SEMA News—October 2014


Talking Trade With Tom Gattuso

The SEMA Show Director Provides Insights to the 2014 Event

By Steve Campbell


The 2014 SEMA Show will feature the largest gathering of exhibitors in the event’s history and a more expansive Show footprint than ever before.

 Exhibiting at the SEMA Show—especially for the first time—can be a logistical labyrinth. But a bit of planning and forethought can result in a straightforward map to success.

With nearly 20 years in the production of both consumer and trade automotive events, the SEMA Show’s Tom Gattuso is well versed in ensuring that attendees and exhibitors receive the greatest return on their investments. He holds a certification in event management, and the 2014 SEMA Show will be his fourth as its director. SEMA News was pleased to talk with him about the Show, its features and his expectations for this year’s venue.

SEMA News: Are there any significant changes in how the SEMA Show will operate this year, now that it is being managed directly by association personnel?

Tom Gattuso: Management of the SEMA Show, including sales and operations, has been taken in-house. Each of our exhibitor customers now has a single main person with the association who is the point of contact for all of the services that we provide both for the SEMA Show and for each company’s membership in SEMA.

The 2014 SEMA Show will have more participation than ever before. We’ve added a Gold Pavilion that will be filled with exhibitors and will include key features. This expanded pavilion will be positioned in the Gold parking lot across Paradise Boulevard from the North Hall, so we’re using every area adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) to ensure that the industry is fully represented and that visitors to the Show will be able to see more and do more than they ever have.

This year’s Show will feature a record number of exhibitors and the largest footprint that the event has ever seen, and it will provide the best representation of where the industry is today and what it’s moving toward in the future.

Even so, there will be few noticeable changes from an operational standpoint. We have had an excellent and very qualified show management company for many years, and we will continue with the level of service and expertise they helped to create. But we will now exert more detailed control of the Show’s vision and execution.

SN: What is the hottest program for exhibitors at the 2014 SEMA Show?

TG: We have a new mobile app that can give any user directions from one place on the floor to another. In addition to this floorplan locator, the app includes a scheduler for attendees and a feature in which all of the new products from the New Products Showcase are listed. The New Products Showcase remains a huge opportunity that should not be missed by any exhibiting company.

The app will be available for download from Apple and Android stores, and we are also building a landing page for it on the website. To find the app, search for SEMA 2014 in your smartphone’s app store. It will be a tool that people refer to all year long, and we are going to treat it as such, updating it with information on an ongoing basis.

SN: What are the most important sources of information for exhibitors at the 2014 SEMA Show?

TG: The Exhibitor Services Manual [ESM] has been refined for more than two decades, and we spend months preparing and updating it for each year’s SEMA Show. It contains all of the information that will help exhibitors be successful at the Show. Spending time with the ESM to make sure that you understand the deadlines, your budgeting and other functions is important to executing a successful exhibit.

This is so important that we feature ESM classes at the Exhibitor Summit, seminars and webinars focused on navigating it so that you can pick out the information most important to your company and its participation in the Show. The ESM is the place where you can be introduced to our Show vendors and is a one-stop, answer-everything site that is contained within We’ve provided links to all of our partners within the ESM so that exhibitors can manage all of their needs from that one location. They don’t need to remember any other website but

SN: What are the top opportunities and challenges that exhibitors should consider as they prepare for the 2014 SEMA Show?

TG: Exhibitors should take advantage of pre-Show promotions, which should include posting press releases on our website. You want to let people know that you will be at the Show and what you will be featuring there. We’ve found that buyers focus on what is new, and I’m a big proponent of using your new and featured products as conversation starters that then allow you to talk about all of the other great things your company does. To get maximum attention for your company, you need to center everything you do around what you have that is new. And even if you don’t have anything new, you certainly have ways to emphasize what is unique to your company. You should focus on the discernible differences that make your company a leader in your category.

SN: Why should exhibitors use the vendors and suppliers recommended by the SEMA Show rather than others?

Tom Gattuso, CEM, has nearly 20 years of experience running both consumer and trade automotive events. This is his fourth year as the director of the SEMA Show.

Exhibiting at the SEMA Show—especially for the first time—can be a logistical labyrinth. But a bit of planning and forethought can result in a straightforward map to success.

TG: We spend a lot of time vetting the best companies with the best financial packages for our exhibitors. These vendors are truly partners in all of our success. There are other companies that offer the same products and services, but they often aren’t able to take advantage of the economies of scale and the efficiencies that our partners are, so what may appear to be a lower price point at the onset disappears when you start to factor in the extra costs that don’t affect our vendors, who are doing high volumes at the Show.

One simple example is carpet. You may be able to get a lower initial cost per square foot from a non-recommended vendor, but they will have to pay additional freight charges to bring the carpet into the Show, which drives the cost higher than that of our approved vendors. Those ancillary costs are already included in our partner’s package deal.

