Thursday, 21 October 2010 12:10

Post-NACE, Pre-SEMA Cover Story

This year’s separation between ASA’s ASRW show, NACE-CARS (October), and AAIW’s SEMA-AAPEX (November), has divided the allegiances of the collision industry in ways not seen since the two events were first co-located in Las Vegas in 2004. The rift is likely to widen due to ASA “flexibility” about the location of the NACE-CARS event in future. While strongly defending the existence and independence of the show as one for service providers and repairers only, and guaranteeing that “there will be a show,” ASA President Ron Pyle has allowed that “there is a lot of flexibility in the decision” to hold the next NACE-CARS on its already announced dates of Oct. 16–19th next year in Las Vegas.

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ASA takes a targeted-marketing view, distinguishing automobile service-repair as a separate and distinct business model from specialty-aftermarket and OE distribution and manufacturing, and therefore deserving of its own event, saying “we’re not an extension of the aftermarket or the OE service market. We are unique and we have a specific value proposition for independent repairers.”

Some repairers, however—notably members of the SCRS and CIC participants—actively seek the energy and creativity of the diverse specialty and aftermarket, and the significantly greater foot-traffic provided by SEMA-AAPEX. They believe this divergence is good for repairers.

The sea-change that has resulted comes at an inopportune time for the industry as strong cross-currents from the OEM and Aftermarket parts interests, and pending right to repair and patent defense legislation, are further dividing repairers’ opinions. Many of the most engaging discussions at the NACE-CARS event were panel discussions held on the certification of Aftermarket parts at a time when the aftermarket is feeling significant pressure from an energized automaker and repairer-driven counterattack, each side positioning itself on the one issue that trumps all others, vehicle and consumer safety.

In what may yet turn into an East vs. West location strategy, ASA has suggested that NACE-CARS may not be in Las Vegas in the future, citing interest from the true decision makers—the exhibitors—in an East Coast venue for future shows. Saying “Las Vegas is not the draw it used to be,” implying that Vegas-fatigue may be an impetus for holding the ASRW event elsewhere, Pyle expressed confidence in the exhibitors. “Our folks will come regardless of where the show is located.” Pyle also noted that discussions with major exhibitors were leading him to conclude that “traditional marketing methods are less effective than in the past.”

Suggestions for an every-second year show, based on what many see as a slowing in the rate of innovation of new products, are overruled by the majority of vendors, who want an every-year show, said Pyle.

There seems to be no prospect of re-uniting the events as a single Industry week.

NACE-CARS put on a brave showing with 270 exhibiting companies, 1115 full conference attendees, and about 75,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, adding 10,000 sq. ft. to each of its OEM Pavillion and on-floor education and demonstration space, but the continued decline in foot traffic has exhibitors wondering and worried.

It cannot be good that estimates of attendance at NACE were no higher than 16,000, down from an already depleted 21,000 last year and a small fraction of the expected attendance at SEMA, which is likely to exceed 100,000—most of which are not a proven audience for collision-related product.

Exhibitors on tight budgets must now gauge whether the targeted NACE audience is a better bet than the much larger, but more diffuse, group of specialty market shoppers. Bigger and better capitalized companies are having less trouble saying ‘yes’ to both shows, seeing opportunity in both, but start-ups and single product exhibitors are finding the separation of the events much more problematic. Larger and International exhibitors have simply stored bulky items in Las Vegas between the shows and swapped out personnel, but most small exhibitors who used to rely on the exhibit floor for sales are hurting.

Exceptions exist of course. Some vendors reported more orders on the first day of this year’s NACE-CARS show than the whole of last year’s, which may be a harbinger of the generally improving economy as well as the specificity of their products.

As SEMA-AAPEX open this week, the Paint, Body & Equipment has become the fastest-growing section, with 128% more exhibitors confirmed for 2010. In addition, there are hundreds of other companies throughout the SEMA Show this year that will be able to showcase their products to the paint and body market, including such long-standing exhibitors as House of Kolor, PPG, Sherwin-Williams, 3M, and more.

Collision repairers are encouraged to attend SEMA by SCRS’ Repairer Driven Education program and the Collision Industry Conference, which narrowly voted in favor of co-location with SEMA 2010 instead of NACE-CARS. These seminars and programs provide more rationale for collision repairers to attend SEMA, that is, if they are unable to attend both shows.

SCRS Chair Barry Dorn observed, “We listen to what our membership says and we wanted to give them something different. There are so many different things that SEMA offers, such as alternate sources of revenue, and different perspectives to think about. Add that to what we’re doing in grass-roots training, and what better place to do that than at SEMA?”

Said CIC Chair and SCRS Events Administrator Jeff Hendler, “We’re not trying to polarize the industry, we’re offering choice... it’s really important that we give repairers these opportunities.”

Hendler pointed out that the organizers of SEMA, Peter MacGillivray and Chuck and Susan Schwarz put their cell phone numbers on the back of the registration badges. Access to the organizers is more than a symbolic gesture, said Hendler.

Hendler was also instrumental in engaging Charles A. Coonradt, to be the “keynote instructor” at the RDE event. Coonradt is author of the Game of Work, which presents, among other concepts, an “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” message. Hendler says collision shows need to eschew the “rah, rah” of Hollywood or Policital keynote speakers, in favor of a “keynote instructor” so that repairers can get back to basics and take the message back to their shops—the theme of  repairer driven education.

SEMA vice president of communications and events, Peter MacGillivray, said “The paint and body market has increasingly become an important market. That’s why the PBE section of the show was expanded in just its second year of existence. That’s also why we are partnering with industry experts to provide this audience with quality education and networking opportunities.”

“We’re working closely with SCRS, I-CAR and CIC to make it simple and easy for industry professionals in the automotive paint market to get the most value out of being at the SEMA Show,” MacGillivray said. “With meetings, education and quality exhibitors all available to this market, we’re confident that the return on the participants’ investments is sure to be huge.”