2012 SEMA overview and gallery: custom and performance car overload

If you’ve never been to the SEMA Show (better known as just ‘SEMA’), this gallery will give you just a sampling of what the show is all about. It is almost impossible to convey how large it is. There are approximately 100k people that attend the show over the four days to see the some 2000 exhibiting companies. Attendance appeared to be a bit down this year compared to 2011, most likely due to the influence of Superstorm Sandy that hit the east coast just as SEMA was getting underway.

I attended the 2012 SEMA Show as a guest of the SEMA Young Executive Network Fellowship Program and, as a winner of the program, I participated in a number of seminars, keynotes, networking lunches and receptions, culminating with an evening at the annual SEMA banquet. It is difficult to pick a highlight of the event, but Christopher Titus’s standup routine was very entertaining and solidified his credentials as a true gearhead.

In addition to attending as a YEN guest I was overseeing the OctaneNation booth in the upper South Hall. It was our second year exhibiting at the show and it’s always great to meet fellow enthusiasts and talk about their project cars and passion for the automotive aftermarket. With all of the YEN events I was not able to spend as much time in the booth as I would have liked, but attending the YEN events and networking were an experience that made the show especially worthwhile.

The seminars dealt with three main issues: changing automotive aftermarket demographics, mobile, and customer service. The most eye-opening seminar for me was concerning the changing demographics of enthusiasts. I will cover this issue in more detail in another blog post, but the insight and actions of SEMA, and SEMA-member companies, shows much self-awareness and foresight in dealing with this issue.

Mobile is another industry challenge that is not necessarily unique to a younger demographic. The initial challenge for the industry includes creating and properly serving content for a myriad of devices. This could mean creating a mobile-friendly (responsive in geek-speak) version of a website, or even a separate user-downloadable app. To do an extensive and professional version requires a non-negligible investment in time and money.

Customer service in the digital age presents a unique challenge and opportunity for retailers. It’s a challenge because the sale of parts is becoming increasing commoditized—it’s a race to the bottom for prices and the traditional neighborhood speed shop is competing with online juggernauts such as eBay and Amazon. This new competition is obviously not something unique to the automotive aftermarket, but the industry does have a somewhat unique customer, and Bob Phibbs (http://www.retaildoc.com/) gave an excellent presentation on how to interact with them.

Phibbs highlighted that automotive enthusiasts who customize their vehicles are very passionate about their vehicles and the industry. In a retail setting where it may not be possible to compete directly on price, it’s important to engage with these consumers without being overbearing. By asking a simple question about their project car it’s possible to initiate a genuine conversation about their passions and interests. (People like to talk about their cars—it’s why we started OctaneNation.com!). This conversation with a consumer not only builds a bond with the retailer, but it often provides information about other products and services that can be up-sold at the time of sale.

The YEN Fellowship program gave me an opportunity to interact with the other impressive young executives and provide access to valuable networking events, including a ‘speed networking’ hosted by the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (who built and sold a custom Ford Mustang for charity).

I’m confident that many of the contacts I made at the show will part of my professional network for many years.

I wish to again extend my gratitude to SEMA Young Executives Network for the opportunity to attend the 2012 SEMA Show as their guest and look forward to attending many more shows in the future!

[P.S. You should join us today on OctaneNation.]