SEMA News—October 2011
Marketing 101: Create a Wow Factor
Giovanna Wheels’ Diko Sulahian Reveals Five SEMA Show Promotional Strategies
Sulahian has always had a knack for shows and events. Raised in Beirut, Lebanon, he got his start in business at age seven, assisting in his father’s tire enterprise. Immigrating to Southern California as a teenager, he soon realized that local swap meets offered little in the way of automotive parts, so he went to work filling the gap. His first booth featured mats, seat covers, wiper blades and related accessories.
“From one booth, I ended up getting two booths,” he said. “Then I ended up going to different swap meets. Multiple booths at multiple swap meets at 17 years old. Then I got into displaying wheels.”
He saved enough seed money in just two years to open a brick-and-mortar wheel store and eventually pursue his real passion: wheel design. Sulahian is renowned today for sophisticated wheels that grace luxury and exotic lines from Range Rover to Rolls-Royce and Ferrari. He credits the annual SEMA Show as a factor in his success.
“To me, the keys to business success are relationships, respect that you’ve earned and name recognition,” he said. “That’s kind of the trick to the SEMA Show. The big thing about being there is consistency. It’s not about ‘when things are good, I go to the Show, and when things are bad, I back off for a year.’”
Of course, showing up each year is only the beginning. Sulahian offers five tips for effective Show promotion to build your business:
Create Advance Buzz: Long before the Show, Sulahian gets busy whetting buyer appetites through photo shoots, web videos, press releases to trade media, event marketing and industry word of mouth. “Now it’s so much easier,” he explained. “You got all this free advertising, such as blog pages and social media, that you can be a member of.” Moreover, he seldom worries about competitors stepping up their game in response.
“It doesn’t hurt me,” he said. “It makes it a little more fun. Competition brings buyers. Buyers are good.”This year, knowing that time-limited, Show-only offers are a powerful draw, WTW is announcing a unique new “virtual concierge” program. Available exclusively to booth visitors, the innovative concept allows retailers throughout the country to acquire WTW’s in-store virtual concierge marketing tool to promote and sell wheels.
Build an Attraction: Sulahian has created a SEMA Show booth that’s an annual attraction. “People go to the Show to see the Giovanna booth and to see the cars, because they know we always have the hottest, the newest and the latest cars with the best wheels on them,” he said. Sulahian brings cars with wheels sure to inspire amazement, something to make even the most jaded automotive professional say “wow.”
“Marketing is all about that—signage, some sort of a branding presence, something to spark curiosity,” said Sulahian. “I used to completely close off my booth with sheers and a VIP-style entrance with a line. I can tell you I was the only guy with 50, 80 to 100 people standing in line to get into a booth. To get in, you had to scan.” While SEMA Show policy no longer allows such traffic-stopping scenarios in the Show aisles, Sulahian said that you don’t have to be so ceremonious to make your mark. “It’s that ‘wow’ factor,” he explained. “If you have a small booth with just one car, do it right. At least have the best-looking car in that caliber in the Show.”
Focus, Focus, Focus: Remember that you’re at the Show for business. Greet everyone who passes your booth. Invite them in, and give them your full attention. “No matter how busy I am with people standing in line, I’m always outside greeting everyone,” Sulahian said. “A detailer walks by, and I’ll acknowledge him and shake his hand.” Don’t be a star-struck exhibitor who, spotting one of the Show’s many celebrities or VIPs, suddenly drops everything and ignores other customers.
Think Relationships: For Sulahian, business is all about loyalty and relationships, and the SEMA Show is a focal point for building both. Keep in mind, however, that it’s a trade environment. “Too many exhibitors confuse the SEMA Show with a local car show,” he said. “Don’t get the two confused. These are professionals at the SEMA Show, so you have to be professional and you have to treat them professionally.” That includes a friendly but professional look for your booth staff.
Finally, expert Show promotion is also about following through with your business relationships.
“Loyalty is really big when you’re getting started,” Sulahian said. “You have to be honest. If you tell someone you’ll do something, you’d better stick to it. A lot of times, people display at the SEMA Show and don’t do half the things that they say they’re going to do—which is not going to help their business that year—and then they’re going to think, ‘The SEMA Show was no good for me.’ Well, the Show was no good for you because you didn’t do what you said you were going to do.”
Year after year, these promotional strategies have helped Sulahian leverage the SEMA Show to build his brand. Ultimately, he said, “I just try to do what I like to do. I’m in it long-term because I’m passionate about what I do.”