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The Benefits of Trade Shows

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In these articles, I try to bring some of my experiences from around the world, because I know many readers like to get a bit of an understanding about what goes on, and how it might affect them in the future. Traveling again to NACE this year and planning for SEMA in November made me think about some of the shows I’ve been to around the world and how they differ from the U.S. events.  

The annual pilgrimage to NACE is always rewarding and something I look forward to. Twenty years or so ago I used to go, because, coming from Europe, it was interesting to see all of the new things that were going on in the North American market, the amazing locations (they tended to be in different places every year in those days) and the huge booths that were constructed. I guess today it’s a little different. The growth of SEMA and its additional focus on collision repair effectively means that across two national expositions, exhibitors become diluted and have to make commercial decisions as to where they should peddle their wares.

This year’s NACE in Detroit was a refreshing change from the usual Las Vegas venue, with a fresh approach to the show and of course the usually well-organized seminars and piggybacked conferences such as the Collision Industry Conference. Now, of course, having come to the U.S. for so many years, it really becomes a networking event, a great place to do business and a way of covering so many bases at a relatively low cost. For me, the walk around the exhibitor’s floor space unfortunately only took about 2 hours, because other meetings took precedence. 

What was obvious in that time, though, was sadly how small the show has become. The booths are tiny in comparison to the old days, and although the paint companies are back, their spend is but a fraction of what they used to do with 1,000-square-feet of floor space occupancy and lavish parties with ice sculptures, bands and all manner of things to keep you entertained. That said, there are always interesting businesses, and ideas to be gleaned.

Now, when I compare NACE to the biannual show called Autopromotec in Bologna, Italy, it’s completely different. Like SEMA, Autopromotec does combine other areas of the automotive industry, but it’s strictly a trade show. It typically runs from a Thursday through Saturday and on the last day you can hardly move within the isles—it’s packed with Italian shop owners all looking at the latest equipment. It’s predominantly a show by Italians for Italians, but these guys are extremely good at manufacturing and the halls are jammed with fully built spray booths, prep decks and large booths with frame racks being demonstrated. There are plenty of hands-on demonstrations and areas where you can get involved. It is not uncommon to see vendors with booth areas of over 1,000 square feet!

It’s just a great place to visit, with Italian flair and vibrancy, and of course local Italian food makes all the difference. Situated in Bologna in the heart of Northern Italy, the architecture is unbelievable, and even in the month of May, the weather is usually warm, and eating out in the evening is a pure delight.

Now compare that with another show I’ve frequented, Automechanika. Certainly the biggest aftermarket automotive trade show in the world, started in Frankfurt, Germany, it is now operating in the United Arab Emirates, China, South Africa and Russia. Having been to the German show a few times, it’s really worth taking a very comfortable pair of shoes as you’ll be walking between about 20 halls each dedicated to a sector of the industry, as well as lots of outside space dedicated to automatic car washes and trucks. One hall alone is just for aftermarket wheels. The collision sector takes over just one hall, and again has large booths and gets extremely busy. 

One of the most interesting Automechanika shows is the one held in Shanghai, China. Now if you’ve never been to China, that’s an experience in itself. Traffic doesn’t obey which side of the road it should be on, the police force rules with a rod of iron, and people see no reason not to copy anything that is put in front of them—including paint booths. Without going into great detail, just keep in mind that not every product is what it seems and sometimes prices really are too good to be true.  

But attending events like this allows you to make those observations for yourself. You will always leave having learned something. 

To sum up, if you get a chance to visit automotive shows around the world, I urge you to take a look. It’s fascinating and there are some real market opportunities. 

Jon Parker is managing director of the Byteback Group, a U.K.-based information technology and services company aimed at advancing the collision repair industry. Parker can be reached at

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