Now playing: The world of trade shows

Jan. 1, 2020
Business-to-business trade expos are certainly entertaining, but are they box-office hits?
Untitled Document
The stages have been set, the curtains lifted and a grand, theatrical production begins to unfold as the show floor comes to life. Booths filled with new products draw in the crowd, which is slowly quieting to a dull roar, as a racing celebrity or two signs autographs and snaps pictures. This is a familiar scenario for industry participants, especially with Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week just around the corner. But amid all the flash and flare of industry events, what is the real purpose of trade shows like the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show? According to most trade show managers, attendees have similar goals for their trade show experience, no matter what the industry: to see new products and technologies; to network with industry members; and to learn about growing trends affecting their particular business. “Any good trade show, by nature, is a reflection of the industry they serve, particularly if they are a market-leading event,” explains Courtney Muller, group vice president and show manager for the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the world’s largest gaming show and conference, with more than 750 exhibitors. “In our case, we change our educational content every year to reflect what’s happening in the industry,” Muller continues. “We add new show floor pavilions based on the interests of our attendees and what can help them with their business. Our keynote addresses each year speak to the most timely topics. This year, our state-of-the-industry keynote will address the global nature of gaming and what’s happening in different regions of the world.” Arlene Davis, senior director of trade shows for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), which co-sponsors the AAPEX show, notes that several important industry issues are reflected in the educational seminars at the trade show. “Education is an integral component of trade shows, and our professional development offerings at AAPEX reflect the increased interest in technology standards and e-commerce,” she says. What does that mean for AAPEX attendees? More technology firms are exhibiting this year, so companies will be able to visit their booths at the show, Davis states. In addition, Scott Luckett of AAIA will present “Technology Update — The Opportunity at a Crossroads” on Monday, Oct. 30. The seminar will be a comprehensive briefing on the state of the standards and accomplishments, and should be attended by anyone with interest or responsibilities that include how e-business and technology impact or benefit manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the aftermarket. Other industries are reflecting trends at their trade shows as well. Tara Dunion, director of communication with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the producer of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), says they are seeing an increase in international attendees at their annual event. “Currently, about 26 percent of our attendees — or 25,000 attendees — are from outside the U.S.,” she says. “International companies are interested in the trends and products from the U.S. and vice versa. So for the trade show, we make a concerted effort to make CES that one-stop location.” In an effort to highlight emerging trends, the show provides about 20 TechZones, which are sections of market-specific technology, Dunion remarks. TechZone topics include robotics, legal download services and a new one this year called “anytime, anywhere,” about portable content space, which is obviously a growing trend in the consumer electronics world. Better in person According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 76 percent of trade show attendees rate face-to-face interaction with potential vendors and suppliers as “very or extremely important in performing their job.” “If you look at it from a big-picture perspective, trade shows serve a purpose that telephone conferences and e-mails and faxes can’t duplicate,” notes Peter MacGillivray, vice president of marketing and communications for SEMA. “The power of face-to-face business is so meaningful and important. Just ask any salesperson. That face-to-face really makes the difference in cultivating relationships — particularly business relationships.” In addition, CEIR reports that 69 percent of attendees rate interacting personally with industry or professional colleagues and associates as “very or extremely important in performing their job.” “We as humans need personal interaction,” explains Davis. “We need to know we are doing things right. If we meet our peers and they agree with what we are doing, it makes us feel good. The (AAPEX) show is a great place for folks to meet with peers to recharge their batteries and get rejuvenated to face all the challenges that come their way.” As the VP and general manager for the Powersports Trade Group for Advanstar Communications, Tracy Harris is in charge of the Dealernews International Powersports Dealer Expo, a business-to-business trade show for motorcycle retailers and the aftermarket. She says the human interaction that occurs at industry events is key. “I think the biggest thing that draws an attendee to the show is the opportunity to meet with current suppliers — to meet with them in a face-to-face environment as opposed to over the phone or online,” she says. “This is an opportunity for them to not only talk to the sales reps, but to also meet with the principals who own the companies, the technical experts and the people who do the design work. “They come for the face time, the opportunity to network and the opportunity to buy and see new products,” Harris continues about attendees and her 17 years of experience with trade shows. “The No. 1 reason a trade show exists is to connect buyers to sellers. If your show is connecting the right buyers and the right sellers together, you will have a successful show. That’s why quality of attendance vs. quantity is so important.” Dealer Expo, like many other trade shows, targets the upper echelon of businesses to make sure decision-makers are present. At Dealer Expo, 32 percent of attendees are owners and 21 percent are management.

Skipping the previews
MacGillivray explains how the advent of the Internet has forced the trade show industry to do some “soul searching.”

