SEMA News—November 2020


Inside SEMA360

An Exclusive Look at the Exciting New Industry e-Market Event, November 2–6

By Mike Imlay

Slated for November 2–6, SEMA360 is a trade-only e-marketing event designed to bring together aftermarket manufacturers, buyers and journalists. Its aim is to address the challenging 2020 business environment while positioning the industry for 2021 opportunities and growth.

To deliver a viable marketplace solution amid a challenging year, SEMA is launching SEMA360, a major e-marketplace event taking place this November 2–6. Helping to address a void created by the absence of a 2020 SEMA Show, the SEMA360 experience will focus on manufacturer/reseller relationships, new-product introductions, project-vehicle debuts and industry-leading education. The SEMA360 platform will also leverage the association’s exclusive buyer database and media partnerships to provide manufacturers with an extensive reach and return on investment as they build momentum toward 2021.

“Prior to creating SEMA360, we gathered industry members’ input and learned their concerns about typical virtual trade events, which can be complicated and cumbersome,” said SEMA Vice President of Events Tom Gattuso. “SEMA360 is straightforward and simple, with a focus on helping manufacturers to do real business and connect with the industry.”

In addition to Manufacturer Showcase pages, the platform includes dedicated areas for new products, vehicle builds, seminars and private forums. For a deeper understanding of how SEMA360 is taking shape and what participants can expect from the platform, SEMA News turned to Gattuso for an insider briefing. The following is our interview, edited for clarity and conciseness.

SEMA News: How did SEMA come up with SEMA360 as an alternative to a live trade show? What are the digital event’s goals?

Tom Gattuso: Even as we were moving forward with the SEMA Show, we were investigating a digital platform as an alternative scenario. During our planning, industry feedback made clear how much the industry has come to value the community exchange that happens at our live event, so we wanted to prepare a solution in case the live event couldn’t take place.

As we were going through our Show-planning process, the situation in Las Vegas suddenly changed, so in our due diligence, we stopped production of the live event and made an announcement as such—but we also saw how the industry reacted to the idea that this community exchange wasn’t going to happen.

Essentially we created a void by not having a live event, and we wanted to be able to fill that void. In developing a digital solution, we realized that the industry needs to do four major things: It needs to have a buyer-to-seller e-marketplace; it needs to introduce new products to the industry; it needs to showcase the many vehicle builds being created, along with their builders; and, finally, it needs world-class industry education.

We really wanted to supply a platform that would do those four things. It’s not a replica of the live-event trade show, and it’s not necessarily a direct overlay of the live-event trade show, but it’s a solution that helps fill those four major industry needs in the current environment.

SN: The association has repeatedly stressed that this is not a “virtual SEMA Show” but something very different. Can you explain the thinking behind that emphasis?

TG: The SEMA Show is an iconic event that is known worldwide. For us to try to say that we were going to take everything involved with that and turn it into a digital platform would be misleading. People would go into the digital event with a perception that it was going to be something that would be impossible to recreate, because you just can’t replace the live event.

Instead we wanted to pivot a little and really focus on the community exchange of ideas, innovation and passion that occur during that week of November and figure out a way to build all that into a digital solution. That led us to focusing on the four pillars of new products, education, vehicles and the buyer/seller marketplace. We’re really not focused on how that “replaces” the SEMA Show but more on providing a solution for the things that the industry normally would be doing in November.

SN: Along those lines, can we talk a little about what won’t change? For instance, the event dates.

TG: We wanted to make sure we emphasized the business-to-business importance of this community exchange for our industry. We looked at a number of different scenarios in terms of how long the event could go. We felt that if we set shorter parameters to it, people would be able to schedule their time more appropriately, so we mimic the dates of our live-event Show. We’re going to run November 2–6, and we really feel like that’s going to help create some energy that extending it further may not do.

Once we get into the environment and we see the marketplace interacting together, we still have the option to open it back up at other times or when there are significant announcements, so we’re going to keep that option available to us. In the short term, however, we want to focus on the set timeframe in November in which the industry traditionally comes together, so we’re all going to be coming together again this year, just in a different format.

SN: How about the qualifications for event participants? Is SEMA360 a trade-only event like all of SEMA’s prior live events?

TG: Yes. We have a robust registration process to be able to keep attendance and participation in our Show purely business-to-business. We wanted to keep that same registration process in place for this new format, so we’re going to have the same registration partners and the same qualifying processes. We’re going to work to ensure that everybody who’s in the environment is qualified to be there and is verified to have been participating in
this industry.

