By Chad Simon
A Conversation With Tom Gattuso
The Trade Shows Director’s Goal for the 2016 SEMA Show Is to Maximize the Buyer-Seller Relationship
At the annual SEMA Show Exhibitor Summit, held during the summer before the Show in Las Vegas, Trade Shows Director Tom Gattuso provides tips and strategies to help new exhibitors maximize their time at the Show.
With the 2016 SEMA Show just around the corner and plans already in the works for 2018, Trade Shows Director Tom Gattuso is always three steps ahead of the game when it comes to coordinating America’s largest annual gathering of small businesses. He has produced automotive events for 22 years—five of them with SEMA. He recently took some time to talk about what to expect and how to plan for the 2016 SEMA Show.
SEMA News: What are some significant changes to this year’s SEMA Show? How do registration numbers compare to this time last year?
Tom Gattuso: This year, we’ve had the specialty-equipment industry support us more than any other SEMA Show we’ve produced, and that’s reflected in the number of exhibitors and buyers indicating they want to attend the event. So far, we’re trending up on exhibitor numbers at about 3%–5% over last year at this time. Our overall footprint may even reach a growth of about 10%. By design, the SEMA Show mirrors the automotive aftermarket industry, so we know that when the SEMA Show indicates large participation from manufacturers and high registration from buyers, it means the industry is thriving.
SN: Where will the New Products Showcase be located and what are the criteria for entering products?
TG: The New Products Showcase has experienced significant growth over the past several years. We’ve identified new products as the leading reason buyers and media attend the Show, so our goal is to package it so that people can see all the innovation available to them in an efficient and effective manner. The Showcase is centrally located on the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) Skybridge and surrounding rooms and can be used as a tool to discover innovation and chart a course for efficiently navigating the Show. We have found that many companies may have a bestseller they want to feature, so we’ve made the Showcase available for both new and featured products.
SN: What strategies do you implement for organizing the SEMA Show, and how long does the planning process take?
TG: Planning the SEMA Show goes in cycles. There’s an 18- to 24-month cycle when we’re always working on two shows ahead of the current one. We are now in different stages of planning for the 2018 SEMA Show. It helps keep us ahead of the curve. We started working on the 2017 Show from a marketing perspective in August, so that as soon as the 2016 Show ends, we’re ready to go with the 2017 Show. We’re already doing a lot of operational stuff to get it ready for launch.
SN: How are you able to use information learned from previous Shows to improve succeeding Shows?
TG: We try to lay out the Show with a purpose so that we can help attendees navigate their way in the most efficient way possible and make the best use of their time while they are in Las Vegas. Our goal as a Show is to match manufacturers with buyers so that everything we do, as far as a layout is concerned, is intentional to maximize that relationship building. Everything from where you can buy coffee to where you can get a taxi is always centered around generating the optimal user experience.
SN: Are there any changes to the outside exhibitor areas?
More than 2,400 exhibitors packed the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 2015 SEMA Show. The annual event attracts more than 125,000 industry professionals, including more than 60,000 buyers.
TG: Most of the outdoor exhibitor areas will be the same, although we are adding a few new experiential features. Continental Tire has a driving experience where it has teamed up with BMW, and that’s going to be on the east side of the Performance Pavilion. Arctic Cat is doing a UTV ride-along experience in the Silver Lot. We’ve stretched the canvas of the Show to include the outer limits of all on-site space available. There’s more to do and more to see than we’ve ever had in our 50-year history.
SN: How will you celebrate the SEMA Show’s 50th anniversary?
TG: We do have certain features designed to celebrate our 50th year, but we’re cognizant of the fact that the business proposition of the Show is the most important aspect. This year more than ever, we’ve focused on helping our manufacturers and buyers make the most of their opportunities. Our hope is that the industry comes together and does great business and, as a secondary benefit, we celebrate the 50th time that we’ve done it.
SN: What are the best sources of information for exhibitors?
TG: We spend a lot of time ensuring that our website (www.SEMAShow.com), which feeds our mobile app, is updated with the most current information. From the exhibitor perspective, the Exhibitor Services Manual (ESM) on www.SEMAShow.com is the number-one stop for all information on how to manage a successful exhibit at the Show.
