Start your engines: It’s time to start preparing for SEMA, the top trade show for auto equipment in the United States. Every year, SEMA brings the latest in automotive specialty products and technology to a massive gathering of industry leaders in Las Vegas. Before hitting the trade show floor, SEMA Show exhibitors need to know the ins and outs of this major annual expo.
SEMA is your chance to present your cutting-edge auto products to an audience of interested auto show buyers. For first-time SEMA show exhibitors, it’s important to plan for your appearance at a trade show. Put the pedal to the metal and start brushing up on these tips for SEMA vendors.
First things first: What does SEMA Show stand for? The name is short for Specialty Equipment Market Association. The trade show is the country’s leading showcase for auto equipment manufacturers to exhibit their newest offerings.
SEMA show was first held in 1963 and gradually established a reputation as the biggest destination for leading automotive brands to debut hot products and new models. Companies such as Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Hyundai and Dodge all take advantage of SEMA’s high-spending audience.
Products on displays at SEMA span categories including
The SEMA Show takes places every fall, usually beginning in early November or late October. The event last from Tuesday through Friday
The SEMA Show takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the biggest expo venue in Nevada and one of the biggest in the country. The convention center has nearly 3.2 million square feet of space in all, though SEMA uses just about 1.2 million square feet for its exhibits. Las Vegas is the city to be for Las Vegas trade show needs.
The Las Vegas Convention Center first opened in 1959, and today hosts 50 conventions per year, including nine of the top 20 trade shows in the country. It’s only getting bigger, with a major renovation and expansions underway that will add 600,000 square feet of space. The $860 million project is slated to complete in 2020.
The SEMA expo is the second biggest trade show that comes to Las Vegas every year and one of the top 10 expos in the United States. But SEMA’s impact is not just about the number of attendees, exhibitors and visitors - it’s about their influence and buying power. Take a look at the numbers for SEMA’s attendees.
Manufacturers flock to SEMA because of the assurance that the audience at the show will include people in positions of authority for leading brands. As the top auto equipment trade show, SEMA backs up its reputation with the following visitor demographics:
For a first-time SEMA Show vendor, it’s useful to learn why buyers attend the trade show. This allows you to cater to their priorities in your booth, offerings and pitch. You’re in luck: SEMA asked attendees directly what they hope to get out of the event:
One of the biggest questions people have about SEMA is whether anyone can attend. The answer is no, SEMA is not open to the public. The SEMA conference is a trade-only event, meaning attendance is limited to industry professionals. As SEMA puts it, “only qualified and approved individuals” who work in the automotive aftermarket industry can enter the convention center.
To be approved for SEMA, prospective attendees must register and prove their current employment in the specialty-equipment aftermarket industry with the following documents:
While the main SEMA show is not open to the public, interested hobbyists and consumers aren’t totally out of luck. Those who are not employed in the automotive industry are allowed to attend SEMA Ignited, an afterparty where select SEMA Show vehicles and products will be on display. Along with customized vehicles, SEMA Ignited will feature food, music, drift demonstrations, celebrities and more.
The event takes place on the Friday of SEMA in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s “platinum lot.” General admission tickets for SEMA Ignited cost $20.
The total cost of exhibiting at SEMA will depend on a wide variety of factors, including costs for staffing, shipping your materials, travel and lodging, designing your display, customized branded giveaway items and more. It’s important to evaluate all of these factors and prepare a budget before committing to exhibiting at SEMA.
While many of the costs will vary, the cost of exhibit space is something any vendor will have to calculate. At SEMA, a basic exhibit space costs $36.95 per square, or $21.95 per square foot for members of SEMA or TIA (Tire Industry Association).
Additionally, you should expect to pay for electrical service, material handling, furniture rental and carpeting. At the SEMA show, Freeman Services is the official general contractor and provides these services and more for a fee.
Special exhibits will cost even more. An island exhibit booth -- that’s one with aisles and access on all four sides -- costs an additional $3,990. A peninsula exhibit booth -- one with aisles and access no three sides -- cost $1,000 extra. To set up your exhibit, you must be fully paid on all money owed to the event and its partners.
If you end up not being able to attend SEMA after reserving an exhibit space, you’re not totally out of luck - depending on when you make the decision. The earlier you pull out, the likelier it is that you can recoup some of your investment.
When it comes to booth space selection, newcomers typically have to go to the back of the line. But that’s not the whole story: The way SEMA determines the order of booth selection is two-fold.
Members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association or the Tire Industry of America go first, in order of seniority. All members of these organizations select before the rest of the exhibitors, no matter how long the non-members have been showing at SEMA. Non-members then select in order of seniority. A business usually gets a seniority point for every year it has exhibited at SEMA in the past.
