Highlights From the Industry’s Exclusive Online Trade-Only Event
Thousands Log Onto SEMA360
By SEMA News Editors
Thousands of industry professionals logged onto www.sema360.com on Monday, November 2, to take part in SEMA360—a five-day online trade-only event in which attendees from throughout the world connected with automotive parts manufacturers while discovering new products, industry trends and ideas from leading experts in the specialty-equipment aftermarket.
SEMA presented the trade-only event as an alternative when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the live 2020 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The SEMA360 digital platform was specifically designed to bring manufacturers, buyers and media together for effective business-to-business networking in an efficient digital marketplace.
“When we set out to develop a digital solution for SEMA Week, we wanted to focus on four main things: showcasing new products, developing an e-marketplace for manufacturers and buyers, promoting industry education, and featuring the top vehicle builds and the builders behind them,” said SEMA Vice President of Events Tom Gattuso. “As we completed the week, those things really shined through to help us connect the industry and give the aftermarket a glimpse of what may be in store for 2021. We had thousands of participants join SEMA360, and it generated tens of thousands of conversations and hundreds of thousands of page views. Obviously, we were very pleased to see the support from the industry and are excited at where this can take us in the future.”
Gattuso added that this marked the first digital undertaking of such magnitude for the aftermarket trade association.
“The timeframe in which we accomplished it didn’t leave a lot of room for error,” he noted. “That said, we came up to speed quickly and learned that there was demand from the industry to exchange ideas, be part of a community, and continue doing business in this adaptive environment.”
In addition to connecting with representatives from the hundreds of manufacturers that headlined the event, attendees were able to view more than 2,200 products in the New Products Showcase, see more than 300 custom vehicle builds, and take part in more than 30 industry-specific education sessions throughout the week. Each SEMA360 day offered a full roster of exclusive seminars and events, including the announcement of the winners of the SEMA Launch Pad program and the SEMA Battle of the Builders competition.
More than 650 media professionals from throughout the world also attended the SEMA Week event, reporting on every aspect of the specialty-equipment marketplace. In fact, a full 22% of the media attendees hailed from nations outside the United States—most notably Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan and Mexico. The event also saw significant engagement from its Social Media Correspondent Program, primarily comprised of more than 60 industry influencers from throughout the United States.
Overall, the program generated more than 3.4 million impressions on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social-media platforms, combining for an estimated 3.1 million reach among unique users. On the trade-audience side, analytics from SEMA eNews, which covered the event daily, indicated intense industry interest in news about new products and SEMA360 feature vehicles.
An Environment for Learning
Also SEMA Week staples, industry education and inspiration were front and center at SEMA360 from the very outset. Executive producer and host Mike Rowe and famed driver Tanner Foust kicked off the event with the Keynote Q&A, Powered by OPTIMA Batteries, on Monday at 8:00 a.m. (PDT). Streaming live from their respective locations, the duo delivered a candid and informative conversation touching on their own careers as well as the innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and passion at the heart of the automotive aftermarket.
Rowe, best known as the creator and host of the hit TV series “Dirty Jobs,” is CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation and the country’s leading advocate for the skilled trades. Foust, a multi-talented driver, brought to the Q&A his own unique perspective on automotive career paths and emphasized the need to inspire more people to pursue aftermarket trades.
“A lot of these people have an entrepreneurial bug for sure, but they’re inventors, and you’ll find they have innovated,” he said. “People are tinkering, inventing and putting their passion into a physical representation, and the nice thing about the car world is that you can go drive it.”
Rowe said that the more he has learned about aftermarket businesses, the more impressed he is—not only with the ingenuity involved but also with the range of talent that they attract and the honest, good-paying jobs they create.
“There’s so much opportunity in your world that the average person just can’t even conceive of,” he observed. “That’s why it’s fun to talk to you guys. I’m always reminded that there’s a new job to do and a struggle to find the man or woman who’s willing to do it.”
