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The Future of NACE/CARS

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Photo Courtesy Dan Risley

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

Overall, registration grew 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, as opposed to 46,500 a year ago.

“It’s modest growth. We expected growth, we have it, but we expected a little more,” Automotive Service Association (ASA) president and executive director Dan Risley said on the show’s final day “From a forecasting perspective, I would tell you that we missed the mark for what we hoped for.”

A month removed from that last-day press conference, Risley sat down with FenderBender to discuss the show’s future as it moves to Anaheim, Calif., in 2016 (Aug. 3–9 at the Anaheim Convention Center) and how the ASA will continue its work of connecting the show to the industry.


In all industries, the trend is that less and less people do their actual buying at trade shows. Can the future of NACE/CARS continue to be tied to the trade show, or will it move more toward an education focus?

I think it’s both, Bryce. I don’t think it can be one or the other. You’re right, years ago, it was almost solely a buying show. People came to buy because they didn't have the means to bring people to their shop and there wasn’t the internet and so many other avenues to buy through. They had to primarily do purchasing on the show floor.

Then as years went on, the show incorporated the training, and that became a big part of the show. I actually think that one drives the other to be quite honest. You’ll see us continue to focus on both—what’s happening on the show floor and the training classes. We just have to do a better job of finding the right combination on the schedule. What’s the best way to make those two things click?

We also had a lot of off-site tours, and those were very popular this year, more so than last year. So, let’s say you did training on Thursday—maybe went to a symposium‚—then did tours on Friday, and maybe you flew out Saturday morning and never went on to the show floor. That’s one of the big things we have to figure out for next year, in tweaking the schedule and finding that right mix so everyone has the opportunity to see both.

And I think the things we’ve added to the show floor and will continue to add, will draw people to the show floor. And we’ll continue to add in 2016. You have the I-CAR main stage, you saw the demonstrations from the last two years. Those two things aren’t going away. We anticipate having I-CAR and the main stage to be back. We anticipate all the live demos on welding and painting in the future. But I think you’ll see in 2016 even maybe more of shift, to where maybe some of the training classes that were available, we’ll put on the show floor, maybe in a back area that’s quiet, so that people are trafficking back and forth.

It’s difficult to stand at a press conference and say that we had more people than last year, but the show floor seemed slower. It doesn’t seem to make sense. So, we obviously missed the mark on the schedule. Maybe by putting some of those classes on the back of the show floor, gives people a chance, even if they weren’t thinking about making a purchase, you walk across the show floor and something catches your eye and that increases the likelihood of people making purchases on the show floor.  We will be making a concerted effort to drive more traffic to the show floor.


You mentioned the growth of the show this year—is there a certain amount of growth that is required to be able to continue the show?

There’s a balancing act there. Let’s take the 2014 show, for example. If we had sold another 20,000 or 30,000 square feet, that traffic would’ve looked really slow. There’s a healthy balance between having a right size show floor and the right number of attendees. You need to have the right mix of both.

I would not want to, as much as it sounds contrary to someone who’s running a trade show for profit, I would be hard-pressed to have a large expansion on the show floor unless we have some solid, concrete evidence that we’d have that same boost in attendance. I would not want a bigger show floor if we were going to have the same number of attendance of this year or 2014, for that matter. We will be, over the next few months, reaching out to various groups in hopes of attracting them, and making it more attractive for the larger groups to attend.


What is the hope for next year?
If we’re not north of 8,000 [registered attendees], I would be really disappointed.


What is your elevator pitch for anyone on the fence about coming to Anaheim next year for the 2016 show?

I would say that, as quickly as the industry is changing, shops, vendors and everyone needs to stay current with what the era is. Simply reading about it is only one end of the means. Being able to see things, touch things, talk to people—it is as important now as it’s ever been.

Cars are changing faster than we can keep up with technology in the shops. We might invest in tooling and training throughout the year, but there is new stuff that comes out every month, stuff that shops should know about. If you want to stay current and you want to keep that industry leadership position in your marketplace, you need to invest in those areas that will help your business grow—you need to find areas to improve your business through business management and leadership training, stay at the cutting edge of technology and gathering that info, and it keeps you ahead of your competition.


Is there anything else that might stand out about the show going to Anaheim next year?

The show is a national show. It’s something that, every time we move it now, it gives our exhibitors and potential attendees in a specific market an opportunity they might not have had otherwise. Bringing the show to Anaheim in 2016, opens our exhibitors to a whole new world of people they might not be able to touch on a regular basis. The farthest west our show has ever been is Las Vegas, and it doesn’t afford itself to a large drive-in population.

You’re talking about tens of thousands of shops within a driving distance of the greater Anaheim–Los Angeles area. Tens of thousands. The opportunity is great there, and it may be a market that those folks don’t get to penetrate quite as often because it is on the West Coast and there is a dense population of shops. I’m very excited about what that opportunity looks like, only because, when we moved it to Detroit, we saw some of the greatest growth in the trade show’s history. Moving it to Detroit in 2014, albeit off a down year, but we had a huge influx of local support within a five-state radius. And that sort of lift, that 40 percent, I fully expect that 40 percent lift when we move it to Southern California, because it will be new faces in new places.

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