That’s not to say that some of the content we create won’t be appropriate for a consumer application, and we’re exploring that as well, but from the standpoint of what SEMA360 represents right now, it’s a qualified, verified attendance base with many of the most prominent manufacturer brands in the industry.

SEMA360 promises to connect industry companies with qualified buyers and colleagues worldwide. The virtual nature of the event opens it to professionals and staff who might not otherwise have been able to travel to a live trade show.

SN: What are some of the advantages offered by the SEMA360 experience? What excites you about this platform?

TG: I think it really comes down to the reach that our participants will be able to have, specifically on a manufacturer level. At the SEMA Show, we’ve found that many of the participating companies don’t send every single person who works for them. There are certainly people who wish they could go, but they’ve got to stay home and work on the business. The same thing holds true with international companies in which there are people who would like to come but can’t come every year.

Having a solution like this allows those people, within the convenience of their own schedules, to interact with participating brands and the event’s educational opportunities. They can also share in the new-product information that’s there and really spot some trends that are happening with vehicles, all within the comfort of their own schedules. We also think that there’s potential to increase the reach for years and years to come.

One thing that has been part of our planning from the very beginning is that SEMA360 will not be a mere short-run solution. This is something that’s going to be associated with our live event going forward. We’re confident that we can also double, triple or even quadruple our exhibitors’ brand exposures by incorporating a digital platform alongside a successful live event and open it up to a qualified base of buyers all around the world.

SN: Let’s turn our attention to some of the trade features of the platform. How will participants make connections, interact and do business?

TG: SEMA360 is designed around the user experience. The entire platform is based on connecting participants with manufacturers or industry colleagues, education tracks, or new-product offerings. From a manufacturer standpoint, companies will have a showcase area where they can feature videos, product brochures, their websites, downloadable information about their brands, or innovations that they’re working on. They also have the ability to hold private meetings and set up private meeting rooms for one-on-one and group interactions. It’s nice because we’re replicating a lot of the networking that happens during our industry week, and we’re delivering it via video conferencing, chat or telephone, so it does facilitate those connections, and a manufacturer can really showcase its company and have real-time group and individual conversations in this environment.

From a new-products standpoint, we’re going to host a new-products section that will connect to the many products that our manufacturers are introducing. You’ll be able to go in there, browse by category, and see the innovation that’s happening in the industry. You’ll then be able to connect directly with the manufacturers of those products, so it will streamline the process in a different way than a live event, because it literally is just a click away to have those conversations.

We also felt that it was important for the industry to see emerging trends, and there’s no better place to observe them than in vehicle builds, so we will also have feature vehicles as a “showcase” area. There will be 200–300 vehicles presented through photos and videos along with builder biographies, so people will be able to go look at the vehicles, learn about the builders and, specifically, the parts involved in the build. From there, they’ll be able to connect the parts directly to the manufacturers and, again, have those conversations about how the products can help their businesses down the road.

SN: How about the educational opportunities you’ve mentioned?

TG: The education that we do at the Show really serves the need to help our member companies build their businesses. We want to continue that, so we’re going to have a really good array of speakers who are focused on helping your business in these times but also how you can leverage what’s going on right now to help increase your business in 2021. We’re going through the speaker roster that we had planned for the 2020 SEMA Show, taking the best of them, and creating a SEMA360 online education track that will be second to none.

SN: SEMA360 also encompasses qualified media. What will the event have going for them?

TG: Same as buyers, it’s important for the media to be able to learn where the innovation and the trends are taking place and what’s happening in the industry. But secondarily, we’re going to be able to connect the media directly with our manufacturers. They will be able to go into an online pressroom and gather the press releases and media content that our industry is generating. In addition, they will be able to go into the SEMA360 environment and schedule specific meetings and interviews with industry people to learn more about the trends they’re seeing and gather more information for their wide audience of readers, viewers and content consumers.

SN: Although SEMA is steering away from the live-Show concept this year, it’s hard not to make a comparison. One of the big things about a live event is the attendees. They walk the Show floor, visit the New Products Showcase and attend events and seminars. What are the nuts and bolts of navigating the SEMA360 platform?

Staples of the automotive specialty-equipment industry, project vehicles will have their own dedicated section within SEMA360, with hotlinks back to the Manufacturer Showcase pages of the products and brands featured in these exciting builds.

TG: There are two ways that a SEMA360 participant can experience the platform. The first way, and the most basic, would be to just go in and start exploring on their own. They’ll be able to see areas for new products, feature vehicles, manufacturers showcases and education. As they go through the platform, they can make their schedules and set a course for what they specifically want to do.