“When the Internet was first becoming popular, a lot of industries were quote/unquote threatened, whether it was television, newspaper or radio. I don’t think the trade show industry was immune to that either,” he says. “But like those other industries, we are realizing that the Internet is much more of a tool and we’ve done nothing but grow since the popularity of the Internet.”

Another national event caused much travel, including business-related trips, to come to a halt: Sept. 11.

“That was another event that threatened and impacted trade shows in general,” MacGillivray states. “I think people weren’t casual business travelers after that tragedy. It really underscored the importance of meaningful shows — people tended to concentrate on the important business travel, and the ones where they didn’t see the business value, they were staying home.”

In other words, trade shows were really boiled down to their essence and were obligated to offer attendees a return on their investment. Show managers at AAPEX are hoping the decision to slim this year’s show down to three days reflects attendees’ needs.

“Overall, AAPEX does a good job,” Davis says. “We hit all the three main areas — products, networking and education. And we have a great variety of products. Attendees can see the whole global aftermarket, can buy products from across the globe and can come to one place and get their business done in three days.”

And with each passing year, trade show managers and committees are learning ways to make these events more worthwhile.

“Trade shows offer a great return for a very small investment on time and resource. As an attendee, if you spend one to three days at a trade show, you can use what you learned and the new contacts you make throughout the year,” says Muller of G2E. “I always like to say to people ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ When you attend an event you will most definitely learn something or meet someone who can help you with your business. You should do your best to plan out your trip and what events you will attend, which booths you will visit, etc. But at the end of the day, you will also find that it’s the chance encounters that can be so valuable.”

An educational screening
Seats are available for this year’s Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) seminars, which aim to answer some of the big questions looming over the aftermarket today, such as technology and e-commerce issues, government affairs and the global marketplace. For more information, visit

  • Technology Update — The Opportunity at a Crossroads, presented by Scott Luckett, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). Registration required: This seminar will cover how e-business and technology impact or benefit manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the aftermarket.
    Oct. 30 – 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Sands Expo Center, 202
  • Selling Parts for Imports: Did You Ever Consider Listening to Your Customer? The Installer’s View, presented by the Automotive International Association (AIA). Registration required: Three premier import specialist installers will detail what they want and need from their auto parts suppliers. Bill Guinard, Olympus Auto Parts, will represent the selling side of the industry and former AIA chairman Marty Gold, S-G Imported Car Parts, will moderate.
    Oct. 31 – 7:45 a.m.-9 a.m. Sands Expo Center, 303
  • Beyond Borders: Opportunities and Challenges in Today’s Global Market, presented by J. Scott Farber, Grant Thornton. Registration required: This presentation will broadly explore the potential of foreign markets for the aftermarket industry and review factors to consider when establishing overseas manufacturing, distribution and retail operations.
    Oct. 31 – 8 a.m.-9 a.m. Sands Expo Center, 202
  • Service Information Update, presented by Aaron Lowe, AAIA. Registration required: This annual briefing will feature a presentation by Holly Pugliese of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the recently completed audit of the car companies’ service information websites. Also featured is a presentation by industry consultant Vince Mow on the impact of state mandated 15-year/150,000-mile emissions warranties.
    Oct. 31 – 8 a.m.-9 a.m. Sands Expo Center, 302
  • Understand How to Better Partner with Your Customers, presented by Bob O’Connor, RLO Management. Registration required: This workshop will provide suppliers with a better understanding of what a shop needs from its suppliers.
    Oct. 31 – 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Sands Expo Center, 303
  • Selling to the U.S. Aftermarket: Getting it Right, presented by Henry Allessio, Walden Consultants. Registration required: A high priority for international parts suppliers, this session will share valuable strategic advice as it outlines the opportunities in a complex and changing aftermarket roadmap.
    Nov. 2 – 7:45 a.m.-9 a.m. Sands Expo Center, 303
  • State of The Aftermarket Consumer, presented by David Portalatin, NPD. Registration required: Consumer buying power has been tested by rising gasoline prices and interest rates, so how has the automotive aftermarket fared? NPD Group Director of Industry Analysis David Portalatin will take a close look at automotive aftermarket sales trends as well as consumer behavior in general, and spotlight key challenges and opportunities going into 2007.
    Nov. 2 – 8 a.m.-9 a.m. Sands Expo Center, 202
  • Competing with Car Dealers: Solutions that Help You Beat Them at Their Own Game, presented by Mitchell 1, sponsored by AASP: This seminar will address how independent auto repair facilities can more effectively compete with new car dealers, with topics such as customer retention marketing, call tracking services, management consulting tips and peer focus groups.
    Nov. 2 – 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Sands Expo Center, 301