We spend a lot of time getting the most economical packages we possibly can, and the majority of our pricing at the SEMA Show is inclusive of all fees. That’s where a non-recommended vendor is at a disadvantage.

SN: What is the most often missed opportunity for SEMA Show exhibitors?

TG: Companies that don’t participate in the New Products Showcase are missing a competitive advantage. Buyers and media come to the SEMA Show to see what’s new. If you’re not participating in the New Products Showcase and are relying only on your exhibit space, you are missing one of the biggest opportunities we offer. It is a show within the SEMA Show, and it’s like having a secondary exhibit.

The New Products Showcase is segregated into sections, and each company has its own space. Buyers and media make it a priority destination during their trip to the SEMA Show, and it’s another place where people can see your newest products. It’s almost like a Cliff Notes version of what’s new in the industry, and you want to be sure that you’re included in that presentation.

SN: How can buyers make the most out of their limited time with so many exhibitors to see?

TG: The mobile app we talked about earlier is a great pre-Show and in-Show tool. And using the floorplan on allows you to see company descriptions and product categories. You can really map out the companies you want to see.

I would recommend scheduling some time for companies that you have not seen before as well. Historically, 25% of the exhibitors at the SEMA Show are there for the first time, and if you are only going to see companies that you already have a relationship with, you’re missing a big opportunity. So schedule time before the Show to research companies that you’re not familiar with and find
new products.

SN: How can buyers ensure that they locate all of the exhibitors that are pertinent to their market segments?

TG: Use the online floorplan. The SEMA Show floor is broken into 12 different sections, so you first determine the section that most pertains to your business. That alone will narrow down the companies you’re going to want to target. From there, look at the specific product categories housed in that section. For instance, go to’s floorplan, click on batteries and you will find the companies that sell them. You can click on a particular product and find companies that will have those products at the Show. You will also be able to do that via the mobile app from the Show floor.

SN: What is the best new program for buyers at the 2014 SEMA Show?


The New Products Showcase presents a critical opportunity for everyone at the 2014 SEMA Show. Exhibitors should take advantage of its added exposure, and buyers and media should visit to see the newest products gathered in a single location.

The New Products Showcase presents a critical opportunity for everyone at the 2014 SEMA Show. Exhibitors should take advantage of its added exposure, and buyers and media should visit to see the newest products gathered in a single location.

TG: Buyers who are members of SEMA should be sure to check out the Member Buyer Rewards (MBR) program. It features special perks for member buyers, including fast passes at the taxi lines and preferred seating at functions such as the New Products Awards Breakfast and NHRA Breakfast. There is also an MBR Lounge located within the Member Lounge in room N251, upstairs from the Grand Lobby.

SN: Where can buyers find information about the 2014 SEMA Show, such as exhibitor locations, educational opportunities and schedules and the answers to frequently asked questions?

TG: The first stop should be, which is the primary source for everything related to the Show. It will have the most up-to-date and accurate information. I also always tell people to start paying attention to Show-related e-mails and the SEMA eNews electronic newsletter in the months leading up to the Show. We use those tools as a way to get out the word on what’s important and to show everybody where to find information on or in the new mobile app.

SN: What is the most important thing that media attendees should know about covering the SEMA Show?

TG: We are one of the most media-friendly trade shows in the world. We make an extra effort to make things easy and convenient for media. We offer a fully functioning and expertly staffed Media Center in the LVCC, providing high-quality images of every new-product submission, organizing all Show press releases, sending timely and pertinent updates so that the media is kept apprised of new offerings at the Show. We also employ a world-class public-relations team that can help writers, editors and broadcasters experience the SEMA Show to fit their needs.

SN: What sources should the media turn to when they have questions or have needs that aren’t covered by existing information?

TG: Prior to the SEMA Show, they should contact At the Show, visit the Media Center, which is located in Room N110 between North and Central Halls. The Media Center is open throughout the Show and offers a range of services to registered media, including WiFi, computer stations and a place to not only get their work done but also to relax when the opportunities present themselves.

SN: Are there any post-Show programs that attendees, buyers or the media should be aware of?

TG: Our newest post-Show program is called SEMA Ignited. It came about as a result of the success of the SEMA Cruise, which is the parade of vehicles exiting the LVCC following the Show. This year, the Cruise will start at the Convention Center and will make its way to a climactic party that will take place from 4:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. at one of the newest and most recognizable landmarks in the city, the High Roller observation wheel at the LINQ Promenade open-air shopping, dining and entertainment district. The SEMA Cruise and SEMA Ignited will expose automotive enthusiasts and the general public to the hottest cars and the biggest celebrities from the SEMA Show in a culminating celebration of our industry. We look forward to seeing everyone there.


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