By Steve Campbell
A Few Words With Tom Gattuso
The Director of the SEMA Show Describes the 2015 Event
More than 2,500 exhibitors inhabit the multiple halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as the surrounding grounds, during the SEMA Show. The event draws more than 125,000 industry professionals, including more than 60,000 buyers.
SEMA Show Director Tom Gattuso was initially drawn to event sales simply as a method to meet the automotive manufacturing people he’d eventually like to work for, but it wasn’t long until he realized that he preferred producing events and eventually worked his way into event management and direction. He’s now been doing it for 20 years, coming to SEMA in 2011 after working on new-car events for Auto Dealer Shows and then on off-road events for Advanstar Communications. He recently took a few minutes to talk about the 2015 SEMA Show.
SEMA News: What do you feel are the most significant changes or additions to this year’s SEMA Show?
Tom Gattuso: Moving the New Products Showcase and the Media Center to accommodate more exhibiting companies is probably our biggest change. We aren’t so much concerned with Show size as we are with including as many companies in the Show as possible. We moved the Showcase and the Media Center in order to free up more desirable exhibit space. The New Products Showcase has historically been the number-one destination for buyers at the Show, so it’s a draw all its own and will bring traffic to the area on the Skybridge between Central and South Halls.
SN: The New Products Showcase seems to be something that every exhibitor would want to participate in. They can enter either a new product or a featured product, correct?
Tom Gattuso has been the director of the SEMA Show since 2011 and came to the association with more than 20 years of experience in automotive event management.
TG: There are a lot of paths to a company’s preparation for the SEMA Show, and when we talk with exhibitors after the event, we find that they sometimes get busy with other priorities. While we know how important new products are to buyers and how heavily trafficked the New Products Showcase is, exhibitors sometimes don’t recognize its immense value until they’ve seen it firsthand. Since the New Products Showcase is the number-one destination for buyers and the media at the SEMA Show, it’s also the best use of an exhibitor’s time leading up to the Show. In many cases, it’s even better than what you’re going to do in your booth, because pound for pound, effort to eyeballs, the New Products Showcase delivers better than anything else we do at the Show. It’s almost like having an additional booth.
SN: What are the best sources of information for exhibitors?
TG: Our publications and websites are great places for exhibitors to start. We spend an inordinate amount of time developing messaging for everything we publish, so whether it’s the SEMAShow.com website, the SEMA eNews electronic newsletter or SEMA News magazine, we employ specific strategies for delivering the right information at the right time. There is a wealth of information within the SEMAShow.com website, with the Exhibitor Services Manual (ESM) being a top destination to hit. It really answers any question or concern an exhibitor might have about the promotion of a successful exhibit at the Show.
The second stop would be the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) areas. There is one on the website, and there is also one within the ESM.
The third thing would be awareness of early-order deadlines. Almost half of our companies submit orders after deadlines have passed. They could literally save money by just putting their orders in on time. We understand that priorities get shifted as people prepare for the SEMA Show, and it’s easy to fall behind and miss a deadline, but it really does cost them money. It’s a very simple thing that you could do with scheduling to produce significant savings that you could use elsewhere in developing a successful exhibit.
SN: What is the advantage for exhibitors in using the vendors and suppliers recommended by the SEMA Show rather than others?
TG: We pre-negotiate the rates, and we vet the companies to make sure that they’re going to be able to deliver what they promise. We have seen problems with some outside companies whose delivery of service falls short of expectations. One way to control that is to authorize certain companies within each service area and promote those companies within our ESM. We’ve even gone another step by endorsing certain companies as official SEMA Show partners so that there is no confusion about who we recommend.
We do that because our customer-service line gets phone calls regarding orders that were taken and services that were not provided. Once the service has fallen short, the exhibitor calls us in hopes that we will be able to help them through their issue. The recommended vendors provide good rates that are, as far as we know, lower than what you would find elsewhere. If they’re not, we are certainly interested in knowing why and addressing the difference with our official vendors to ensure that we do have the most competitive pricing and the highest level of service.
SN: What opportunities do exhibitors most often miss?