Reserving a space at SEMA gets you more than just square footage. SEMA provides some basic services and items to help exhibitors have a successful experience. Here’s what came with a booth rental at the most recent SEMA Show:
SEMA has no shortage of rules limiting what your exhibit on the trade show floor. With such a massive, bustling event, organizers hope to keep things as orderly and appropriate as possible.
If you’re exhibiting at SEMA, you should be sure to read the show rules and display regulations to make sure your booth meets all of the standards. Here are a few of the most important rules to follow when exhibiting at the SEMA show:
If you’re exhibiting at SEMA for the first time, you probably shouldn’t purchase everything you need for your booth. Renting booth materials allow you to stock up your booth for less. After all, you want to see what works best before you commit to spending the big bucks. These are a few of the most-requested rental items, according to the SEMA show exhibitor manual:
At the most recent SEMA Show, a basic booth rental package for a 10x10 foot space from Freeman Furnishing ran $397.30. However, stocking your exhibit with higher-end furnishings can run much more. Be sure to account for these costs in your SEMA budget.
SEMA exhibitors need to balance competing goals when it comes to attire. You want to look professional, but also stay comfortable. You want your booth staff to stand out, but you don’t want them to look garish.
SEMA recommends business or business casual attire. Generally, it’s a good idea to have those working your booth to wear a coordinated color that represents your company’s branding. Comfortable shoes are a must for all exhibitors - between standing for hours at a booth, roaming the trade show floor and meeting with clients, you don’t want to be distracted by aching feet.
The show has limits on attire that seemed aimed at curbing the use of “booth babes” - i.e., attractive models meant to draw leering men to an exhibit. This once common practice has fallen out of favor and tends to attract negative press. SEMA does not permit exhibitors to wear bathing suits, thongs, lingerie, excessively short skirts, painted bodies or transparent apparel.
Don’t take that list as gospel, though. SEMA’s management has final say on whether an outfit is acceptable. If you’re wondering if a particular outfit breaks the rules, ask the show’s management before the event begins.
One of the most tasking parts of exhibiting at SEMA is making sure your materials arrive at the Las Vegas Convention Center safely and on time. It’s essential for SEMA vendors to know when to load their materials into the venue.
Move-in at SEMA takes place over the course of the five days leading up to the start of the trade show. Exhibitors can’t just drop off their materials whenever they want during that period, however. Instead, all exhibitors are assigned freight arrival times when their booth items can be brought to the venue. If you miss your assigned time, you may be issued a late fee. Move-in times start at 7 a.m. each day and go into the evening.
Don’t count on waltzing over to the Las Vegas Convention Center right before showtime and expecting to find a parking space. In fact, you shouldn’t expect to park at the venue at all. With more than 100,000 people descending upon the event, spaces will most assuredly be scarce. Whenever possible, seek out alternative methods such as shuttles, taxi cabs, Uber and Lyft, or the Las Vegas Monorail.
For those who do decide to brave the parking lot, parking at the most recent SEMA cost $10 per day for regular vehicles. Vehicles that require more than one parking space will cost more. Re-entry is allowed - as long as space allows. Overnight parking is forbidden and SEMA will have any vehicles left on the premises towed.
The SEMA Show is really many events under one name. Between the educational sessions, networking opportunities, keynote addresses and thousands of exhibitors, keeping track of everything you want to see and do at SEMA can be a challenge. Thankfully, the trade show has introduced a handy smartphone app that makes the process much easier.
Take a look at the features the SEMA app offers to attendees and exhibitors at the expo, including:
Social media is not just a great way to stay up to date on the latest SEMA news. It’s also an effective marketing strategy, allowing you to build awareness of your SEMA appearance and engage with other companies and prospective clients.
Before the show, social media can be a great way to see if potential customers are gearing up for SEMA. Search for the #SEMA hashtag, and check the comments on posts from the official SEMA social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to find interested companies and buyers. Don’t be afraid to use your company’s accounts to chime in, share posts, and interact to establish your presence -- people respond to companies who use voice and personality on social media.
During the show, share photos of your exhibit, team and products on social media, making sure to use the appropriate hashtags. It doesn’t hurt to tag companies who you hope to engage with. Showing off an eye-catching booth with a spirited team can draw new visitors to your exhibit.
Showing off your SEMA presence can be good for sending a message to even those who aren’t at the event. After all, it’s a closed trade show, and exhibiting their shows you’re a serious player in the automotive industry.
At 1.2 million square feet, the sprawling SEMA show floor plan is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Make sure you take a look at a map of the SEMA floor plan to familiarize yourself with the layout before the expo. This will allow you to plan how to make the most efficient use of your time when putting together a schedule for your SEMA experience.
