SEMA Member News July 2020

By Ellen McKoy

HRIA Puts Education Front and Center

Caption: Industry professionals came together to attend HRIA’s inaugural Education Day.

HRIA Chair Jeff Major.

The Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA) has ranked education as a key component of its mission from its early days as the Street Rod Market Alliance (SRMA). In the mid-’90s, SEMA and SRMA launched the Street Rod Industry Trade Conference. Held at a hotel in San Antonio, Texas, in conjunction with Vintage Air, the yearly business-to-business event served as a launch pad for business-management seminars and hands-on technical workshops.

SRMA later partnered with the Automotive Restoration Market Organization to produce an expanded street-rod/restoration industry trade conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, also in San Antonio. The event, held annually into the early ’00s, continued to provide educational programming.

Over the years, HRIA also presented seminars at other industry events, such as the Hot Rod & Restoration Trade Show and at the Detroit Autorama. But in 2016, HRIA ratcheted up its efforts, teaming with the National Street Rod Association to offer seminars at the Street Rod Nationals, the premier street rod and classic-car show held annually at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. It was a game changer.

Educating Enthusiasts

The HRIA’s inaugural Education Day program at the Nationals featured a full day of seminars presented by council-member manufacturers to an audience of street-rod hobbyists. It was the first time the sessions were open to the public, and, the response to the council’s initial Education Day was extremely positive, according to HRIA Chair Jeff Major.

“So many enthusiasts attend the Nationals—about 160,000 people every year—so it was a great opportunity for the manufacturers to share information about our industry’s products,” he said. “It was very successful.”

To build on the momentum, the HRIA expanded the program’s footprint in 2017 to include 12 seminars over two days. The sessions have proven so popular that they drew more than 900 attendees last year.

“One of the things that makes the program such a success is that we teamed up with the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) at the Street Rod Nationals,” said Josh Mishler, who chairs HRIA’s education subcommittee. “The great thing about it is that the majority of people who go to the Nationals are hobbyists, so that gives them a chance to learn from the people who actually make and sell the products. The event has grown every year. We’re getting really close to having 1,000 attendees.”

Under the expanded format, six seminars are presented daily. Each session lasts one hour. To qualify as presenters, manufacturers must be HRIA members and NSRA exhibitors. Session topics run the gamut from air conditioning, wiring and gauges to brake and suspension systems, power steering conversions and more.

“All of the sessions are different,” Mishler said, “and we encourage all presenters to present from an educational standpoint versus a commercial. I also try to get a new crop of presenters every year. If everything goes well, we’re on track to have several repeat companies and two or three new presenters.”

While there’s clearly a benefit to attendees, the same holds true for the participating manufacturers.

“People always say that this industry is all about relationships,” Mishler noted. “Even though [companies] aren’t directly selling a product, it gives them an opportunity to get in front of potential customers. Each classroom holds 140 people, and they’re all there to listen. There’s also a good chance many of them will visit a presenter’s booth and spend money before the show is over. It’s more effective than an advertisement or a catalog.

“This will be our fourth consecutive year. NSRA makes us feel very welcome, so I’m planning on it being another great year. I hope everybody is going to be at the Nationals in Louisville and considers taking in one of our seminars.”

Cultivating Youth Awareness

While the Education Days program remains the centerpiece of HRIA’s educational outreach, the council has set its sights on a brand-new learning experience. But unlike the seminars in Louisville, which are primarily for hobbyists, the new event will be aimed at students.

“HRIA has had tremendous success in Louisville, but we have also wanted to do a program on the West Coast,” Major said. “We’re now trying to put a program together for high-school tech students at the Grand National Roadster Show.”

The 2021 Grand National Roadster Show is slated for late January at the Fairplex in Pomona, California. HRIA’s current game plan is to present a one-day educational forum during the show. The idea is to assemble a panel of prominent builders along with well-known manufacturers and industry personalities for an interactive discussion about the business side of the industry and career opportunities. Students and teachers from local technical schools and high schools that offer automotive curriculum would be invited to participate.

“At the Nationals, the program is about reaching hobbyists,” Mishler said. “Now we’re looking to get students engaged and having a panel discussion about the business side of the hot-rod industry would give young people an idea of the different avenues. The industry is not just car builders. There are so many different jobs, whether its sales, marketing or product development. We know how important it is to get the next generation involved in our industry, and our goal is to get in front of the next generation.”

Building Value Through Resources

While much of the United States continued to practice social distancing and self-isolation at press time for this issue of SEMA Member News, the HRIA select committee continued to focus on other projects, including two member resources now in the development stage. The first is a historical record of HRIA. The task of chronicling the council’s history has been undertaken by Dennis Overholser of Painless Performance, whose involvement in SRMA and HRIA dates back decades.

The project came about two years ago during the SEMA Show at a past-chair luncheon for former council and network chairs. Lee Riser of Truck Hero announced the launch of a project to record the history of all SEMA councils and networks and asked for volunteers. Two of Overholser’s colleagues encouraged him to take on the task.

“I’m putting together a timeline and trying to be as accurate as possible,” Overholser said. “It’s time-consuming, and some of the information is hard to get. I do have almost everything through 2006 and enough information to go up to 2010 or 2011, but there’s still a lot I need to do to get up to 2020.”

Next up in the HRIA pipeline is a business resource directory. With so much emphasis placed on educating consumers, it makes sense to provide a way for enthusiasts to more easily find HRIA-member companies when looking to research and purchase products. According to Major, the completed project will serve as a resource for hobbyists. It will include listings of HRIA-member companies’ products and services. Once compiled, it will be released in an easy-to-update electronic format that will be housed on an HRIA social-media platform.

“Our goal is to help as many members as possible,” Major said. “HRIA is here to help our member companies grow and prosper. We’re here to develop strategies and programs to advance and promote awareness of the hobby and provide educational, business and networking opportunities. There’s no way to place a value on that.”

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