When the economy took a hit in 2008, many body shops started dialing down their participation in industry conferences, but now that the economy seems to be a little healthier, this is a smart time to re-engage. The main question for any business owner considering SEMA is this –will the money and staff that I will invest into a show like SEMA really pay off in the long run?
After discussing the “SEMA Experience” with collision professionals from all over the country for at least the past decade and attending many as an automotive journalist, I’ve heard a wide range of responses about the show, both positive and negative. Because the setting is Las Vegas, many of these anecdotes are not suitable for this article, but you can imagine. Tales of quickie marriages, body shop owners getting wiped out at the tables and other foolishness were probably half-true when originally told and undoubtedly pure fiction by now.
On the serious side, I’ve heard things like “Too crowded and we spent too much time trying to find the right booths;” “The classes were either packed or not suited for us;” or “Now we’re back to work and we need to take a vacation just to recuperate from SEMA!” But in the end all of them said the same thing about the show—“It was useful and we did have a good time!”
Since SEMA is an industry-only show, you’re obviously not going to get any customers from SEMA and that’s not the goal. The main reasons you attend conferences such as SEMA are to connect with current and prospective vendors and to learn about new technologies or products that will influence your future.
The first step is to make a list containing your goals with realistic objectives, while determining the costs involved. For example, you may want to visit a dozen equipment companies, paint companies and other suppliers. If you’re going to be at the show for three days, you will obviously need to visit at least four every day, pacing yourself and hydrating continually.
To decide if SEMA is right for you and your business, ask yourself these questions:
■ Is SEMA going to offer you the most cost-effective way of sourcing products, services and information in the collision industry?
■ Is SEMA the best forum for you to keep up- to-date on the collision industry’s newest technologies, state-
of-the-art products, innovations and new developments in your market? Are you going to encounter a highly targeted audience of your fellow industry professionals?
■ If your answer is yes to more than one of these questions, SEMA is probably a slam dunk for you, your manager and even other members of your crew as well.
Peter Macillvray, VP of Communications and Events for SEMA, offered some helpful tips about how to squeeze the most out of your SEMA experience. “We’re extremely vested in making sure that all of our attendees and exhibitors will leave here with a year’s worth of new business ideas. We’re committed to doing everything we can to bring value to your time here at SEMA. We want you to make more money by using what you’ve learned at SEMA, so that’s we’ve created a whole range of things to make it happen.”
Everyone’s goal at any trade show is different, so the first thing you need to do is define what success means for you at SEMA. Before you jump in, make a list and plan your show. “We call it ‘shaping’ the show and it’s so valuable,” Macillvray said. “Too many people jump on a plane and don’t register until they get here and then start wandering through the aisles without any real plan. Time is so precious and by aimlessly walking around you’re losing opportunities.
Being prepared at any trade show or industry event is imperative, so map it out and don’t leave anything to chance.”
To get more out of your SEMA, take a few classes and learn things you can take back to your business. “We have top companies that have partnered with us on these classes,” Macillvray said. “We’ve got some of the world’s top experts on things like marketing, technology and management. Everything taught at SEMA is created with two words in mind—useful and relevant.”
If you’re looking for cutting-edge products and equipment that can help your shop and make your life a little easier, SEMA is the place to be. “This show is always about unveiling new technology and we’re proud to lead the way,” Macillvray said. “Our New Product Showcase is always a huge attraction and a great place to get an overview of what’s new. Many products that have won awards at past SEMA shows are now used by body shops all over the world and the first time anyone saw them was here at SEMA.”
SEMA has two ways to help you as you navigate through the show—by calling on their popular Pocket Guide, available almost anywhere at SEMA, as well as by using their 2014 SEMA app, available for free at any Apple Store or online, sponsored by Showcase.
“We have been fine-tuning our app over the years by listening to our customers and we believe it’s state-of-the-art,” Macillvray said. “It contains some planning tools that can really help you to get more out of the show while also allowing you to stay in the loop about the show year-round. Lots of people walk around with the app open on their iPads and iPhones and refer to it during the entire show. We want to offer every tool we have available to us to help you, and that’s why we’re heavily involved in social media. You can like us on Facebook, connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. We have the largest social media following of any automotive show in the world.”