be turning around.
Because of the scaled-down booths, smaller firms usually in the weeds at past shows now had a chance to shine. �That�s allowed a lot of exhibitors to become a little more visible and get closer to the front of the action,� said Cindric.
In a parking lot outside the convention center, masons wielded blazing trowels at the SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500, an annual skills challenge, held on Feb. 3. Garrett Hood, a 25-year-old mason from Monroe, N.C., laid 911 bricks in an hour, the highest number ever at the event.
�I�m tired, but it feels great,� said Hood. He took home $5,000 in cash and a new Ford pickup, adding, �Winning a truck, it doesn�t get any better than that.� Watch the lightning-quick masons in action at construction.com/video.