SEMA News—September 2011

Getting the Most Out of the SEMA Show

15 Tips for First-Time Exhibitors (and Old Pros, Too!)

By Steve Campbell

    To get the best possible jump on preparing for the SEMA Show, read the Exhibitor Manual (EM), which is available online at
With a little research and preplanning, any manufacturer—regardless of size or experience—can create an effective, sales-producing strategy and leave the SEMA Show with orders in hand and leads to pursue. 
Exhibiting at the SEMA Show for the first time needn’t be overwhelming. With a little research and preplanning, any manufacturer—regardless of size or experience—can create an effective, sales-producing strategy and leave the Show with orders in hand and leads to pursue. When the SEMA Show convenes at the Las Vegas Convention Center November 1–4, 2011, a new area devoted to First-Time and Featured Exhibitors will be housed on the east side of the South Hall’s upper level, and a full 80% of the hundreds of booths in that area will represent first-time exhibitors. The following list of 15 tips is intended to help those first-timers optimize their planning and increase their chances for the most successful SEMA Show possible. And they are also excellent reminders for veterans of SEMA Shows past.

Tip #1: Read All About It

To get the best possible jump on preparing for the SEMA Show, read the Exhibitor Manual (EM), which is available now. Read it all. It contains a wealth of information, including money-saving programs and features that can help make your first SEMA Show a triumph. The EM is a comprehensive how-to guide for SEMA Show exhibitors and contains complete information about many of the other tips that follow. The online EM features links to a full range of exhibitor information and an easy-to-use search function to make it simple for exhibitors to find what they need. Among the host of details included are applications for entering the New Products Showcase, conducting a press conference, displaying a feature vehicle, ordering electricity, announcing a celebrity guest appearance and more. Reading the EM and following its guidelines will take you 90% of the way to enjoying a successful SEMA Show.

Tip #2: Create a Plan

Set goals for what you want to get out of the SEMA Show and then create a plan for how you intend to achieve your objectives. Clearly define your budget based on items such as booth size, number of employees you will have in attendance, transportation and housing costs, pre-Show and at-Show marketing plans—every investment you will make to efficiently and effectively take advantage of the SEMA Show’s terrific opportunities to build business. Ensure that you register booth personnel well in advance of the Show (go to and under the “Exhibitors” box, click on “Register Staff” from the list). Ensure that your personnel are trained for their sales duties while at the Show, and consider how you will capture sales leads. All buyers will have a badge with their registration information encoded on it, which can be recorded on a lead retrieval scanner available from CompuSystems. (For more information, contact CompuSystems at 866/600-5323 or 708/786-5565).

Tip #3: It’s About the Money

As you go through the EM and create your SEMA Show plan, concentrate first on the “Budget Checklist,” located left at the top of the Exhibitor Manual online contents page. The “Budget Checklist” is an extremely convenient pop-up calculator that includes entries for nearly every SEMA Show contingency—from booth-space rental and building an exhibit to marketing costs and staffing expenses. As you put your information together, the “Budget Checklist” keeps a running total so that you can make changes to fit your allotted expenditures.

Tip #4: It’s About Time

     To get the best possible jump on preparing for the SEMA Show, read the Exhibitor Manual (EM)
The Exhibitor Manual provides comprehensive information about creating a budget, setting up a booth, displaying a feature vehicle and much more. Reading the EM and following its guidelines will save time, money and effort, so you can enjoy a successful SEMA Show.
It’s easy to overlook a deadline when you get busy prepping for the SEMA Show in addition to maintaining your normal business schedule. The “Deadline Checklist,” also on the Exhibitor Manual homepage, can be just the memory aid you need. The list details all of the important dates connected with the Show, including deadlines for marketing, booth-material ordering, lead-retrieval rental, New Products Showcase entries, registration dates and more. We suggest entering the dates pertinent to your company into your smartphone or organizer with alarms or, at the very least, printing the list and checking off the dates as you complete the step for the various deadlines.

Tip #5: Can I Do That?

The Exhibitor Manual contains a list of the SEMA Show’s Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts comprised of the most common issues that can create problems. The Show Management staff can alleviate nearly any situation you encounter, but it’s far better to avoid negative experiences entirely by knowing the rules. For instance, taking photographs or video of another exhibitor’s booth is forbidden unless that exhibitor has given you express permission, and severe penalties are in place for violations of intellectual property rights. Ensure that you read the complete list so that you understand your rights and don’t encounter time-consuming problems.

Tip #6: You Can Rent That!

Many of the items an exhibitor needs to set-up a well-functioning booth can be rented from suppliers that have been working with SEMA Show exhibitors for years. They know what works, and they can advise first-timers about the best equipment for specific needs. Read the “Frequently Rented Items (First-Timer Cheat Sheet)” list (available through the online Exhibitor Manual). For the best rates, refer to the “Deadline Checklist’s” Advance Rate deadline. And be sure to check out the free material-handling offer if you will have less than 1,000 lbs. of material delivered to the Show in a private vehicle.

