Matchmaking, SEMA Style

2012 SEMA Middle East Trip

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“I was immediately pleased to learn the extent to which the desert is utilized for active hobby and off-road use,” said Lonnie McCurry (left), COO of Skyjacker Suspensions. He said that suspension lift systems have a modestly active market currently, but he saw potential for dramatically increased sales if regulations eased. 
   
SEMA led a fact-finding and buying mission to the Middle East, where Abu Dhabi was the venue for a one-on-one matchmaking event held April 17–20. Through a series of private meetings and networking events, participating U.S. manufacturers gathered with pre-vetted local importers and retailers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and from throughout the region for the SEMA Middle East Market Development Conference. An intimate, hotel-based, one-on-one setting allowed manufacturers and buyers the opportunity to get to know one another over several full days and included receptions and events at the Yas Marina Circuit, which is the venue for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The U.S. government partnered with SEMA and U.S. embassies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, leading delegations of distributors and retailers to the event. Michael H. Corbin, U.S. ambassador to the UAE, addressed the U.S. companies during the event to bring together industry from the United States and the Middle East.

“Building business in this part of the world is all about patience, perseverance and optimism, and it’s all about relationships,” Corbin advised the U.S. companies.

SEMA leadership looks for four things in selecting markets that will provide members with great business potential: the size of the market; the population’s disposable income; an interest in customizing; and a government that supports the industry.

“The Middle East market clearly offers the first three, and the government is engaged with SEMA to address the last factor,” said SEMA Senior Vice President of Operations Bill Miller.

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Joel Ayres, vice president of sales and marketing at Bedslide/Takit and a member of the SEMA Board of Directors (left), talked with Robert Bannerman, commercial attaché for the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai, U.S. Ambassador Michael Corbin (second right) and SEMA Senior Vice President of Operations Bill Miller (right).
   
The UAE serves as a natural gateway to the region—a sort of “Netherlands of the Middle East”—and that is why it was chosen as the venue for the event, which encompassed the entire Gulf Cooperating Council (GCC). The GCC is a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, and buyers from each of the six countries were present.

“The region is well known as an entry point for markets beyond the Middle East, including southern Europe, Africa and India,” said Peter MacGillivray, SEMA vice president of communications and events. “It wasn’t until this latest trip that I realized that products from the SEMA industry are being distributed not only to the Middle East, but to these other nearby regions, too.”

David Borla, sales and marketing manager for Borla Performance Industries, concurred that there is market potential and that the UAE is a gateway.

“Though this was only my first visit, I quickly saw that the UAE has deliberately positioned itself as an ‘oasis’ for the entire region,” he said. “Consumers travel from a large radius to find quality, branded products—automotive and otherwise—making the UAE a major, global hub for all types of commerce.”

Alex Borla, CEO of Borla Performance Industries, zeroed in on the buying power in the region.

“The strength of the market is that people have money to buy the best of the best and are willing to pay for quality,” he said. “I believe that there is a higher percentage of modified toys there than in the United States.”

While not large in absolute terms, the market potential of the region should not be underestimated. Its quality compares very favorably to Southern California, for example, noted Jeremy Barras, export manager of Stoptech, which manufactures brake calipers, brake rotors and big brake kits.

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Mel Wade (left), owner of Off Road Evolution, spoke with Mohammed Alamiri of JAAS Car in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a nice and easy way to connect with potential vendors in the Middle East,” Wade said of the event. “It is great to see how sought-after U.S. product is in the world market.”
   
Off-roading is a particularly strong niche in the Middle East. Joel Ayres, vice president of sales and marketing for Bedslide/Tākit, was impressed with the number of pickups on the road. And Peter Marr, president of Owens Classic International, noted that driving off-road for recreation is extremely popular and growing, and hobbyists are good customers for products that enhance the functionality of vehicles on unpaved roads.

“I was immediately pleased to learn the extent to which the desert is utilized for active hobby and off-road use,” said Lonnie McCurry, COO of Skyjacker Suspensions.

Alex Borla pointed out that the region also has its challenges. “The needs in this market are somewhat different,” he said. “There is a concentration of vehicles used in the sand, and delivering what that demands is a challenge.”

Floyd West, owner of Klassic Rides in North Carolina, said that restoration is also big in the region, noting that “there are a lot of car collectors in the Middle East.”

The United Arab Emirates has very inclusive vehicle standards, accepting vehicles for sale in its market that meet U.S., Japanese, European and other national standards.

“We were amazed at the sheer amount of vehicles from all over the world represented in this market,” said Mike Crosby, who works in sales and marketing for Radflo Suspension Technology, a shock absorber manufacturer. He also noted the strikingly high degree of customization of all types of vehicles and growing popularity of motorsports. In fact, there are more motorsports facilities in the UAE per capita than in any other country in the world.