According to Nathan Ridnouer, SEMA vice president of councils and membership, the keynote presentation by Rowe and Foust served not only to open SEMA360 but also as a gateway to the event’s extensive educational program.
“This event marks the most significant online education experience that our association has yet attempted,” he said. “SEMA is absolutely thrilled with how the industry came together and took advantage of our seminar offerings.”
He noted that SEMA’s education team learned a tremendous amount as well.
“Thanks to SEMA360, we have a much better understanding of how our members want to engage in professional development and edu-tainment-type programming online,” he explained. “Our members definitely crave opportunities to listen to and engage with experts on key topics such as digital marketing, new market opportunities and future technology challenges impacting the industry. The real key is engagement, which means sessions don’t have to be live. However, we found that while prerecording is a really good option for creating better, stronger content, it’s critical that the expert be available to chat with attendees as the program airs.”
Going forward, Ridnouer said that SEMA plans to repurpose much of SEMA360’s educational content.
“This event has cemented virtual education into SEMA’s future planning,” he noted. “We’ll be incorporating some of SEMA360 content into our year-long virtual education strategy while offering other portions of it exclusively to SEMA members. A 2021 calendar of our virtual events will also launch soon.”
Manufacturer, Builder and New Products Showcases
The all-essential ingredients to a traditional trade show are exhibitor booths. In the case of SEMA360, digital Manufacturer Showcases formed the mainstays of the platform.
Dedicated webpages that incorporated manufacturer websites and such digital assets as product images and video demonstrations, the showcases were designed to make real-time connections possible between exhibitors and attendees. That was accomplished through messaging and online roundtable meetings capable of video conferencing several participants
For larger gatherings, the platform included a boardroom feature as well. Attendees “dropping by” a showcase were also presented with a badge scan button that instantly collected their professional information for transmission to an exhibitor’s contact report. Exhibitors made use of all those options to varying degrees (see “What SEMA360 Taught Us,” p. 28).
They could also invite media to their showcases through the site’s Media Center, which included a press-release repository as well as online press conferencing.
Beyond their own showcase pages, manufacturers got to nurture existing business relationships and forge new ones through the New Products and Builder Showcases, which provided companies with additional resources to highlight their parts and services while displaying them on real-life vehicles. According to event organizers, both features proved popular in driving traffic back to manufacturers through hot links to the brands and items arrayed online—and exhibitors made enthusiastic use of the showcases.
“We featured several new products that we have just released as well as a preview of what we’ll be introducing in the weeks to come,” said Russell Stephens, PerTronix Performance Brands vice president of sales and marketing. “Our goal was to educate SEMA360 attendees on how we’re innovating and get our new products into distribution with our channel partners. We were excited to be part of this inaugural virtual experience and see it as a valuable platform to reach people who may not always be on hand at a live event.”
Going into SEMA Week, Rob Anderson, marketing and creative director for Maxxsonics, echoed that strategy.
“Since in-person trade shows aren’t possible this year, SEMA360 provided the community with a perfect solution to bring all of the excitement and business opportunities to a virtual platform experience,” he said. “Our goal for the week was to showcase our new-product offerings for 2021, be able to network and connect with established and new business contacts, provide an opportunity for roundtable discussions for our audio products, and showcase some awesome custom vehicle builds.”
Awards, Achievements and Recognitions
Along with networking and manufacturer-buyer connections, industry awards and recognitions are highlights of SEMA Week, and that tradition held strong with SEMA360 for 2020. The pinnacle was the 2020 SEMA Awards Ceremony, which premiered online at the SEMA YouTube Channel on Thursday evening, November 5.
Emcee’d by automotive media personalities Jarrod DeAnda and Kevin Oeste and featuring a musical band, the event honored the past year’s SEMA Hall of Fame inductees along with winners of the association’s Gen-III Innovator of the Year, Manufacturer of the Year, Person of the Year, and Chairman’s Service awards. (See “Innovation and Excellence,” on p. 32.)
