The domestic and global economic crisis offered 2008 SEMA Show exhibitors and attendees at least one small benefit: it kept the "tire kickers" at home. Industry slang for those attendees not interested in buying, tire kickers decided that their efforts in previous years (including elaborate schemes to sneak into the Show) weren’t worth it this year. The result: a concentration of more qualified and interested buyers.
SEMA has taken several steps in recent years to protect the Show's purpose of connecting buyers and sellers. These include assigning "alumni numbers" to qualified attendees, and heightened screening of the application process. These and other safeguards paid dividends to the Show's more than 1,900 exhibitors.
"Going into the Show, I figured I'd be selling parts to the gang in the booth next to us," says L.J. Lobsinger Jr., national sales manager for Specialty Auto Parts USA. "We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, and it was truly a quality-versus-quantity show, as we met with nearly every important buyer on the books."
Lobsinger also noted the general optimism of buyers and attendees, particularly a day after the general election and regardless of poor earnings reports announced by GM and Ford.
"This industry will always show resiliency. No matter what GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Tata and so on build, the aftermarket will create something to make those cars and trucks look better and go faster."
The Show also provided exceptional value to first-time exhibitors, even those off the usual specialty-equipment path.
"As a small company, this exposure gave us numerous contacts with industry vendors, current and future customers, magazine editors and other equipment and product manufacturing companies that could help us in our own manufacturing processes," says Ethan Olmstead of Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems, a company that produces conversion kits allowing diesel autos to run on waste vegetable oil.
"SEMA was not only the best organized and most well-attended exhibition we have attended, but also the most positive and promising for the company as well."
Despite the bailouts and belt-tightening, despite the market's dependence on discretionary income and despite the dour news of slowing auto sales, the specialty-equipment industry demonstrated its confidence and foresight.
"Attracting more than 100,000 attendees was remarkable under the circumstances of a difficult year,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting. “Each year the Show brings new challenges and the industry showed that it has the confidence and desire to overcome a tough stretch of road. Those who exhibited have positioned their products well for when the market comes back to full strength.”