“The mix of cars and trucks on the road in the UAE is exciting, because there is a nice balance of both street-performance and off-road/desert vehicles,” David Borla said. “The roads are good, which attracts exotic-car owners who are proud of their machines. But there is also the constant reminder of the vast desert surrounding the area, which is a giant playground for off-road trucks, ATVs, sand rails and Jeeps.”

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Mark Habicht (second from left, facing camera), president of Road Magnet Performance Springs based in Baltimore, Maryland, talked with potential customers at the Middle East matchmaker event. “The people who I spoke with were very interested in what we had to offer,” he said, “and most replied with e-mails to me before I had even returned to my office. It seemed much easier to get started than what I expected. The potential for our product is huge. The fact that we can produce custom parts was very exciting to the buyers who I spoke with.”
   
Barras noted a rich variety of vehicles on the road, pointing out that there was a better U.S. vehicle share than he had expected. Still, European vehicles are seen as the high end, he noted, just as in the United States.

The matchmaking event—now set to become an annual gathering—attracted delegations of retailers, distributors and importers from throughout the GCC countries. All participants were unanimous with the notion that relationships are an important part of doing business anywhere, but nowhere are they more important than in the Middle East.

“As we were told, it takes some time to build a relationship,” Floyd said. “A lot of buyers stated that they were glad we came to meet face to face, and it showed them we were serious in wanting to do business with them.”

Barras noted that it is always a challenge to find the right partner, one who is prepared to plan for the long term, and Alex Borla added that distance and language make it difficult to research the nuances of specific markets firsthand.

“Accordingly, it’s important to find reliable sources for information regarding the needs of enthusiasts,” he said.

The SEMA Middle East Business Development programs and similar programs in China are designed to do just that: bring together U.S. manufacturers with top buyers for one-on-one meetings and create fact-finding opportunities, such as visiting specialty-equipment shops and meeting with local media. The next SEMA Middle East program will be held in the spring of 2013.

Next on SEMA’s overall international agenda is a trip to key cities in China. Participation costs for both programs are offset for eligible participants through the association’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and a Market Development Cooperator Program award.

For more information about SEMA’s international programs, contact Linda Spencer via e-mail.

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“SCT found this trip very beneficial, with excellent buyer potential,” said Rick Trudo (third from right). “Because we made so many good contacts and signed up four new dealers, I am planning to be back in Saudi Arabia and the UAE for follow-up.” 
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Jeremy Barras (left), export sales manager for StopTech, met with a stream of buyers interested in the firm’s high-performance brake systems.  
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Dan Tsuchiya, head of business development at eBay Motors, spoke with local buyers and found the market very vibrant. “Wealth is limited to a small population of the market, though,” he said.
         
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“This market is still very young and undeveloped, which is prime for the taking,” said Kevin Floody (far right) of K&N Engineering Inc. “I was amazed at how easy it is to conduct business here and how much in common with the United States it has in comparison to other international markets.” Floody is shown here speaking with Mae Ann Babay and Chris Vieira of Icon Auto in the UAE.
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Tom Richardson, president of Warrior Products, talked with Ali Hassan and Hani Ahmed of Kuwait Auto Parts Imports Co. Sales Assistant, Eric Blackburn said that the market, while not tremendous in terms of numbers of people, is relatively large in terms of money spent on purchasing and modifying.
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“The Middle East conference opened some new doors for us that we had not developed in the past,” said Peter Marr (right), president of Owens Classic International. “There were customers from Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia at the meetings. We anticipate adding new business in each of these countries, spread out over a number of product categories, such as truck accessories and environmentally friendly, water-saving cleaners and washes.
         
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“I think the potential is great,” said Floyd West of Klassic Rides, shown here with wife Stephanie and buyers from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “We just have to work through how we can penetrate the market. There is a large need for our services. There are a lot of car collectors there and a lack of trained restorers.”
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Bill Wines (far left) of MaXPro Window Films met with a number of buyers, including representatives from companies in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. “I was impressed with the number of qualified, interested and informed buyers who spent time in the MaXPro booth,” he said.
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Ray Gross (left) of Power Sheen/Super Spare met with Mubarak Sha and Yousef Aldossary of the Yousef Ahmed Rashid Al Dossary and Bros. Co. from Saudi Arabia.
         
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The participating U.S. manufacturers met with pre-vetted local importers and retailers in the UAE and from throughout the region through a series of private meetings and networking events. Responding to a post-event survey, 100% of the participating exhibitors indicated that they had developed leads at the show.
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Radflo Suspension Technology’s Mike Crosby and President Glenn Classen talked with Ara Sahakian (far right) and Andrew Hardoon (far left) from OffRoad Zone in the UAE. Crosby said that there is “definitely a market for our products in the UAE” but warned that “it is just not as large as we thought.” Crosby said that the market is still in “the infancy stages of utilizing high-end products.”
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Malcolm Johnson (right), CEO of Bryndana International, a manufacturer of leather and fiberglass coatings, met with buyers from Kuwait. He said that three distributors expressed interest in his products, but his biggest challenge remains shipping samples because his products are aerosol-based. Johnson is working with a variety of resources—including the U.S. government—in order to get his products to market in the Middle East and around the world.
         