Tip #7: Air Reservation Discounts

There are savings to be had in the sky. Booking early for any trip is always a good idea in order to get the best pricing, and the SEMA Show organizers have also been working with major air carriers to acquire discounted airfare to this year’s event. American, Continental, Delta and United are among the airlines that are offering up to 10% off of round-trip airfare to Las Vegas. Visit the SEMA Show travel site for details, promotion codes and valid travel dates.

Tip #8: Check Your Listing!

Buyers, media and other attendees use the SEMA Show Directory and the SEMA Show Pocket Guide to find booths and plan their exhibitor visits. Many also keep one or both publications all year as references for manufacturer contact information. Be sure that your directory listing is accurate, including information such as telephone, website as well as company description. The deadline to update your SEMA Show Directory listing information is September 2. Your company’s designated SEMA Show contact will receive specific instructions via e-mail about how to update company information, but if you have any questions or need assistance, contact Marel Del Rio at 909/978-6740. One quick phone call will ensure that your listing gets properly printed.

Tip #9: Update Your Company Website

Everyone from buyers to consumers visit websites for both product information and to make purchases. Ensuring that the information contained on your site is accurate and up-to-date is always important but can be crucial in the period leading up to and immediately following the SEMA Show. Be sure that all links function as intended, that contact information is prominently displayed and that frequently asked questions are thoroughly addressed. If you’re planning to add new products or new functionality, there is no better time to do so than in the weeks leading up to the SEMA Show.

Tip #10: Know Your Booth (and How to Ship It)

Many first-time exhibitors don’t know what comes with a SEMA Show booth or the most effective methods to ship display materials. The online EM contains checklists for both. Refer to the “What Comes With a Booth?” link on the EM homepage to see what every booth package includes, and read the “ABCs of Shipping Your Booth to the Show” under the “Freight Shipping” section to learn about the scope of services offered by Freeman Transportation, the SEMA Show’s official provider. From pricing to quality carrier services, it’s worth the effort to investigate your options.

Tip #11: Enter a Product in the New Products Showcase

    A Featured Products entry is a terrific opportunity to garner extra exposure in the highly trafficked upper South Hall.
Ideas Alive: Featuring the New Products Showcase is a leading destination for SEMA Show attendees. Electronic scanners are provided to buyers and media to capture product information that can be downloaded in several formats, and the first product category entered is free. 
One of the primary reasons that buyers and media attend the SEMA Show is to learn what’s new and to make contacts for future business. Ideas Alive: Featuring the New Products Showcase, is a leading destination on both counts. Located in upper South Hall, Ideas Alive is a 35,000-sq.-ft. flurry of activity from 8:00 a.m. to the close of the hall every day of the Show. Electronic scanners are provided to buyers and media to capture product information that can be downloaded in several formats, and the first product category entered is free using your exhibitor password. (Additional entries are $75 per product category if received by October 7; after, the fee is $150 per product category. Entries submitted on site will be accepted based on space availability.) All new products entered are eligible to win recognition as a “Best New Product” during judging prior to the highly anticipated New Products Breakfast, to be held Tuesday, November 1, from 7:30 a.m.–8:45 a.m. at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Tip #12: Enter a Featured Product

The SEMA Show organizers have developed a new opportunity for any exhibitor that doesn’t have a “new” product this year but wishes to showcase a product that is indicative of the kind of work the company does. The Featured Products will be on display within the New Products Showcase in Ideas Alive. Any exhibitor may place products in either area, though, only the first entry in a category is free, and subsequent entries will incur the fee structure noted in the New Product Showcase tip above. A Featured Products entry is a terrific opportunity to garner extra exposure in the highly trafficked upper South Hall.

Tip #13: Network Your Way to Increased Business

While the majority of business at the SEMA Show is conducted on the Show floor, don’t ignore the abundant social, educational and networking activities that are held during the week. Be sure to check out the Education Days schedule of seminars and workshops (free to Show attendees), and plan to attend special events, such as the New Products Breakfast, NHRA Breakfast, SEMA Speed Networking Breakfast—Powered by SEMA Businesswomen’s Network, SEMA Industry Banquet and many more. Most events are also free to attendees, and tickets are available when registering for the Show. For additional information, contact SEMA Special Events Manager Michelle Harris at 909/978-6684.

Tip #14: Take Advantage of Media Opportunities

Automotive and general-interest media of every type congregate at the SEMA Show to find new products, discuss editorial or broadcast opportunities and gather material for print stories, Internet features, blogs and radio and television programming. Take advantage of the opportunities they present to publicize your company and its products. But don’t assume that they’re going to find you. Develop a strategy to spark some interest. Get a list of the media outlets or staffers that you would like to have visit your booth (the five best magazines for your market, for instance) and send them invitations well before the Show. Have your marketing person set-up times to visit with them on specific days so that they know they’re expected, then follow up with a reminder the week before the Show. For more ideas and information, see “Working With the Media at the SEMA Show” on p. 38 of this issue.

Tip #15: Talk With the Pros

The ultimate source for all things SEMA Show is the team that organizes the event. From parking to lighting and from feature vehicles to celebrities, the Show Management folks have been there, done that and, in most cases, written the book (that oft-discussed Exhibitor Manual) on everything having to do with the event. Their knowledge is encyclopedic, so call them if you can’t find the answer to your pressing questions. The number is 702/450-7662, ext. 120.

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