The Long Haul
Two Decades Of The Great American Trucking Show
In the most recent video posted on the Great American Trucking Show’s (GATS) official YouTube channel, up-tempo country music plays as thousands of people are shown filing into a large convention space over the course of a day, time-lapse style. A camera pans across a series of large show trucks painted in eye-catching colours, lined up for an event called ‘Pride and Polish,’ as dozens of people mill about.
Of the many exhibitors interviewed about their role in the space, an older man briefly speaks on the benefit of showcasing his brand: “There are just very few shows that provide an opportunity that The Great American Trucking Show has.”
This annual convention and gathering is described on its website as “an interactive and all-encompassing public convention,” for professionals in and admirers of the North American trucking industry. The show debuted in 1999 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas and was brought to life by media company Randall-Reilly.
The show, according to its Facebook page, aims “to create an interactive, energizing environment entirely focused on trucking’s improvement.” It sees several thousand attendees annually, with over 58,000 people present for the 2018 exhibition. Randall Reilly Director of Audience Experience Tom Winters notes an audience increase of twenty-five percent since 2013. The show hosts more than five hundred exhibitors representing truck, trailer, engine, component, and parts manufacturers, plus one hundred trucks and over nineteen thousand members of the trucking industry on over half a million square feet of floor space.
The show is packed with events over three-days and is perhaps best known for Overdrive’s Pride & Polish contest which bills itself as “the premier truck beauty championship series in North America,” and offers prizes for entrants in several categories. Another popular competition is the ‘pre-trip inspection challenge’ in which truckers can compete for a chance to win prizes and learn more about pre-trip truck inspections.
Transportation solutions provider Landstar regularly sponsors a health and wellness pavilion, for guests who wish to undergo health screenings, with prostate exams, Department of Transportation physicals, eye acuity tests, and more. Other health-related exhibits include mammogram screenings, as well as an ‘OnRamp to Health’ blood drive, which gathered thirty-eight pints of blood in 2018.
The show has three theatre areas on the show floor, and seminars can be attended throughout the weekend on a variety of topics related to trucking for workers and employers in the field to continue learning. Attendees are also free to take in live entertainment with free food and drink; this year will see country music performers playing for attendees on certain nights. Winters refers to two large on-the-show-floor stages that are filled with further industry content and entertainment, as well as a new truck pavilion featuring the latest in trucks and technologies for attendees to browse.
When asked why the show has stuck so close to its roots in Dallas, Texas, Winters says that Texas is “the number one state in most trucking industry categories.” Dallas is centrally located and near many national highways, with two large airports for comfortable travel and shuttle service from three locations within Dallas, making it particularly easy for truckers and visitors to attend the show. GATS is an official partner with Convention Data Services (CDS) for its convention registration needs and onPeak to handle hotel bookings as its accommodation provider for exhibitors and guests.
Winters notes that Freeman is the official service contractor of GATS, so exhibitors at the convention can use Freeman’s online services to do anything from ordering booth furnishings to coordinating moving times and scheduling and learning about everything necessary for a booth to be set up and maintained throughout the course of a show.
GATS also partners with a2z, Inc., which hosts exhibitor profiles and developing marketing materials. Finally, GATS makes available a show-exclusive iOS and Android app for attendees and exhibitors, which allows guests to “personalize [their] event experience and network more conveniently,” with quick access to the show schedule, maps, exhibitors, and announcements.
The show has taken place at the same convention centre in Dallas since its inception some twenty years ago. The area provides ample spacing for the level of crowds seen at the show annually, as well as for displaying dozens of large trucks. With a show focused on trucking, parking for cars and trucks is a priority, especially considering the number of visitors every year. For attendees outside of the trucking industry or those not travelling by truck, paid parking is available with the convention center. However, a major part of GATS is the TA | Petro Truck Parking Community, an exclusive parking lot for truck drivers that offers its own attractions.
Parking in the community is free for trucks and recreational vehicles (RVs) and has opportunities for truck cleaning and repairs along with amenities provided by various sponsors for attendees. In 2018, over 1,500 trucks and RVs used this space to park, over two percent of the total attendance for the show, representing a significant draw for the show’s intended audience and a logistical solution for a show centred on the trucking industry.
Winters reveals that surveys from both attendees and exhibitors, detailing their experiences, came back as favourable, with partners of the show particularly complimentary of their interactions with show organizers.
Exhibitor feedback reveals that a great many partners find the show’s up-close-and-personal nature of customer interaction to be a positive experience. It is an opportunity for trucking businesses to get direct feedback on products and find out from a customer base what people in the trucking industry want and what needs have yet to be met.
The Great American Trucking Show will be taking place this year from Thursday, August 22 to Saturday, August 24 and will see the convention celebrate twenty years of presenting the latest advancements and upgrades in the trucking industry to the drivers and enthusiasts it aims to serve for years to come.