This year’s winner is in the eye of the beholder. NACE (the International Autobody Congress and Exposition) and its sponsoring organization, the Automotive Service Association, have staked their claim as the undisputed “Collision Industry Trade Show Champion.”
Meanwhile, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists has teamed up with SEMA and announced their contention to be the new “Heavyweight Champion.”
So who was this year’s winner? I personally think it was a draw—with one exception: There was a clear loser. I’ll give you a hint. It’s an eight letter word that begins with an “I” and ends with a “Y.” The collision industry is divided and stuck supporting two trade shows. The NACE and SEMA divide is all about “I” (rather than “we”) and the industry is holding the bag and left asking “Y?” So how and why is the industry losing in a fight it never asked for?
I was one of a small percentage of people who had the good fortune and fortitude to attend both shows. I experienced both the aging NACE and the upstart SEMA show. I was forced to dedicate two-plus weeks to accomplish what normally would take me one week. I successfully met with all the individuals and companies that requested my presence and knowledge.
If you took a poll tomorrow, I’m convinced the industry-at-large would vote for one trade show. And if you asked if there was a need for any trade show, those results may even be more astounding. Have trade shows gone the way of the dinosaur? Has SEMA, by virtue of adding a collision repair section, redefined the scope of trade shows to a circus-like atmosphere devoid only of the bearded lady and elephant man?
I’m not sure if I can answer those questions. I will tell you that if you have never attended SEMA, it is definitely worth it if only for the entertainment value. The collision industry section of SEMA is really of no consequence when you constantly find your head spinning around to catch a glimpse of eye-popping and jaw-dropping vehicles, booth celebrities and spokesmodels. At times, as you walk around on the show floor, you may wonder which Vegas trade show you are actually attending.
In comparison, NACE had less eye-appeal but maybe a lot more buy-appeal. NACE was significantly smaller but the content, direction, and focus was clearly different. The discussion around quantity vs. quality is certainly one aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. More attendees doesn’t automatically translate into a more successful show. That’s why I say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It all depends on your purpose for attending: entertainment and personal vacation, business and purchasing, fact-finding—or simply just to get away from your shop or spouse.
Of the few thousand avid readers of my column, several recently responded to last month’s article about NACE. I want to thank them for taking the time to share their thoughts, and I’d like to address several of their points.
I agree with some that NACE, for many years, was a beacon for the collision industry. There was a period of time when the industry was changing so quickly that NACE was an absolute can’t-miss event. It was a time prior to the Internet, a time when the industry was growing at an accelerated pace and becoming more technologically-advanced as well as professional in all aspects of the business. NACE was needed, and as a result, it thrived.
As years passed, attendance slowly dwindled and the industry called for change. NACE organizers didn’t respond or act as quickly as many had hoped. As a result, it opened the door for competition. In a changing market, you need to be able to adapt or you lose the sale. NACE lost the sale, and Round 1 of the “Battle of Century” last year went to SEMA.
Round 2 this year, by my card, was a draw. For all my criticisms of NACE, SEMA is not yet the clearly better show for the industry. And unlike “Rocky 3,” “Jaws 3” or “Fried Green Tomatoes, Part 3,” (in which Jessica Tandy is reincarnated), I’m actually looking forward to “NACE vs. SEMA, Part 3.”
SEMA’s size has sustained it, but NACE’s multiple locations will support it as well. Eventually, this fight is going to end and there is going to be a winner. The industry will eventually prevail and have an undisputed champion of an annual collision trade show.
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.