Thursday, 20 October 2011 10:31

Can the Collision Industry Support Two Major Trade Shows?

Written by Insurance Insider

“The Insider” is an auto insurance company executive who wishes to remain anonymous. This column reflects solely the opinion of The Insider in his unvarnished view of various issues impacting the collision industry.

Can NACE Survive as a ‘traveling regional trade show’?

Well, it’s that time of year again: lights, slots, dice, scantily-clad women, lavish parties, casinos and NACE? Actually, it’s not—NACE is already over. In case you missed it, NACE (the International Autobody Congress and Exposition) took place in early October in Orlando, the first time it moved from Las Vegas in more than a half-dozen years.

Yes, I was one of a handful of people that showed up to support the industry’s longest-standing national trade show. I have missed only four of the 29 of these annual extravaganzas, and I wasn’t about to let a trip to sunny Florida deter me from attending.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive about spending the money and time to attend two shows this year. . How this small industry can support two national trade shows (NACE and the SEMA show in November, which I will discuss in my next column) is beyond comprehension. In fact, I would say it’s not possible.

Here’s my best guess: We will be back to one national industry trade show in the next three years. There’s no way that the large companies buying booth space will continue to throw good money after bad. Even aside from the poor economy, national trade shows like NACE are a dying breed. Yup, even the mighty dinosaur eventually went extinct.

The once-almighty NACE is dying a slow death. Before anyone submits an obituary, please note that the show still stands some chance of survival. Although this year’s NACE wasn’t the typical NACE we’ve been accustomed to, there was something different and positive. Aside from the fact that there weren’t a lot of people there, which made it easier to navigate the show floor, the smaller event meant my feet were intact after a few days of walking. Usually, I can hardly walk after the weekend marathon.

All kidding aside, the positive news is the reality that NACE could survive and possibly reinvent itself as a traveling regional trade show. There is a small percentage of people who have attended NACE in the past few years who walk a trade show floor to find a special deal or see something new. But the vast majority of the attendees attend the show to participate in other related industry events, or to network and reduce future travel expenses by meeting with large groups of people over a short period of time.

Because this article is about sharing inside information and helping my dedicated readers gain a broader perspective, I suppose I should tell you something you probably don’t know. NACE transforming into just a large regional trade show didn’t happen overnight or by accident. It’s been a slow death. In the years leading up to its demise, the industry tried to tell organizers it was time for change. They assembled a committee of industry experts that were supposed to help guide them to “NACE: The Next Generation.” The goal: to actually create a trade show that met the demands of their customer and once again generated excitement.

NACE organizers slowly changed the direction of the show, but by then it was too late. The excitement of NACE was basically reserved for those looking for a Las Vegas vacation. Attendance plummeted. The reported show attendance became similar to an Enron annual report: There was a lot of inflated numbers and not a whole lot to support the fact that the trade show floor looked like a bocce ball court on the weekend.  One would swear that they were using a dog-years multiplier where every one attendee accounted for seven [organizers said 15% more attended than last year].

Although NACE organizers made a lot of mistakes along the way and often acted with arrogance, there were other contributing factors. This is kind of like a murder mystery: There are a lot of suspects and clues, but we still aren’t sure of the killer or the murder weapon.

But I think that the real killer of NACE was the SEMA show. SEMA is offering something that NACE no longer does: attendees, attendees and more attendees. Oh, and something else: attendees. SEMA can be found in the dictionary under the word “excitement.” SEMA will have about 10 times the number of attendees as NACE did this year.

As far as the murder weapon, I think it was a vote at a Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meeting in early 2010.  The attendees of this conference were asked to vote when and where they would like their fall meeting to be held: keep it as scheduled in November in Las Vegas, or move it a few weeks earlier to when NACE had been rescheduled to be held. They voted for the conference to be held in Las Vegas at the same time as SEMA [by one vote—Ed.]. The rest is history and we now have two trade shows to support.

That’s it for now. See you in Vegas, baby.

The Insider is a corporate-level executive with a Top 10 auto insurer in the U.S. Got a comment or question you’d like him to address in a future column? Email him at Auto.Insurance.Insider@gmail.com.