Reconnecting at the SEMA Show
Prepare to Do Business With These Quick Networking Tips for Exhibitors, Attendees, Builders and Media
By Mike Imlay
The buzz is palpable. Momentum is building for the 2021 SEMA Show. Slated for November 2–5 in the newly expanded Las Vegas Convention Center, the Show marks the return of SEMA’s in-person trade events—and it’s that opportunity for live, face-to-face connection and networking that has the industry talking.
“We’ve gotten stronger support for the Show in a shorter period of time than we’ve ever seen before,” said SEMA Vice President of Events Tom Gattuso. “It’s clear that the industry is eager to reconnect after last year’s unprecedented disruptions. Aftermarket businesses of all types and sizes are seeing the 2021 SEMA Show as an opportunity to share what they’ve learned and showcase the new products and innovations that they’ve developed since the last live SEMA Show. It’s going to be an exciting milestone as the industry turns the corner and advances into 2022 and beyond.”
Of course, the world has changed since the last SEMA Show in 2019, and so has the specialty-equipment industry. The COVID-induced economic shutdown forced the aftermarket to innovate and improvise in unexpected ways. Zoom calls temporarily replaced face-to-face B2B conversations. New-product launches went online. Supply chains forged new links. And businesses of all types discovered novel methods to engage their customers. Most of all, the absence of live industry gatherings left a vacuum felt by all.
Now that the world’s premier automotive trade event is back bigger and better than ever, how can Showgoers best reconnect in this changed environment? SEMA News turned to Gattuso for some expert tips ahead of the Show. Our Q&A interview follows, edited for clarity and conciseness.
SEMA News: Anticipation is already running high for the 2021 SEMA Show. How is the event shaping up?
Tom Gattuso: I would say the two strongest indicators that we track on a daily basis are registration and our hotel saturation. Usually those two factors go hand in hand. We’re seeing really strong support for both, which leads us to believe that we’re going to have a very good Show in November. But almost as important as those metrics are the anecdotal stories that we’re hearing from buyers in the industry, the media and our exhibitors. People really do want to reconnect at the SEMA Show in November, and they’re positioning their businesses and 2022 planning around Show week. We’re really looking forward to how that’s going to manifest itself in the environment that
SN: Obviously, in a trade arena of this size and scope, there’s going to be a lot of catching up on what’s happened in the last year.
TG: Yes, it’s only natural, given that our Show participants haven’t seen each other for a prolonged period. There’s going to be a greater propensity for people to share what they’ve been through than we’ve ever had in our SEMA Show history. Understanding that, we’re working to deliver a trade-focused event that facilitates business-to-business connections, builds on the pent-up enthusiasm people are experiencing, and positions the industry for growth. There’s a real opportunity to leverage all that and learn.
We’re hoping that Showgoers will pull out the business-value tidbits as they gather and share their stories. What did your business learn in the two years since the last SEMA Show? How has it transformed or changed? This is a chance to share your business’s progress while catching up on the latest trends. If you come away having seen how companies were able to thrive, change or adapt their business models, that can only help your business in the long run. The goal is to tap into that shared industry knowledge to help the whole marketplace evolve.
SN: It’s been two years since the last live SEMA Show. What can we expect to see with the Show’s return?
TG: The Show floor is going to be packed with what the next 12 to 36 months are going to look like for our industry. You’ll see it in the new products and branding that hundreds of companies will showcase. It will be interesting to have a foot in what happened over the past two years but then another foot in what’s going to happen for the next three. As we see how we’ve all come through this historic pandemic experience and how much stronger we can be because of it, that’s going to energize people. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out among exhibitors and attendees in each of the many Show sections.
SN: With that in mind, do you have any networking tips for participants, starting with exhibitors?
TG: For an exhibitor, I would recommend a couple of things. First is to make sure that you’re doing pre-event marketing. Letting people know that you’re going to be at the Show helps create momentum and, ultimately, success there on the Show floor. The other thing I’d recommend is practicing your booth conversations. Create 30-sec., 1-min., 5-min. and 10-min. pitches.
Outline in your head how you want to catch up with people. If it’s a customer you haven’t talked to in a long time, it might be one conversation. If it’s a customer you do business with on a regular basis but just haven’t seen in person, that’s a different conversation. But practice those conversations ahead of time so that when you get to the Show floor, you can target them to benefit your customers.
Finally, time at the Show is going to be especially valuable this year because people will be having so many more conversations than in years past. You’ll want to take customers down a path of how your company has evolved over the past two years, what new products you’re working on, and how you’ll reconnect with them following the Show.
