The 2022 SEMA Show
With Industry Expectations Running High, What Can We Look Forward to in Las Vegas?
By Mike Imlay
For the specialty aftermarket, the annual SEMA Show remains the number-one trade event in the world. After a highly successful return to Las Vegas in 2021, plans are underway for the 2022 Show, slated for November 1–4 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
After a year’s hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the annual SEMA Show made a much-heralded return to Las Vegas in 2021. Despite the challenges of putting on a trade event amid the pandemic’s waning months, the 2021 SEMA Show proved incredibly successful. It ended up ranking among the top U.S. trade shows held last year.
With that achievement, expectations are again running high for the upcoming 2022 SEMA Show, slated for November 1–4, at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). For an insider glimpse at the planning and growing momentum for this year’s event, SEMA News turned to SEMA Vice President of Events Tom Gattuso. The following is our interview, edited for clarity and conciseness.
SEMA News: The 2021 SEMA Show was historic in many ways, including a return to Las Vegas after COVID-19, an expansion into the LVCC’s new West Hall, and many other milestones. How does that set the stage or even raise expectations for the 2022 Show?
Tom Gattuso: I think the key takeaway is the great industry support we saw in 2021. We anticipate that the momentum created during that unique year is going to continue and really propel the Show forward this November. That goes across the board, ranging from the attendance of the buyer participants to the attendance of the exhibitor participants, the amount and level of feature vehicle builds, and all the Show features that are going to be in and around the LVCC. There’s not one aspect of the 2022 Show that isn’t going to benefit from the momentum that was created in 2021.
SN: From even casual observances, it seemed that a lot of business got done on the Show floor last year.
TG: We can say that for sure. Although the number of participants was down compared to previous years, the ratio of qualified buyers to exhibitors was at an all-time high. That resulted in a lot of really good interactions on the Show floor, which really helped those who attended to forge new business opportunities for 2022.
We have also heard from a lot of businesses that could not attend due to COVID last year. They said that the success of last year’s event has definitely added to their enthusiasm for this year. They don’t want to miss it.
This underscores the benefit of live trade events. We were fortunate in that last year’s SEMA Show was one of the largest trade shows to take place since the pandemic started in March 2020. People need to interact. Plus, from a business standpoint, there’s an instantaneous return on investment in terms of the conversations, networking and camaraderie that take place. At the end of the day, we saw firsthand that there’s no substitute for gathering the industry together to experience new products and innovations while also sharing the knowledge and passion that will propel the industry into the future.
SN: How is the Show floor shaping up for 2022? And how will the Show build on its growth into the new West Hall and its expanded footprint throughout the LVCC?
TG: There’s no doubt that the pandemic left us with some rebuilding to do. However, we’re now coming off a very successful space allocation in which almost 2,000 companies picked their 2022 exhibit spaces. Our floorplan is really coming together for probably one of the best Shows we’ve ever had.
I would say that last year’s expansion was also an investment in improved traffic flow and moving people throughout the campus. There’s now a more logical flow between different Show sections and features as well as room for further growth.
We also got to observe a lot about where people are going on the convention center campus, how they’re getting there, and what their user experiences are like. We’re learning from those observations and making changes for the future. For example, our wider aisles and buyer lounges were new and successful Show aspects last year that we now expect to be around for years to come.
SN: With the Show’s exhibitor base now congealing, what’s your message to potential attendees? What is the Show’s value proposition for buyers?
TG: We recognize that there has been a huge shift in our marketplace’s work paradigm. A lot of buyers who attend our Show will be in new or expanded roles within their organizations. The business and networking conversations that take place on the 2022 Show floor will likely be extremely beneficial for both their business and career development. As our industry gets back to its full capacity, there’s a higher-than-ever need to meet in person to make your upcoming year truly productive and profitable.
Meanwhile, we continue to refine our education offerings. We have an expanded lineup this year that will address many facets of business growth and career advancement, and our annual Battle of the Builders competition will have some new surprises too. We’re proud of the recognition, development and business opportunities which that program has brought to our industry’s builder community.
Last year, we also had a number of motorsports features and vehicle-capability demonstrations that really resonated with attendees. The brands and people involved in those features were impressed with the response and want to return and even evolve those features. We have new companies promising to bring similar excitement as well.
As Show organizers, it’s our job to mirror the trends taking place within the industry. You’ll see this in our growing electrification and overlanding features. Incidentally, while the media is especially excited about vehicle electrification, we aren’t ignoring other alternative-energy solutions coming onto the scene. For example, hydrogen platforms were, and will continue to be, represented as well.
Of course, the industry is still bringing significant developments to the internal-combustion engine to refine and improve its performance, so it goes without saying that the excitement around current, mainstream platforms and products is a key focus. We’re presenting all of these trends to our industry so that Show participants can start to think about the new solutions that these advances can evoke.
If anything, the recent pandemic proved that the need for live, in-person trade events is stronger than ever. At the 2021 SEMA Show, the ratio of qualified buyers to exhibitors was at an all-time high, building anticipation for even more quality Show-floor interactions in 2022.
SN: Along those lines, what can we expect to see from the big vehicle manufacturers this year?
TG: Without giving away too much, I can say that we’ve got great support from our OEM participants, and we’re working closely with them to continue to develop new event opportunities. We’re aware that future trends will require close alignment between vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket parts manufacturers in developing specialty products for their vehicles.
Our Show isn’t simply about seeing new products and trends—it’s also about forming relationships. In the OEM realm, these relationships have put the industry in a really good place.
The SEMA Show’s OEM relationships also tie into the association’s many other vehicle technology initiatives, such as the new SEMA Garage in Detroit with its ADAS [advanced driver-assistance systems] Research Center and vehicle measuring sessions and our Tech Transfer programs at both the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California, and the new Detroit facility.
SN: Finally, speaking of trends and relationships, the New Products Showcase is always a popular attendee stop. Would you like to touch on that Show feature?
TG: Definitely. Whether pre- or post-COVID, the main reason most people attend the SEMA Show is to find new products and identify new trends. Product research and development didn’t end during COVID. For example, we saw more ADAS products in 2021 than ever before in our New Products Showcase, and we expect that trend to continue, along with many other pushes toward modernization.
We’re going to continue to make it very easy for companies to showcase their products this year. We want to celebrate their innovation and provide a format for the continuation of that R&D.
Ultimately, the SEMA Show is the number-one place to see the mix of the latest and emerging technologies and meet and talk with the people advancing them. We’re connecting the dots between the brands, buyers, media and the innovations that are reshaping our industry. The next two decades are going to be transformational for the industry, and we’re happy to help foster and showcase the breadth of that change.
Don’t Miss Out!
For the specialty aftermarket, the SEMA Show offers an experience like no other trade show on the planet. Slated for November 1–4, in Las Vegas, it’s the best place to see thousands of the newest automotive performance products from 1,800 new and iconic exhibitors, discover the latest product and vehicle trends, and develop essential skills by attending any one of the more than 70 free education sessions led by top industry professionals. To register, go to www.SEMAShow.com.