Connecting for Business
Six Things Successful Buyers Do at the SEMA Show (Plus a Few Bonus Tips)
By Mike Imlay
For thousands of industry buyers, the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas constitutes a prime investment in business growth. Knowing how to successfully make and leverage Show connections will maximize your return on that investment.
There’s a reason specialty automotive buyers make the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas a top priority. When it comes to business growth, there is no other single place or event that delivers so much bang for the buck. Given that buyers put so much into the Show each year, how do they maximize their return on investment? It’s all about “connecting for success,” answers Tom Gattuso, SEMA vice president of events.
“The SEMA Show is all about the connections that take place both on and off the Show floor,” Gattuso explained. “To be really successful, you’ll want to work to identify these opportunities, be cognizant when they arise, and leverage them to your advantage. Remember that successful business connections always start with a basic conversation, and that simple conversation can evolve into multiple opportunities.”
The 2022 SEMA Show returns November 1–-4 at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). With the event upon us, here are six proven “connection best practices” that successful buyers employ at the Show.
1. They Arrive With a Goal-Oriented Game Plan
Arriving at the SEMA Show with an itinerary and goals in hand may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many attendees skip this basic step. First off, your plan should take into account transportation, which will save you time, hassle and stress.
There are a variety of pre-Show materials to help identify features, events and exhibitors you will want to see. They include the official SEMA Show website
(www.SEMAshow.com), the SEMA News Show Preview and the 2022 SEMA Show app. Using them, build out a thoughtful schedule for yourself and a logical route to each of your Show destinations.
“Buyers are best served when they come up with a pre-Show plan for who they want to see and where they want to go throughout the event. And this is the time to be selfish. This is where you want to invest your efforts and what you want to get out of the Show. Target what will benefit you and how it will help increase your business,” said Gattuso.
2. They’re Flexible, Open and Ready With Questions
With your game plan in hand, hit the Las Vegas Convention Center, starting with your Show priorities, but stay flexible. You don’t want to be so single-minded that you miss the opportunities that can spring up literally anywhere at the SEMA Show.
“You’re going to have conversations all throughout the Show floor, and not just in the exhibitor booths. Those conversations could be buyer to buyer, buyer to exhibitor, or even exhibitor to exhibitor because there’s so much that’s being discussed that week,” Gattuso observed.
Most of those discussions will revolve around two central themes: the industry innovations now taking place and what the future will look like. According to Gattuso, “A buyer will want to prepare himself or herself for as many of these discussions and connections as possible, because they’re going to help his or her business in the long run.”
Remember that a good way to break the ice at a busy booth is to simply introduce yourself and lead with some questions. “Don’t feel shy about approaching even a crowded space and asking or probing whether an exhibitor has a product or service that can help your business. That’s what everyone is here for. We all want to make connections,” said Gattuso.
Following up on leads after the Show is also paramount, even with people not directly related to your business. That’s because the most successful businesses build a broad network of industry contacts they can not only do business with, but learn from.
“What starts as a conversation on the Show floor needs to continue with a followup down the road,” Gattuso asserted. “The Show isn’t the end in itself. The SEMA Show is ideally the start of what hopefully will be long relationships with everyone you meet.”
3. They Network and Educate Themselves
Networking isn’t just about buying, selling and cementing deals. It’s about gaining the knowledge needed to help your business grow. That’s why attending seminars, panel discussions, Brew Talks and other educational activities are also among the hallmarks of successful buyers.
“Our Show education tracks and seminars draw people with similar interests and needs. When you go to an education session, it’s because you’re interested in the specific content that a speaker is presenting. That means you’re also literally surrounded by people that are in the same situation as you. That creates the perfect environment for conversations about the many other things you have in common. Discussing those commonalities—as well as differences—can move everyone’s business forward.
“Building a relationship with somebody who’s at a similar stage in their business or on a similar path in their career can lead to insights that will help you both down the road,” Gattuso continued. He added that the 2022 SEMA Education program has been redesigned with more immersive learning opportunities to promote attendee interaction and discussion. Ultimately, the aim is to arm participants with “actionable” knowledge.
“We have been working hard to redefine the model of what trade-show education can be,” explained Gattuso. “We’re creating learning environments where people can be comfortable asking questions, sharing information and meeting colleagues. This year there will be more opportunities than ever for group participation in all of our education events.”
4. They Share in the Industry Passion
The specialty automotive industry’s passion for performance and innovation permeates every square foot of the SEMA Show. But successful buyers don’t simply observe it; they immerse themselves in it. And that immersion includes attendance at a variety of networking events.
“We build specific programming into the Show that’s targeted to every industry segment and interest,” noted Gattuso. “Networking events are opportunities to meet like-minded business people, share best practices, discover new trends and exchange information. We believe that when the industry shares its passion and grows collectively, everyone prospers.”
Many of the Show’s events evolve around awards and special presentations (see sidebar: “Four Bonus Tips” on p. 70. But SEMA’s nine councils and networks also host numerous receptions and events throughout Show week. The gatherings are great opportunities to learn how ongoing trade-association involvement can increase your industry knowledge, expand your professional network, gain access to year-round SEMA resources and benefits, and effect real change in the industry. (Be sure to consult Show guides for SEMA council and network events and schedules.)
But networking isn’t confined to the Show halls and events. Many business collaborations are launched through after-hours “napkin conversations” inspired by Show experiences throughout the week.