   

SEMA Member Companies With Exhibits at the 2012 SEMA Middle East Business Development Conference  

   

AEM Performance Electronics
American Eagle Wheel Corp.
Bedslide/Tākit
BluePrint Engines
Borla Performance Industries Inc.
BrynDana International
Crane Cams
Delta Tech Industries LLC
eBay Motors
Injen Technology

  K&N Engineering
Keystone Automotive Operations
Klassic Rides LLC
Magnuson Products LLC
MaXPro Window Films 
Off Road Evolution
Owens Classic International
Power Sheen/Super Spare
Quick Time Performance
Radflo Suspension Technology 
 

Road Magnet Performance Springs
Royal Purple Inc.
SCT Performance
Skyjacker Suspensions
StopTech
Superflow Technologies
Truck Accessories Group LLC
Warrior Products  

         
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David Canitz (third from left), manager of Royal Purple’s international markets, and Lars Nordberg Lenco (second from right) of Middle East FZC, and the company’s distributor for the UAE, Qatar and Oman, chatted at the event. “The Middle East has great potential for sales of Royal Purple due to a good economy, a good American vehicle market and rough ambient operating conditions.
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Alex and David Borla (left and second left) of Borla Performance Industries met with Mohammed Al Ghandi and James Liddle of Al Ghandi Auto in the UAE. The Borlas thought that the vehicle mix and skill levels were positive in terms of product sales, and the high degree of professional talent and competency was unexpected.
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Hal Cherman (left), account representative for Truck Accessories Group, talked with Farid Semaan and Marwan Semaan of Ramy Trading in the UAE. “The Middle East has significant business opportunities for our industry,” Cherman said. “The volume of truck purchases shows that there is significant demand for our products.”
         
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Ernest Boehm (right), national sales manager, American Eagle Wheel talks with a local buyer.
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Barry Adler (right), president of Quick Time Performance, demonstrated the company’s sought-after electric cutout product.
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Ruby Stratz (center) of Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. spoke with potential customers.
         
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(From left) Lonnie McCurry, COO, Skyjacker Suspension; Tom Richardson, president, Warrior Products; and Eric Blackburn, sales assistant, Warrior Products toured local shops, including this picture at Icon Auto Shop.
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This was the first visit to the region by AEM Performance Electronics, said Devin Pearce (right). “We feel that there is definite potential for the AEM product line in this market, but it will require substantial resources to develop,” he said.
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(From left) Alex Borla, CEO, and David Borla, sales/marketing manager, Borla, spot Borla Performance Products on the shelves of Ramy Trading Co.
         
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U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Michael Corbin (center), SEMA Senior Vice President of Operations Bill Miller (left) and SEMA Vice President of Communications and Events Peter MacGillivray viewed a display of local customized vehicles at the opening networking reception.
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(From left) Ernest Boehm, national sales manager, and Raymond Elbertse, vice president, American Eagle, tour a local tuning shop—Advanced Expedition Vehicles Trading Co.—with Dan Tsuchiya, head of business development.
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Bogdan Durian, CEO of Ontario, California-based Delta Tech (left), shows U.S. Ambassador Michael Corbin one of his products. The company produces lights and other products, both for enthusiasts and for the military.
         
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Scott Giles, CEO, SuperFlow Technologies (far left), speaks with Abdulaziz Al Moqbel (center), managing director of Al Muhaidib Building Technology, Saudi Arabia, and Mohammed Baha Othman, general manger of Al Muhaidib Building Technology, Saudi Arabia.
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Dru Freese, product manager for BluePrint Engines (center), speaks with Kuwaiti buyers. The Nebraska-based manufacturer produces crate engines for GM, Chrysler and Ford.
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Terry Peddicord (left), director of sales, for Ventura, California-based Magnuson Products, talks with a buyer about the company’s line
of superchargers.
         
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Ron Delgado, president of Injen Technology (left), and Ed Rossi, vice president of sales (back to camera in black shirt), speak with buyers from the UAE and Qatar crowding their booth. The company produces performance air-intake systems.
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Joel Ayres, vice president of sales/marketing of Bedslide/Takit Inc. (right), speaks with potential customers. Ayres saw real potential for the company’s products and noted that “there were many more light-duty pickup owners and aftermarket shops than I originally had thought.”
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Steve Iggens, president of the Motorcycle division (center) and Sean Holly, president of Crane Cams (right), talk with Mitchell Perera, sales and marketing manager of UAE-based Liberty Motor Sports. The Florida-based company is a manufacturer and designer of camshafts, valvetrain components and electronic ignitions.

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