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NACE Continues Climb Back to Prominence

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The 2015 NACE/CARS Expo and Conference returned to Detroit for a second straight year in July, and experienced minimal growth. 

Overall registration increased from 6,253 attendees in 2014 to 6,496 in 2015. Booth space at the COBO Center, where the event was held both years, encompassed 54,500 square feet in 2015, compared to 46,500 a year ago. 

Automotive Service Association president and executive director Dan Risley called it “modest growth,” but didn’t hide his disappointment. 

The show had hit an all-time low in attendance in 2013—part of a threeyear downward trend that the ASA reversed in 2014 with a revamping of the show (which included new branding efforts, new management and a move to Detroit). A second trip to the Motor City in 2015 was supposed to solidify the show’s footing for the future, Risley told FenderBender prior to the event.

The numbers went up, but the show floor itself was less busy than in 2014. The show’s third and final day (a Saturday) was particularly slow.

“We expected growth, we have it, but we expected a little more,” Risley says. “From a forecasting perspective, I would tell you that we missed the mark for what we hoped for.”

Still, Risley says there were a number of positive takeaways for the show— signs that NACE/CARS could be heading toward another rebirth of sorts when it moves to Anaheim, Calif., in 2016. A number of the show’s longtime vendors who stayed by NACE/CARS during its leanest years hope he’s right.

Conflicting Schedule 

NACE/CARS offered more training courses in 2015, featuring a full slate of topics that ran the gamut from technical instruction for shop workers to business building strategies for operators. There was the Technology & Telematics Forum, and the MSO Symposium—two narrowly focused educational events that were held to packed rooms.

“The content we put into the program worked extremely well,” Risley says. “We absolutely hit a home run when it came to content that was afforded to attendees.”

That was part of the show’s growth plan, as Risley hoped attendees would “bounce in and out of classes and in between go on the show floor.”

“But we created some of our own problems,” he adds. “We focused a lot on the content and classes we put together, and those went on at the same time as the show floor.”

That will be one of the biggest changes for 2016, Risley says. A better-balanced schedule ensures that attendees can take in the whole experience.

“It’s difficult to ... say that we had more people than last year, but the show floor seemed slower,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to make sense. … We will be making a concerted effort to drive more traffic to the show floor.” 

The Vendor Perspective

Tony Larimer has been to NACE/ CARS for the last 20 years or so—he can’t recall the precise year he started, but he remembers when the show was at its heyday.

As the director of sales and marketing for Dan-Am Company (an independent U.S. distributor for SATA), Larimer says NACE/CARS always served as an opportunity to connect with painters and shop operators to form new relationships. He’s not sure how much opportunity is still there.

“There’s so much access for everything today to know about new products, whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or just other places online,” he says. “It makes you wonder whether people see the value in going to trade shows.”

Larimer says the action at the SATA booth was strong on Day 1 of the show in 2015, but slowed over the next two days. He estimates that, for the week, there were less than 70 total visitors to the booth. By contrast, at the 2014 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Larimer says SATA gave away 1,000 pairs of sunglasses to shop-employed painters— and ran out by the second morning.

Larimer says the show itself was “top-notch” but company is undecided on whether it will be in Anaheim. “We see how hard they work to and see guys busting their butts to really get the show back on track, you want them to get it figured it out,” he says.

Celette, which has exhibited at every NACE/CARS, will be back in 2016, the company said through spokesperson Jennie Lenk. Lenk says that the show may not be reaching the levels it has in the past, but since switching its management to the Stone Fort Group in 2014, Celette likes the way the show is trending.

“It seems that great effort is being made to ensure that the show is worthwhile for body shop [managers and technicians],” Lenk said in an email. “As an exhibitor, we are here to support the industry, however attendance from current and potential customers definitely needs to be elevated.”

Lenk said that Celette’s “success” at the show was far greater in 2015 than in recent years. Its dedicated fixture bench for the 2016 Cadillac CT6 was on display at the General Motors booth, and it sponsored the MSO Symposium.

Brighter Future?

The ASA does not need to make a profit on NACE/CARS for the show to serve its purpose.

“The show is a value-added piece that we do to give back to the industry, and allows us to give training and content and a lot of other things we normally wouldn’t be able to do as a trade association without a show,” Risley says. “As long as the show breaks even, we’re OK with that. We just don’t want to lose money, of course.”

NACE/CARS had lost money for three straight years, from 2011-2013. It rebounded in 2014, when the ASA, in its first year under Risley, made two distinct changes: hiring the Stone Fort Group to manage the show, and moving it to Detroit for the first time.

Heading into Year 3 for the new regime, Risley feels the show has the potential to grow again. In a new region dense with shops and automakers, he says he’d be disappointed of NACE/CARS doesn’t hit 8,000 attendees in 2016.

“It is the only national show in the country that is solely for and about collision and service repair shops,” he says. “The industry deserves to have that. … The industry needs it, and they need these opportunities to get together, share concerns, find the most leading-edge stuff—it becomes an outlet for early adopters to gain information.”

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