As Gattuso put it, “The passion and progression of ideas never stop. They’re always top of mind for exhibitors, attendees and media alike. So don’t be surprised when you find yourself at an after-hours gathering talking with someone about an idea and seeing it evolve further.
“For a lot of Show participants, everything starts with a simple conversation and congeals the rest of the week and in the months following our event. So making use of the Show to initiate as many conversations as possible only increases your chances of growth and success.”
5. They Change Things Up
Because the SEMA Show is an established trade event with a 50-plus year history, it’s easy to take exhibits and features for granted and settle into an annual routine. But don’t.
“You never want to do the same thing that you did the year before, because we’re constantly evolving,” said Gattuso. “Every year is a big year for the Show. Each SEMA Show is like a new building block stacked on the one prior. Every year presents new opportunities, and every Show is unique. There are always new developments, new advancements, new connections and new products to see and talk about.”
The New Products Showcase is an essential stop for buyers. It offers an extensive array of products representing every industry niche. Items are scannable to your mobile device via the SEMA Show app to lead you directly to exhibitors.
To truly connect with the Show, you’ll want to stay abreast of breaking announcements through the previously mentioned Show publications, website, app and related SEMA media. Change up your routine and seek out new exhibitors, tech demonstrations, and Show features and sections. Two examples this year include a new section devoted to advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) technologies and an expanded SEMA Electrified section focused on EV trends. There will also be two new New Products Showcase categories and awards reflecting those ADAS and electrification
“The important thing is the industry is never stagnant—it’s constantly changing. And our Show’s exhibitors, attendees and media representative are the ones pushing the industry’s products and messaging forward. That’s what you want to connect with and be a part of,” said Gattuso.
6. They Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
This can’t be stressed enough: The most successful attendees follow up on the Show discussions they’ve had and with the contacts they’ve made.
“It’s easy for attendees to return to their businesses after Show week, feel the need to ‘catch up’ and then find themselves falling back into all their usual tasks,” conceded Gattuso. “That’s why having a follow-up plan is as important as drawing up a pre-Show game plan.”
That follow-up plan should include how you will collect, organize and track leads during and after the Show. (Hint: one of the best ways is to use the free SEMA Show app, which will allow you to log and retrieve your leads as well as any vehicle, company and product information you scanned at the event.) As a focused, diligent buyer, you’ll likely return home with a host of leads to pursue right away, but don’t stop there.
“I always advise buyers to not only reconnect with their contacts as soon as possible, but at six-month, 12-month and three-year intervals as well. Make it an ongoing dialogue. You’ve invested a lot in the Show. In the end, those continued industry connections will maximize the return on that investment,” said Gattuso.
Four Bonus Tips: Show Features That Build Connections
The following are quick rundowns of several key Show features designed to help you connect and grow your business. Consult Show guides and the 2022 SEMA Show app for details, locations and times.
1. The New Products Showcase: This is often the first stop for buyers when they get to the Show. Each year the Showcase displays more than 2,000 new and featured products from manufacturers representing every industry segment. Occupying 30,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space for 2022, it’s a window into what’s trending. More importantly, each product is scannable to the SEMA Show app on your mobile device, making it easy to add the exhibitor to your itinerary.
2. Feature Vehicles: The SEMA Show is renowned for the exciting parts and accessories displayed on Show vehicles representing every industry niche, from cars and trucks to powersports. More than rolling works of art, the vehicles display real-life applications of the aftermarket’s latest and most impressive products. Located throughout the LVCC, the display vehicles are also scannable with the SEMA Show app, connecting Showgoers with the brands and products used in the builds.
3. Demonstrations and Dedicated Show Areas: The beauty of aftermarket products is their ability to unleash vehicle performance. Activation areas throughout the Show, and especially out front of the LVCC, offer thrilling demos of the industry’s products in action. In addition, the 2022 Show will again present the Overland Experience and SEMA Electrified, along with other special sections dedicated to popular trends and emerging vehicle technologies, including advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
4. Show Banquets, Awards and Special Events: Special events are prime opportunities for networking, trendspotting and discovering new products and exhibitors. Some favorites include the Monday Night Reveal, featuring food and entertainment and vehicle teasers, along with the SEMA Show Kickoff Breakfast on Tuesday morning featuring the Show’s New Products Awards.
Throughout Show week, there are multiple events for SEMA Launch Pad, which highlights industry entrepreneurs seeking to bring new innovations to market. The SEMA Battle of The Builders (BOTB) competition also runs throughout the Show to spotlight cutting-edge industry builders and the products they use.
Wednesday evening, the International Happy Hour, which honors Global Media Award recipients, is also popular with buyers scouting products with international appeal. Then Thursday night’s SEMA Industry Awards Banquet offers yet another key networking opportunity, especially at the reception beforehand.
On Friday, the annual SEMA Cruise closes out the Show, followed by SEMA Ignited, the official SEMA Show after-party, where the BOTB winner is crowned.
Connect for Success Get the Show App
Once you’ve registered, be sure to start your pre-event planning with the 2022 SEMA Show app, available for free download at your mobile device’s native app store. The app includes a product scanner, maps, scheduling and turn-by-turn direction features, along with exhibitor and event lookups, transportation information and feeds from official SEMA Show social-media channels.
If you haven’t already registered for the 2022 SEMA Show, November 1–4, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, now is the time to start the connections. For information and registration, go to www.SEMAshow.com.