Autopromotec offers opportunities for those ready to accept the global challenge

Jan. 1, 2020
Business-to-business meetings connecting U.S. companies with foreign firms are a core value proposition for shows like Autopromotec. 

Giovanni Pisi speaks broken English with an engaging Italian accent. Well dressed and confident, he sits, hands folded at a table hoping to find a U.S. distributor in the automotive sector. His 30-minute business-to-business meeting is not a make or break deal for his company, Fenice Care System S.p.A., but it’s important. Like a speed dating event, the 30-minute B2B meeting is an opportunity to determine mutual interest, and you can see in Pisi’s eyes a hope for expansion.

On the other side of the table is Guy Bargnes, vice president of sales and marketing for Painters Supply & Equipment. Headquartered in Taylor, Mich., his company services the states of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

Bargnes stares, listening intently as Pisi pitches the leather repair kit manufactured at his family’s business near Venice. He uses a standard pitch about “high quality” shared by most suppliers. He notes that his company already has plans to open offices this summer in North Carolina, to support products they sell to furniture builders. He adds that Fenice already supplies tanneries that support the automotive OEMs in Europe.

That’s all fairly standard and run-of-the-mill. Then he hits a nerve.

“We have just made a whole new set of videos with a very detailed procedure on how to use the product,” Pisi says. “The main thing is to provide some training, because people are a bit scared about leather.” Collision repair shops that follow the training can become “authorized repair centers,” which opens up new sales opportunities for them.

The words cause Bargnes to shift in his chair as he realizes he may have something here.

“What interests me is bringing in new revenue opportunities for the body shops,” he says. “That’s a big value to the customer.”

Connecting the U.S. to the world

Business-to-business meetings connecting U.S. companies with foreign firms are a core value proposition for shows like Autopromotec. Hosted in Bologna, Italy, last May, the show attracted more than 100,000 attendees from 52 different nations. Held bi-annually, Autopromotec showcased the wares of 1,512 exhibitors and covered roughly 1.7 million square feet of space, including a large outdoor section for car wash equipment. Click on Autopromotec to see photos from the show.

Emanuele Vicentini, brand manager for the event, says the show could be even larger, and make more money in the short-term, if organizers weren’t so particular in their vetting process. The show turns away exhibitors not focused on quality, so as not to erode Autopromotec’s long-term value, he said.

Launched in the mid-1960s, the show is owned by two associations – the Associazione Italiana Ricostruttori Pneumatici (AIRP) or Italian Tyre Retreaders Association, and the Associazione Italiana Costruttori Autoattrezzature (AICA), the Italian Garage Equipment Manufacturers Association.

“The original idea to start a trade show was to promote (high quality) products,” says Vicentini, during a meeting in the show press center. “In the mid-60s, late 60s, there was no opportunity to promote their products here in Italy. The market was booming at the time.”

Fast forward nearly 50 years and visitors can see a bustling event. The 2013 exhibition saw a sizable increase in exhibitors for diagnostic equipment, as well as a strong showing among tire manufacturers.

Vicentini says in recent years Autopromotec has worked to align itself with U.S. trade associations to encourage participation from buyers and exhibitors in the states. Representatives of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the Tire Industry Association (TIA) presented a joint seminar to help attendees understand the intricacies of the American market.

The show also is on the radar of the U.S. Department of Commerce, whose Consul for Commercial Affairs Michael Richardson attended Autopromotec to promote cooperation between show officials and American businesses. The DOC has “certified” Autopromotec, which basically means it gave its blessing that the event is worthy of attention for U.S. companies.

"We are very keen on providing support services to the U.S. companies," says Richardson, who is based in Milan, Italy. The DOC wants to aid exporting and importing efforts of U.S. automotive firms. Many of its services are free, including market research, facilitating meetings and tapping firms into the Commerce Department’s Export Assistance Center.

The key is getting U.S. companies to understand the overall value shows like Autopromotec bring to their business.

Finding the right fit

For companies like Fenice and Painters Supply, face-to-face contact can be extremely valuable at establishing long-term global relationships, but it’s not simply about personal engagement. Both sides have to see a fit, and that’s where the challenge lies.

“I don’t think it’s easy to find unique opportunities. It is easy to find commodities,” says Bargnes, whose company sells refinish products, tools and equipment primarily to body shops. “We have an abundance of commodities in the U.S. and in the North American market that are refinish based or somehow based in products that are used to repair vehicles that have been damaged in collisions. Where the opportunity comes about is in finding something that is absolutely unique – something that’s such a step up, an advancement of something that already exists.”

When you bring those types of products to market you’re bringing real value as opposed to just having another me-too product that is cheaper, he adds.

To drive home his point, Bargnes points toward the four or five Autopromotec exhibitors he saw who produce sandpaper. “We have global market leaders already in the U.S. market that manufacture high quality and have a great distribution network already in place,” he says. “There is no value in taking on a product line like that even if it’s cheaper because it’s only going to be marginally cheaper, and it’s only going to be cheaper for a certain period of time.”

What intrigued Bargnes about Fenice was the new revenue stream that could develop from a unique product for his customers.

“I don’t know how much revenue opportunity exists in repairing damaged seats,” says Bargnes after Pisi left the meeting. “But shops are always looking to touch that customer.” If they had some sort of signage or marketing message that shows the shop can handle leather repairs, it might be a way to get the customer back to the shop.

Bargnes stops and ponders the idea for a moment. Then his concentration is broken. A new exhibitor has shown up, hand extended, to discuss his goals for reaching America.

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About the Author

Michael Willins

Mike has been involved in the automotive industry since 1997. He was formerly Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Automotive Body Repair News. In 2005, under Mike's direction ABRN won the Advanstar Communications "Magazine of the Year Award." Prior to that he was senior editor of Aftermarket Business. With Mike's help Aftermarket Business earned the 2004 Gold Key Award as Publication of the Year given out by the Association of Automotive Publication Editors.

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