Market Snapshot

Trade Show Breakdown: Buyers Reveal How They Find Products

SEMA News—December 2012

By Steve Campbell

Linking to the Distribution Chain

“Power Buyers” Reveal How They Find Products


With thousands of buyers in attendance, the SEMA Show offers huge opportunities for exhibitors.
With thousands of buyers in attendance, the SEMA Show offers huge opportunities for exhibitors. The challenge is to forge links in the distribution chain.


Developing a great product is only the first step in creating a successful business. The next is to get that product into the hands of consumers. To do that, manufacturers need to forge links in the distribution chain, moving their products to the warehouse distributors, jobbers and retail outlets that eventually place the parts in the hands of end users.

SEMA News interviewed three buyers from different sectors of the industry at a recent conference, to find out what gets their attention. SEMA Show Director Tom Gattuso moderated the discussion and was joined by Donnie Eatherly of P&E Distributors, Ray Ott of Auto Trim of Cleveland and Hank Feldman of Performance Plus Tire.

Our panel of “power buyers” talked about their expectations in business relationships with manufacturers, and how they acquire new product lines.

Eatherly is a member of the SEMA Board of Directors. P&E Distributors is family-owned wholesale distributorship based in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been in business for 50 years and services mainly the Southeast with its own fleet of delivery trucks. Eatherly is also a past chairman of the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA).

Ott’s restyling business services the market in Cleveland, Ohio. It provides the installation of auto and truck accessories and sales of sunroofs, spoilers, moldings, running boards and alarms. Ott is a member of the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) Select Committee and has been in business for 25 years.

Feldman’s company specializes in custom wheels, specialty tires and automotive accessories. It is also a traditional tire dealer with eCommerce and retail facilities, and Feldman has served as a judge at the SEMA Show’s New Product Awards for the past several years.

The Trade Show Opportunity and How to Follow Up


With thousands of buyers in attendance, the SEMA Show offers huge opportunities for exhibitors.
A panel discussion at the Exhibitor Summit held in April provided participants with insights from three prominent buyers. Donnie Eatherly of P&E Distributors, Ray Ott of Auto Trim of Cleveland and Hank Feldman of Performance Plus Tire shared their views on what can bring traffic—and sales—to an exhibitor.

Not surprisingly, trade shows like the SEMA Show, where many new products are launched, are a focus for distributors. Using the SEMA Show as an example, all three said that their preparation begins weeks or even months before the Show opens. Eatherly said that he and his staff are constantly talking about what P&E’s customers are buying or asking for, and they go through consumer and trade publications to study what vendors are offering that may apply to their product lines. Feldman said that he and his partner watch for incoming e-mail and written correspondence pertaining to the Show—particularly from vendors that are more difficult to connect with on a regular basis due to geography or timing. All three buyers pointed out that post-Show follow-up is a crucial but very inconsistent practice among exhibitors.

“I find that it is a situation where you have to be more proactive,” Feldman said. “You have different levels of people who work in the booths. Sometimes the follow-up is good, and sometimes it is not.”

Gattuso said that some of the more frustrating comments SEMA receives after the Show are from buyers who say that they were interested in a product, the exhibitor scanned their badges, but there was no further contact. The panelists were unanimous in suggesting that follow-up be a priority for every exhibitor at the Show.

“You just need to follow through,” Ott said. “Don’t get discouraged. It will be exhausting, but it will be rewarding––especially when you get the order that will take you over the top.”

While all three mentioned direct mail campaigns as a way of learning about new products, they also said that e-mail is the most efficient means of communication between distributors and manufacturers who want to make contact. E-mails can be easily organized and saved, and the buyers are able to respond to queries or invitations when it is convenient.

“One of the resources that you have as SEMA members and exhibitors is that you can call SEMA, explain that you are exhibiting and want to do a mailing or e-mailing to certain types of industry participants or potential customers, and you can order contact information for an appropriate list of buyers,” Eatherly advised. “You can narrow your focus to just what you’re selling.”

The panelists also said that they don’t pre-schedule many appointments at the Show, instead cruising the aisles for new products and vendors they haven’t met before.

“I don’t really set many appointments,” Ott said. “I already have relationships with certain vendors, and I will stop and visit those. I also like to see if there’s something new that gets the creative juices flowing, stuff that you think could be a possible expansion of what you’re doing now, or something that’s different that people aren’t seeing in your area. Different regions have different business. What flies in one region might not in another. That’s why I’m here at the SEMA Show all four days and then some.”

Feldman said that he tries to focus on new opportunities rather than existing relationships, knowing that he can touch base after the fact with current vendors.

“I have the luxury of having a lot of the wheel suppliers in my backyard in Southern California, so it’s not as big of an issue,” he said. “But I do try to touch base with the tire companies, because most of them are in other parts of the country. I also find that it’s sometimes better to meet with vendors away from the Show. It’s sometimes a better strategy if I can get them one on one on my turf.”

Attracting Buyers to Your Booth

The three panelists offered some advice about what they like to see in individual booths.

Read the complete article available in the December 2012 issue of SEMA News.