TG: They should really concentrate on providing pre-Show and on-site promotion of what they have that is new. This goes above and beyond the New Products Showcase. When buyers come to the SEMA Show, they are trying to be as efficient as possible. There are 2,500 exhibitors competing for their attention. You really have to make sure that you stand out with what you have that’s new. It might be a rebranding of your company, a new product, new initiatives—you really have to communicate either through pre-Show promotions or your on-site booth what you’re doing so that a buyer quickly understands why he needs to stop to speak with you.
SN: How can buyers make the most of their time when there are so many exhibitors?
TG: We have a lot of tools for buyers, ranging from a SEMA Show mobile app and our SEMA Show online floorplan to the October and November issues of SEMA News, which list exhibitors, features and other information about what you can do in and around the Show. SEMAShow.com is another great resource for the most up-to-date information that we have, and our e-mail blasts in the months preceding the SEMA Show are very important to take note of. That’s where we’ll run our specials and make sure that buyers are aware of the most pertinent information that will help them to have a successful event.
SN: What does the SEMA Show mobile app feature this year?
The New Products Showcase is the number-one destination for buyers at the SEMA Show. Gattuso urges all exhibitors to take advantage of what he calls the Show’s best “pound for pound, effort to eyeballs” selling feature.
TG: It includes exhibitor listings, a virtual New Products Showcase in your hands, and a way-finding device that can lead you from one exhibitor to another or one place to another. Literally every new product that we have at the SEMA Show is photographed and loaded into the mobile app with an accompanying description. Buyers are able to not only do research on the new products while they are on-site but also after the Show. We have data indicating that buyers research new products weeks and months after the SEMA Show via the mobile app. The Apple and Android stores have it. Just search for 2015 SEMA Show.
SN: How can buyers ensure that they locate all of the exhibitors that are pertinent to their market segments?
TG: You can search exhibitors by product category in both the mobile app and on SEMAShow.com’s online floorplan. Targeting specific categories, you should be able to narrow down your list of exhibitors and efficiently put a list together of companies you’d like to see. But you should also be sure to leave time to walk the Show floor without any appointments scheduled.
Part of the magic of the SEMA Show is that you never know what you’re going to discover around the next corner. A new product or a new company is literally steps away, and you’re missing a big part of what the SEMA Show is all about if you don’t schedule time to find these new opportunities.
SN: What is the most important thing that media attendees should know about covering the 2015 SEMA Show?
TG: Our Media Center (Skybridge, room S220) is one of the best resources for media in the trade-show industry. We do everything we can to help them put together compelling stories, not just during the Show but also providing them with information so that they can do stories all year long. The high-resolution photos and information for the new and featured products housed in the New Products Showcase are immediately downloadable when the Show begins. They are available at www.SEMAdigital.com and include contact information for each company.
SN: Are there any post-Show programs that attendees, buyers or media should be aware of?
TG: Anybody who either scans, or has scanned, badges at the SEMA Show gets a post-Show report of places they’ve visited, or people who visited their booths. For buyers, the next step after the Show would be that you go through the follow-up process on products that you’re interested in. You don’t want to miss an opportunity with an exhibitor or manufacturer because you failed to follow up. And the same holds true for exhibitors. You should always follow up with buyers who expressed interest in your products in the days and weeks following the SEMA Show.
SN: Is there anything you’d like to add? Anything that industry professionals might find particularly noteworthy about this year’s Show?
TG: We’re really putting a lot of emphasis on the events and activities that will take place on the Friday of this year’s SEMA Show, and we’re finding that our housing numbers are up significantly on Friday because people are starting to stay longer to be able to take part in these activities.
There is a tremendous amount of value with the things we do throughout the final Show day, starting with Cars & Coffee in the morning and transitioning to indoor and outdoor activities centering on the Battle of the Builders competition. Then we have the SEMA Cruise, which is a fantastic place to see vehicles using the innovative products that have been on display within the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and we conclude with the ultimate automotive after party in SEMA Ignited.
Missing these activities means that you’re also missing opportunities that you could capitalize on for increased business.