SN: Now let’s say I’m a buyer. It’s a bigger Show than ever with the new West Hall opening and many other new features. What can I do to maximize my Show experience?
TG: For buyers, it also begins with some pre-Show planning. First, you’ll want to outline what your current customers are looking for. Next, you’ll want to take a good look at your business and outline what you’re good at. Then you can research the companies that can help you succeed. When you get on-site, you’ll want to prioritize those companies. When you visit their booths, ask about the new products they’re offering and what they plan to do business-wise in the coming three years.
Of course, you’ll also want to schedule time to walk the floor without an agenda. View it as a serendipitous exploration of what’s happening in the industry, from the New Products Showcase to the many feature areas we’ve assembled throughout the Show. You’ll likely find new companies that you didn’t know of before, with products or services that can help your business evolve. Again, you’ll also want to develop a post-event strategy for following up over the next six months, 12 months and three years so you can take what you’ve discovered to the next level.
SN: This year’s SEMA Show will also offer some great reconnections with builders. Would you like to comment on that?
TG: The interesting thing is how the industry and the marketplace reacted to the past year’s events. Some portions of it thrived like never before, but other portions were heavily impacted. The builders were the mortar between the bricks. They’ve had customer vehicles that they’ve been building and manufacturers that they’ve been sourcing parts from. They’ve helped tie everything together and keep aftermarket enthusiasts engaged. It’s going to be energizing to see what trends have emerged from that. Again, it’s been two years since our last live Show, so we’re going to see an evolution happening right before our eyes on the 2021 Show floor.
SN: We’re already seeing a lot of media buzz surrounding the Show. Do you have any tips for industry news gatherers and content creators?
TG: For the media, there’s going to be a lot of product development that’s taken place over the past 18 months. Some companies haven’t introduced these products to the marketplace yet. That’s one of the magical things about a live event. You can see all the innovation up close as you walk the aisles.
As for media networking, we’ve anchored the Show with proven opportunities such as our Monday Reveal and our Thursday-night SEMA Industry Awards Banquet. There’s also our New Products Showcase and many outdoor features where you can see the products put to practical use. The media definitely will want to take advantage of those events.
I’d also recommend that media reps set aside some discovery time. Try a networking event that you’ve never been a part of—maybe a SEMA council gathering, a buyer event or a manufacturer after-party. Media audiences have a pent-up demand for content. There will be lots of opportunities for the media to deliver what’s new, cool and trending.
››› The industry has changed a lot since it last gathered in 2019, and so has the SEMA Show, which is back bigger and better than ever for 2021. With the excitement building, now is the time to strategize how you’ll reconnect.
What 2021 SEMA Show Exhibitors Are Saying
With the 2021 SEMA Show fast approaching, exhibitors and attendees alike are already sharing their enthusiasm and plans for reconnecting in-person with the industry.
“SEMA is the place to showcase what is new within the industry, which creates excitement and enthusiasm,” said Kristen Damberger, Cometic Gasket director of promotions, advanced. “As an exhibitor, we want to fuel that fire. We want to be a part of that energy. Like many companies in our industry, we are unexpectedly busy, and our time at home has allowed us to evaluate processes and equipment. We are excited to share our plan and commitment to getting a quality product out the door on time.”
Damberger said that, having solidified its big-block Chevy gasket line, the company is now taking on modern muscle. It plans to showcase its StreetPro top-end and bottom-end gasket kits for the Ford 5.0L Coyote and Chrysler 6.4L Hemi Apache engines at the Show.
E3 Spark Plugs Vice President for Motorsports Bob Fisher expressed his company’s anticipation as well.
“For one thing, we almost always get excited for the SEMA Show,” he said. “It’s a great place to do business and very often sets the tone for the coming year. Last year’s cancellation only amplified our enthusiasm to get back to Vegas and to get back to business in person.”
Fisher noted that the E3 brand recently launched a new line of ultra-lightweight lithium batteries for powersports, automotive and racing applications.
“Originally, these batteries would have been showcased at the 2020 SEMA Show, but since it was canceled, we will naturally showcase them at the 2021 SEMA Show so that our customers and the industry in general can see them firsthand,” he said.
From the SEMA Show’s annual Monday-night Reveal Party to its Thursday-night Industry Awards Banquet and the annual SEMA Ignited after-party, the SEMA Show delivers an unmatched week of industry camaraderie and networking. In fact, you’ll also find numerous SEMA council events, international events, education tracks and more throughout the Show, all tailored to reconnect you with the industry and grow your business. For more information about these and other Show opportunities, visit