SN: How many first-time exhibitors are registered so far, and how can they take advantage of all the tools that SEMA has to offer?
TG: This year, we’ve got well more than 500 first-time exhibitors. They can best take advantage of what the Show has to offer by spending time planning with the ESM, participating in the New Products Showcase and attending our networking sessions to build as many relationships as possible.
SN: What are the advantages for exhibitors to using SEMA-recommended vendors and suppliers?
TG: Exhibitors have the confidence of knowing that SEMA will stand behind them if they have any shortcomings in services. We carefully check out the companies we endorse and ensure that they provide the industry’s best pricing and service, but we’ve found over the years that the real benefit is if exhibitors find themselves needing help with any of the vendors, we’ve got great relationships with them and can usually mitigate things to a favorable outcome.
SN: What are the most important factors for you in pulling off a successful SEMA Show?
TG: Careful planning, staying calm under pressure and basking in the energy that the industry creates in America’s largest annual gathering of small businesses are all keys to pulling off a successful Show.
SN: Are there any new mobile app features this year?
TG: Our goal was to make everything as intuitive and informative as possible, so we have a new mobile app that is easy to use and will help attendees navigate the Show effectively.
The New Products Showcase is the number-one destination for buyers at the SEMA Show, and entering a new or featured product is one of the best ways for exhibitors to draw buyers to their booths.
SN: What should media attendees know about coming to the SEMA Show?
TG: We have the industry’s best PR department, and the media’s first stop should be the Media Center adjacent to the New Products Showcase. We want to make it as easy as possible for the media to find the necessary resources and information for covering industry-specific stories and finding new things to explore. SEMA Public Relations Director Della Domingo and her team are available to support the media before, during and after the Show. They have also made resources available on
www.SEMAShow.com so that media attendees can plan their event effectively.
SN: How can buyers and exhibitors make the most of their time and meet with everyone they need to meet with during the Show?
TG: Our research shows that the most successful buyers are those who come to the Show with a plan. We recommend that they spend some time on www.SEMAShow.com or with the mobile app to identify companies they want to talk with and ensure that they allow time to see exhibitors when they arrive on site. Exhibitors can prepare for the Show by emphasizing the new products they are offering, practicing their presentations to buyers, and premarketing to their existing customers so that everybody knows where they’ll be the first week in November.
SN: Do you have any post-Show programs in place for exhibitors?
TG: Post-Show follow up is the most important part of an exhibitor’s SEMA Show participation. We’ve designed everything to nurture the buyer-seller relationship both pre-Show and on-site, and we recommend that after exhibitors take advantage of building those relationships, they follow up in a timely manner to continue the discussions. One thing we’ve seen over the years is that buyers come away from the Show energized, and the weeks and months directly after the Show are when they’re most looking forward to speaking with the exhibitors they met.
SN: Are there any changes to the SEMA Ignited format?
TG: SEMA Ignited [located in the Gold Lot] will have a little different format that promises to be more interactive and entertaining. It’s the ultimate conclusion to a great week of business being conducted at the LVCC. We’re excited because the SEMA Cruise and SEMA Ignited are growing to become phenomenal events and will feature the best vehicles of the industry.
SN: How do you ensure that only approved, credentialed attendees are allowed on the Show floor?
TG: Through our registration process, we have spent a lot of time ensuring that qualified buyers receive proper credentials. We have a team that works all year round reviewing and approving registration applications, because we know that the buyer-seller relationship is the core of not only the Show’s success but also the industry as a whole.
SN: How important are booth size and location?
TG: Our survey results have shown that the number-one factor that draws buyers to a booth is a new product. Location tends to be the eighth most popular reason that a buyer finds an exhibitor. In my 22 years of producing events, I have seen all scenarios work, and I truly feel that there’s not a bad location to be had at the Show as long as exhibitors have new products to offer, great pre-Show marketing plans and positive attitudes working the booth.
SN: Is this year’s SEMA Show poised to be even better than last year’s Show?
TG: We’re trying to build the best environment for our members to see the biggest benefits and opportunities to succeed. When we see new products and innovation at the SEMA Show, we know that the industry is evolving itself and will be here for years to come. If we’re successful, the industry is successful.