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Changes Abound for NACE, Industry Week

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Dan Risley can remember when the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) was the gathering place for the collision repair industry. Growing up in his family’s body shop, Risley would attend the event with his father, looking to purchase equipment and attend technical training he couldn’t find anywhere else.

Now, as the president and executive director for the Automotive Service Association (ASA), Risley is among those charged with saving the struggling event.

Automotive Service and Repair Week (ASRW), which included NACE and its mechanical-focused sister show, the Congress of Automotive Repair Service (CARS), unceremoniously split with the SEMA Show in 2009—and it has struggled ever since. An event that once pulled in nearly 20,000 attendees annually, had less than 5,000 industry professionals come through the turnstiles in 2013, Risley says.

“Somewhere, we lost our way and weren’t giving our customers what they were looking for,” he explains. “When we moved away from SEMA, we forced people to choose, and we divided the industry. That needed to change.”

And that change, Risley hopes, starts on July 30 when the 2014 NACE/CARS Expo & Conference begins at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Under a new leadership team, the ASA event has completely overhauled its approach, putting a stronger focus on developing a true community event for the collision and mechanical repair industries. It shifted from the fall to summer, and made the move east to the Motor City. This year’s event will coincide with Collision Industry Conference (CIC) and I-CAR events earlier in the week, and it will feature a deeper and broader range of technical and management training, as well as a larger selection of exhibitors.

But the question remains: Will the industry respond?

“Everything we’ve heard has been very positive,” says ASA chairman Darrell Amberson. “Everything will be better, more grand. There are many, many more reasons to go than in the past. This is a whole new NACE.”

NACE’s Decline

The last time the NACE/CARS Expo & Conference topped 20,000 attendees was in 2009, when it was held in conjunction with the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The show hit an all-time low in 2013 when its return to Las Vegas brought fewer than 5,000 to the show.

Numbers provided by the Automotive Service Association. 2011 attendance is based on a reported 15 percent increase from 2010. No official numbers were released for 2013, but ASA president and executive director Dan Risley provided an estimate.

Finding a New Foundation

The plan was to completely rebuild the show. The ASA hired a new show management group—Stone Fort Group—and dropped the ASRW tag, simply referring to the event by the NACE/CARS moniker. With Stone Fort’s help, the show has a more sophisticated and modern brand, evident in its new website (naceexpo.com).

But the overhaul for NACE/CARS needs to be more than just superficial, Amberson says, if it’s going to change current perception. It can be easy to be distracted by the success of some shows like SEMA, but over the past several years, many trade shows have seen a steady decline in success. The ease and affordability of shopping online coupled with a lousy economy have made many a shop owner reconsider the value of viewing products in person at an event like NACE/CARS.

“What we really wanted to give was a true reason for people to come that provides value to them,” Amberson says. “When this was a successful show, it was full of activities and events and training that you can’t get anywhere else. That’s what we looked at as the foundation for building this back up.”

NACE/CARS has had a long-standing determination to provide extensive technical and business management training. With two full days of classes, sessions and various symposiums—including a six-hour telematics event—that much won’t change. Almost everything else will, though.

The summertime schedule allows the event to stop butting heads with SEMA in the fall, and the move to Detroit, a more central location to national businesses,  allows access to a slew of opportunities, Risley says.

Only two vehicle manufacturers exhibited in 2013, and were really “only there in logo,” according to Risley. But now they have come back in droves. Every major domestic OEM—and many foreign, as well—is signed up for 2014, with bigger spaces, sponsored training sessions, and booths for their direct parts lines.

The Cobo Center gives NACE/CARS 125,000 square feet of space, 30,000 of which will be dedicated to tool and equipment demos and training.

“They’re letting us do basically anything you can do on a car in that space,” Risley says. “You’re going to see grinding and cutting, and scan tools being used on running vehicles. These are things  we couldn’t have done anywhere else.”

A Unified Event

At time of press, NACE/CARS had already booked 34,000 square feet of booth space to vendors and exhibitors, compared to just 24,000 total in 2013. Amberson says that the final count is projected to be closer to 58,000 square feet for 2014.

“And if we don’t easily surpass 10,000 attendees it’ll be a real disappointment,” Risley says.

The concept was to create a true “Industry Week,” Risley says, that would unite the fractured factions of the industry. That’s where the partnerships with I-CAR and CIC come in, and agreements with a number of other organizations.

There will be a full slate of industry meetings on Monday, July 28, including those held by CIECA and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, among others. On the 29th, CIC will hold its summer meeting, and I-CAR will follow with an all-day event on Wednesday.

NACE/CARS opens on Thursday.

There are no plans in place yet for 2015, but Risley wants to see NACE/CARS get back to its 20,000-attendee heyday.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to reverse what were the unintended consequence of the decisions we made in the past,” Risley says. “Some of those decisions caused the industry to pull apart, and everything we do moving forward will be with the goal of bringing it back together.” 

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