Half a decade ago the SEMA Show was less than a blip on the collision repair industry's radar. Those days are long gone as the Show continues to solidify its standing as the premier event for the industry, with filled aisles, packed booths, a burgeoning number of collision-repair-related industries on the Show floor, and an infectious energy that collision repairers just can't seem to resist.
"From our vantage point in the booth, you can't help but notice the enthusiasm of the collision repair customers walking the aisles," said Brian Shenk, director of marketing services for Sherman-Williams Automotive Finishes. "I thinks it's because the Show is infused with the colorful, cool fun of the custom car segment, which carries over to collision repair participants. Two years ago we moved our booth to the North Hall, home to the collision repair section, and we haven't looked back since. Having a presence here has really paid off, and our custom paint group is totally on board, as well."
The SEMA Show is attracting increasing numbers of collision repairers and exhibitors for a variety of practical reasons, too. At the top of the list is the search for alternative revenue streams, as more and more collision repairers understand the need to think out of the box when considering products and services that can increase their bottom line. At the Show, they get exposure to these kinds of options, like customization and specialty paint work that often can be accomplished with a collision repairer's existing tools. Vendors of products and services that align with a repairer's core work, such as those related to mechanical repair, are also well represented at the SEMA Show.
"Repairers that keep their eyes open to opportunity can walk the aisles of the Show and get any number of ideas to diversify their businesses," said Frank Terlep, owner of Summit Software Solutions Inc. "Reduced claims and increased consolidation are dictating that repairers refine their business model; this is the place to get inspired to do it. Just this afternoon I saw a vendor selling aftermarket collision avoidance systems, and another selling backup cameras. These products are ideal complements to the services repairers already provide."
Jonathan Barrick, marketing manager for Global Finishing Solutions, has similar feelings. "Basically collision repair owners and managers can come to this Show and find everything they need to improve their business," he stated. "This includes the quality educational material that SCRS provides and promotes through Repairer Driven Education (RDE). Our company likes being here because the attendees seem so open to learning about new products. That makes the SEMA Show the perfect place to illustrate what our company is all about. It's a venue that allows us to show our personality and make a good brand impression. We've increased our booth space every year."
The benefits of expanded markets resonate throughout the exhibitor side, as well. "Our company has been coming to this Show for many years," noted PPG Senior Manager Business Solutions/Industry Relations Domenic Brusco, "primarily as a well-received provider of custom finishes for hot rods, motorcycles and other specialty vehicles. The traction that is growing in the collision repair section—which I think can be attributed in part to the work SCRS has done to build the industry's identity at the Show—is great for us because it also gives us the opportunity to connect with our collision refinish business customers. It's a nice synergy."
SEMA also exhibits a set of intangibles that adds to its allure. "The Show brings together everyone that is an auto enthusiast, which makes it unique," said Jeff Kern, president of Car-O-Liner, another company that has increased its booth size every year and was one of the first collision repair vendors to host a booth on the SEMA Show floor. "Attendees get a sense of 'we are all in this together' and feel a part of a greater automotive-related whole, perhaps, they never would have gotten to experience otherwise."
SCRS Board Member Kye Yeung likewise sees benefit in the distinctive nature of the Show. "Because the SEMA Show includes all auto-related businesses, it provides a kind of neutral background which, for some reason, seems to encourage networking between shop owners," he said. "I guess you could say it takes us out of the day-to-day mindset we fall into as we are grinding away in the trenches, so we can look at our competitors more objectively and appreciate what they have to offer."
Top-notch education of the type SCRS provides through RDE is yet another reason repairers find the Show compelling—explaining why so many collision repair vendors have stepped up to support the program. Simply put, RDE attracts collision repair professionals to the North Hall, placing exhibitors in close proximity to the prospects that can best benefit from what they have to offer.
Conversely, the SEMA Show has proven to be the perfect venue for education of RDE's ambitious scope. "It works both ways," explained SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg. "The energy this Show generates carries over to how people perceive our curriculum, to which or healthy enrollment numbers will attest. And it's satisfying—and frankly humbling—to hear the success of RDE translates into success for collision repair exhibitors, including RDE's sponsors that provided significant financial support for the program. We extend our deepest thanks to the sponsoring companies, who by their actions demonstrate their understanding of the need for quality education. The SEMA Show is on the rise, no question."