The eighth annual SEMA Launch Pad, presented by the SEMA Young Executives Network, also moved online to SEMA360, with Roland Hence named the winner on Monday, November 2. Since 2013, the Launch Pad program has given young entrepreneurs, students and business owners age 18–39 an opportunity to launch their products into the $46.2 billion automotive aftermarket. The program teaches participants new business strategies to develop, market and boost their automotive products or services.
Hence’s winning product, the Impulse—Emergency Brake Light, is a wireless, battery-powered emergency brake light that reduces rear-end collisions by pulsing eight ultra-bright LEDs under extreme braking situations to alert a following driver up to 50% quicker. The light can be installed in seconds on any passenger vehicle with a standard back windshield, and it has a four-year battery life.
“As an entrepreneur, you dream about this moment,” Hence said. “I am incredibly proud of my team and grateful to SEMA for the platform to showcase our hard work and life-saving product. I hope that with this incredible result we can take a meaningful step toward reducing rear-end crashes.”
SEMA360 also headlined the industry’s top vehicle builders through the annual SEMA Battle of the Builders challenge, which concluded Friday, November 6, when Brady Ranweiler was named the competition’s winner. Per competition rules, the Top 12 finalists performed the judging duties, rating their peers on the quality of their builds.
The top four finalists for 2020 were narrowed down just prior to the announcement of the winner and included Ranweiler and his ’63 Chevrolet full custom two-door wagon (from the Hot Rod category), Mark Giambalvo and his ’65 Chevrolet C10 (Truck/Off-Road), Chip Foose and his ’74 Jaguar E-Type (Sport Compact), and Young Guns winner Cody Medeisis with his ’68 Chevrolet Camaro. This marks the first time in the seven-year history of the competition that a wagon has taken home the title.
The 2020 competition included more than 330 submissions from a global pool of talented builders. They represented the best of the best, showcasing their extreme talent, creativity and craftsmanship in modifying cars, trucks and SUVs. The Young Guns category (builders 27 years and younger) remained a fan favorite and spotlighted next-generation builders eager to show off their work.
The four finalists of this year’s competition will be highlighted along with other featured builders in a nationally television special airing in 2021. The TV special, “SEMA: Battle of the Builders,” is scheduled to air on A+E Networks’ “FYI” and History channel’s “Drive” block in January 2021 (time and date to be announced).
Moving the Industry Forward
While a definite departure from a live event, SEMA360 sought to gather iconic and newcomer brands alike in a trade environment conducive to business during unprecedented times—and many embraced the opportunity.
“Keystone Automotive Operations has a long history with SEMA, going all the way back to the early days, and we were excited to be a part of SEMA360, which went a long way to helping us stay connected in this evolving space,” said Andrew Morgan, Keystone Automotive operations category director for truck and off-road. “In these challenging times, we have to be flexible and adapt, and we are very thankful SEMA found a way to help bring the industry together.”
Amy Fitzgerald, owner of Cool Hand Customs, similarly saw the need for the digital marketplace that SEMA360 provided.
“The ability to connect with others in the industry this year was more important than it has ever been,” she said. “With the education seminars and all the virtual opportunities it offered, SEMA360 was an invaluable resource this year for all of us who make not only our careers but our lives in this industry.”
Summarizing the event, Gattuso said that SEMA360 was a learning experience for both SEMA planners and participants alike. To that end, SEMA’s Show department will be carefully evaluating the platform’s most popular features along with elements that can be expanded or improved upon going forward.
“The New Products Showcase received high praise, as we expected it might,” Gattuso said. “However, the networking and serendipitous conversations that took place on SEMA360 were a big bonus for many of our members. We were very pleased with the industry support, and November provided us with a unique chance to test-drive the concept of a virtual event and see the benefits. It will be a natural progression to explore the concept as an adjacent element to an in-person Show. When you think of what we do in Las Vegas from a content-creation standpoint, it makes me excited to research the potential of connecting that to a global audience. It could move the industry forward to a scale we’ve never seen before.”