SEMA News—May 2022


Grow Your Bottom Line

Export to the Underserved Global Market

By Linda Spencer


SEMA has hosted 24 overseas business-development trips, including nine to the Middle East. Other venues include China and Australia. Pictured here is a participant on the 2019 SEMA Middle East trip exhibiting at Custom Show Emirates.

The U.S. government estimates that less than 1% of U.S. small businesses currently export, even though there’s a huge demand for high-quality American-made products. SEMA members appear to fare better as a percentage of those that engage in exporting, yet many overseas markets are still underserved and are eager to connect with and do business with executives of SEMA-member companies.

SEMA has created year-round programming to help U.S. manufacturers forge relationships with those overseas trade buyers. The various programs seek to address the four main hurdles members tell us they face because their international sales/marketing staff is typically a very small operation or the CEO or national sales and marketing teams are tasked with also handling the global markets. The challenges include how to identify promising overseas markets; how to meet trade buyers; access to vehicles popularly customized outside the United States but not in the United States for measuring purposes and to create product; and managing the costs associated with those various tasks, let alone the time needed to research and access the above resources.

Countless studies have shown that exporters outperform non-exporters in terms of wages, productivity and innovation and also provide a needed diversity of revenue streams during economic downturns. SEMA therefore set out to create affordable programs that make exporting attainable for a greater number of SEMA-member companies based in the United States.

To date, SEMA has organized two dozen overseas business-development programs to markets that include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Australia. More than 200 U.S. companies have participated in one or more of these trade missions. They provide low-cost programs to key global markets to meet with pre-vetted buyers and have reported export sales of more than $163 million (with each Market Development Cooperator Program recipient reporting for the 12 months following the receipt of a grant; see below).

In another popular program, SEMA has imported eight vehicles to allow member companies to create product for platforms that global enthusiasts drive, including the Toyota HiLux, the Australian version of the Ford Ranger, the Middle East-centric Nissan Patrol Safari (Y61), and the Mitsubishi L200. While vehicle platforms have been converging globally in recent years, these are several examples of vehicles that those based in the United States have difficulty gaining access to in order to provide a wide range of products abroad.

The largest-based international networking activities SEMA hosts are actually in the United States and are connected with the SEMA Show. The now-famous Monday international roundtables are held during SEMA Show week. They bring together hundreds of international buyers and exhibitors for lively and informative discussions and networking opportunities even before the SEMA Show opens its doors the following morning. The regions covered include the Middle East, Latin America and Australia. The latest (planned for the 2022 SEMA Show) is Europe.


Connecting with international buyers at the SEMA Show’s International Happy Hour.

International buyers and exhibitors gather again later in the week for the 20-year-old International Happy Hour, bringing together 1,000 exhibitors, international buyers and global media to celebrate the worldwide automotive specialty market. Representatives from more than 140 countries typically attend the SEMA Show and represent one in five buyers at the annual event.

Actively exporting SEMA members know that being successful takes a commitment of knowledge, time, money and resources. SEMA has a very successful partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. To date, SEMA has been awarded $1.1 million in Market Development Cooperator Program grants. Having the financial and technical support of the International Trade Administration significantly aids in providing the industry with programs and services made even more affordable with grants to defray the cost of participating in export programs.

QRFor more information on the SEMA international business development programs, contact

SEMA members that seek to expand their bottom lines with overseas sales are encouraged to take advantage of the association’s international resources. More information is available at

QRTo learn more about the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration resources and programs, visit

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