Generally, the show floor is arranged by product category, plus special showcases for featured and first-time exhibitors. At the most recent show, this was the floor plan at the SEMA Show:
SEMA’s online floor plan lets you explore the venue down to each individual exhibitor. Search by exhibitor or product category to find the type of vendors you’re looking for. With SEMA’s My Show Planner service, you can mark down and save vendors and products you want to remember.
As SEMA has pointed out, to successfully navigate the trade show floor, it’s important to use a variety of tools. The online floorplan will let you plan ahead, while the SEMA mobile app, the pocket guide, show directory and printed map will help you successfully get around as the event is going on.
Don’t play SEMA by ear. Just as you need a map to navigate the massive show floor, your schedule will be your guide to making the most of the varied lineup of events, speakers, demonstrations, and exhibits. Preparation is key.
In advance of the show, identify the events, educational sessions and keynotes that are relevant to your business goals and priorities. Set aside specific times to visit different parts of the show floor - if you don’t lay this out, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Every morning of the expo, event organizers will also post the SEMA Show Daily on the show’s website, recapping the previous day’s events and outlining highlights for the current day. You can use these to get a sense of must-see and must-do features each day.
Allocate specific periods for meeting with prospective clients. And don’t forget to allow time for lunch, coffee, rehydration and other breaks. It’s important to pace yourself - after investing so much in attending the show, you don’t want to be worn out on the first day. There’s no way to see everything at SEMA, so don’t even try.
The schedule doesn’t have to be set in stone. It’s fine to diverge from the itinerary when other opportunities arise or different parts of the show catch your eye. Rather, treat the schedule as an outline that will keep you focused on what you hope to get out of the show.
It’s all about who you know. At an event packed with industry leaders from top brands, it’s important to be proactive about getting your name out there. You’ll rarely have a better opportunity to meet so many movers and shakers in the field, so make the most of the opportunity. It’s tough to go far in business without making connections.
Make sure you’re stocked up on business cards - you’ll be meeting a ton of people, and you don’t want to be empty-handed when you encounter the perfect potential business partner. But if you do happen to run out, there’s a business center near the Grand Lobby with printers available for use.
Take a look at the SEMA schedule of events for any potential networking opportunities in your field. But don’t limit yourself to the official itinerary. Ask around about where prospective collaborators are meeting up, and build those relationships beyond a handshake and business card exchange.
Don’t stop networking once the event ends - be sure to follow up with any connections with whom you hope to partner. Send your follow up message within a few days of SEMA’s close so that you’re still fresh in their mind.
Class is in session: Don’t underestimate the value of the educational sessions at SEMA. It’s easy to get swept up in pitching to prospective clients, exploring the trade show floor, seeing new products, at networking with other industry professionals. But remember, the collective industry knowledge gathered at this major event can be a huge resource for your company’s long-term goals. It’s important to keep up with innovative new trends and strategies that can help your business grow.
With more than 70 educational seminars and speakers on the schedule, SEMA has a session for any type of business in the automotive products industry. Here are just a few of the subjects you can learn about at SEMA:
No matter your area of expertise, these topics are relevant for building a sustainable and successful business. Don’t miss out!
Standing out at SEMA takes some star power. So every year, exhibitors tap big names with ties to the automotive industry to lend their names and faces. The list of celebrities at SEMA spans car racers, TV personalities, athletes, musicians, artists and more. At a recent SEMA, here are a few of the VIPs who appeared:
While waiting in line for an autograph and a photo with one of these celebrities might not be a priority for attendees, it’s a fun perk that adds excitement and fun to proceedings. If your business has the clout -- and budget -- to host a star at your exhibit, it could be a worthwhile addition to the booth.
For first-time shipping to SEMA exhibitors, the last thing you want to worry about is your booth materials arriving at the trade show securely and at the right time. You have enough on your plate already. It’s best to leave it to the pros to take care of your USA Trade Show shipping your materials.
While the official show contractor, Freeman, takes care of receiving your shipment and setting up your booth at the site, a logistics company will take care of the process for every step up to that point. R+L Global Logistics’ trade show shipping team has the experience and expertise necessary to get your shipment to SEMA without a hitch.
You can go about shipping your materials one of two ways. In direct to site shipping, your materials are sent straight to the SEMA site at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the designated move-in window in the days leading up to show. Or, you can go with advance warehouse shipping, where the materials are sent well ahead of time to a warehouse run by Freeman, who will then deliver your materials to the site. Either way, R+L Global has you covered.
Get the peace of mind of a professional shipping and logistics company by contacting an R+L Global representative today. We also offer shipping to IAAPA trade show needs and provide services for many other trade shows nationwide. Use the chat or call 866-415-8986 to get in touch with us today!