Exhibitors: Success Starts…Now

SEMA News—September 2018

Exhibitors: Success Starts…Now

Chris Kersting

Chris Kersting

The SEMA Show, a global marketplace that mirrors the industry, creates an environment that annually attracts some 70,000 buyers seeking new products and new ideas. For exhibitors, it’s an opportunity to attract new customers to their booths, generate productive conversations, and build brands and customer lists in one short week.

Because we undertake an extensive survey following each SEMA Show, it is possible to review exhibitor beliefs and goals and compare them to the same for our buyer attendees. In certain respects, there is a good amount of matchup. Yet there are still areas for improvement, particularly in meeting buyer interest in new products. And, too, there are some newer trends worth noting.

Buyers tell us that their number-one objective for attending is “to find new products,” and that the first stop for most is the New Products Showcase. It turns out that more than half of buyers who visited the New Products Showcase followed up with visits to exhibitor booths after seeing their products. Of those, 18% tell us that they actually placed an order for that product. Yet most exhibitors still do not take advantage of the New Products Showcase, even though the cost is minimal. (It’s worth noting that displaying in the Showcase gallery does not necessarily require submitting a brand-new product, as there is a category for Featured Products that also can function to attract buyers—especially buyers who may not have attended the prior year.)

Another constant associated with success is that pre-Show contact from exhibitors is highly effective in attracting both buyers and media. Our survey tells us that a high percentage of buyers who received pre-Show communication visited those exhibitors when they got to the Show. Yet only about half of exhibitors make it a practice to communicate with buyers before the Show.

Looking deeper into buyer motivations, we see that the vast majority of buyers came to the Show with some kind of preconceived plan, aiming to see specific companies. They said that their plan typically also included time to explore the halls, where they were attracted to booths with good product displays, a cool car or truck, and product demonstrations. That suggests that the most successful exhibitors will be the ones with a lot of products in view in booths that are staffed with energized personnel who can answer any question a buyer might have. Interestingly enough, this year’s survey remains consistent with earlier surveys when it confirms that the location and size of the booth were the least important factors influencing buyers to visit a display.

Also of note, we see that more buyers are placing orders at the SEMA Show compared to past years. The survey shows that more exhibitors are actually closing deals at the Show and are offering Show discounts as a key component in getting buyers to commit on the spot. This year, a growing percentage of buyers reported that they actually placed an order from an exhibitor while at the Show. Of those, a whopping 81% took advantage of a special Show discount.

In short, the most successful exhibitors were the ones that contacted buyers in advance to promote their new products and discount offers and which also leveraged the New Products Showcase as a primary tool to drive foot traffic to their booth.

There is a saying—often attributed to Bobby Unser—that “success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” That’s very true in racing, and also true at the SEMA Show, where fortune favors the prepared.

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