However, one of the nice things that we’ve programmed into SEMA360 is the recommendation engines that operate much like you see with Netflix or Amazon or other digital marketplaces. Based on your preferences, SEMA360 can make recommendations on companies you may want to see, education programs applicable for your business, and people you may want to interact with. That will be a side-by-side companion as you’re experiencing the website. As you make your schedule, you’ll have suggestions for areas to check out that can expand your success.

So we’re excited on both fronts. We’re excited that people will be able to explore on their own, but we also really like the fact that there can be recommendations that can cater the environment to fit the specific needs of each individual participant.

SN: Are there any additional features that you think are exceptionally cool or that you’re really proud of with this platform?

TG: There are possible future features that we’re not yet turning on. It’s interesting because we didn’t just do an off-the-shelf networking application, and we’re still in the developmental stages of all the things it can be, but I would say that one of the really cool things is the ability for people to connect on a one-on-one basis and be able to look at websites, have video conferences or view online presentations—all within the platform. You’re able to do all these things without leaving SEMA360, and that really just makes it extremely convenient.

When we’re asked what the difference is between this and somebody just doing this on their own, it really comes down to the same thing as our live event. You could go visit 500 companies if you have the time, patience and money to travel around the country. The same thing holds true with this digital event.

Technically, you could do it over a period of time using the internet and the technology that you have available, but we make it really easy and bring it all together in a single, manageable space during a specific event period. Business calls, presentations, education sessions, website interactions—they all happen framed up within the one platform, so the experience is seamless.

Get in on SEMA360 
SEMA360 is designed to be affordable. SEMA-member manufacturers can secure their Manufacturer Showcase page at for $495 ($1,495 for nonmembers). Qualified SEMA-member buyers may register for free ($25 for nonmembers). Credentialed media may register for free. For details, visit, call 909-396-0289, or email 

SN: Every live trade show has deadlines for registration, entering products and securing feature vehicle displays. Will SEMA360 be different in that regard?

TG: Most of the deadlines and discounts associated with our live event have revolved around convenience, mailing materials and other physical logistics. Given the nature of SEMA360, we can extend deadlines quite a bit, so you’ll be able to register up to and during SEMA360. We also extended the signup deadline for a Manufacturer Showcase—what might be called a “booth space” in a live show—into mid October.

SN: In this interview, you’ve alluded to somehow merging SEMA360 with the annual SEMA Show. Going forward, what are your hopes for both properties in 2021?

TG: We truly feel that this will be a great companion platform for the live event. We see an ability to not only grow our live event for manufacturers and attendees but at the same time exponentially growing our worldwide reach through a digital platform, so we’re excited because we will be able to create content at our live event and directly upload it into a digital environment that people around the world can participate in. It’s a scenario where one plus one will equal three, because we’ll maintain the value, excitement and passion present in our live event and bring it to a broader base. That will mean increased exposure for aftermarket brands along with an even wider audience and market for the automotive specialty-equipment industry.

SEMA360 Advantages for Manufacturers 
Unrivaled Media Exposure: Qualified media are looking for products and trends along with their event coverage. SEMA360 allows manufacturer-participants to plug into SEMA’s vast network of media contacts to amplify news, brands, products and innovations to a worldwide audience.
    Highlighting New Products: Manufacturers can share their latest product innovations with tens of thousands of qualified buyers in a trade-only environment. The platform allows brands to post images, descriptions and videos of their newest, most popular, and specially priced products on a designated Manufacturer Showcase page. There’s also an option to add products to the SEMA360 New Products Showcase that hotlink back to the page.
    Adding Vehicles to the Experience: Manufacturers can showcase their brands and products on vehicle builds and share vehicle images and videos on their SEMA360 Manufacturer Showcase page. They may also add optional vehicles to the Feature Vehicle Gallery that hotlink back to their page.
    Global Connections: The SEMA360 platformed is designed to lock in sales orders for manufacturer brands and products by connecting them with buyers across the globe. The event platform allows one-on-one dialogue and group roundtables to connect company staff with qualified buyers and media.
    Industry-Leading Education: Participants can take advantage of more than 30 SEMA Education sessions focused on professional development and new strategies. Presented by industry experts, the sessions are designed to boost staff skill sets and practical knowledge of best practices, new technologies and latest automotive trends that can take a company to a whole new level of competitive strength.
    Virtual Networking: SEMA360 will deliver essential online connections with suppliers, buyers and media that will have a lasting impact on industry businesses in a private, trade-only environment. Connect, grab a table and move business forward with video meetings that allow screen sharing, chat and collaboration. Participants can video chat one-to-one or create a roundtable discussion for the best online networking experience available today.

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