A First Timer’s View of the SEMA Show

Hellcats and Vipers and Rams…Oh My!

For a few days each fall, Las Vegas, usually known for its glitz, glamour and gambling gives way to automotive aftermarket gear heads and outrageous show cars when SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) is in town. For four days each fall, Sin City is the Mecca where aftermarket manufacturers and buyers from around the world make a pilgrimage and conduct business.

The 2016 SEMA Show was my very first. Experiencing SEMA for the first time I felt like Dorothy in the land of Oz — the difference is at SEMA you get to look behind the curtain to see what makes this industry tick.

To start out, simply walking up to the convention center is an assault on the senses. Before I could get near the entrance doors I experienced something that, for a car person, can only be described as sensory overload. Spread out in groups in front of the entrances were rows and rows of cars, trucks, SUV’s and other vehicles sporting the latest and greatest in automotive specialty equipment. You want to take it all in but you don’t know where to look first.

What struck me even more was the energy of the crowd. As I began to pay greater attention to the SEMA experience as a whole, I realized what that was all about. The most significant difference between SEMA and the hundreds of trade shows I have attended in a dozen other industries is this: the exhibitors, attendees, company executives, actually want to be here!

Normally, unless a trade show takes place in some exciting location, the bulk of the attendees are there because they have to be, it’s their job. Not SEMA. SEMA is a true enthusiast’s event and is as much about passion as it is about products and services because the people in this industry are in it for the love of the sport as much as for the excitement of the business.

The folks at SEMA all have that “kid in a candy shop” look and who can blame them. From 3D printed carbon fiber parts, to smart phone apps that let you monitor, diagnose, and make adjustments to your vehicle in real time, to exhibitors, with their one of a kind project cars, rows of chrome and aluminum parts and accessories as far as the eye can see, there is something for everyone at SEMA and attendees love every second of it.

I have seen this kind of frenzy at CES and other consumer trade shows, but for an industry-only show like SEMA, that same kind of excitement is something rare. My epiphany about the SEMA Show was realizing that unlike other trade show the folks in this industry are in it because they love it — and they get paid to do what they love to do every day. I mean, compared to the annual Plumbing Fixture and Fasteners show, a trade show filled with thousands of show vehicles, most of which could win any Best of Show award at any ordinary car show and thousands of booths filled with high horsepower performance parts, the fun factor is through the roof.

Not that it’s all fun and games. The show is spread out over four massive convention halls, and in fact is so big they have to build a temporary fifth hall. I walked more miles than I cared to count. And the business conducted at the SEMA Show is as serious as that at any industry trade show. It’s just that all of that walking (or standing for the folks in the booths) and business is conducted while surrounded by the most exciting atmosphere a gearhead can imagine.

I give my first experience at SEMA two thumbs up. It featured incredible cutting edge technology in an industry powered by its love of the sport. The experience was amazing and I came away from it with a new understanding of where the automotive world is now and where it is heading.

Thanks, SEMA, the pleasure was all mine.