Reacting to stand-alone expos: 'Shock and surprise' but few objections

Jan. 1, 2020
Veering away from the previously perceived plusses of having the entire automotive repair and parts industry gathering in Las Vegas at the same time, trade show insiders are cautiously giving an initial green light to conducting Automotive Service &a

Veering away from the previously perceived plusses of having the entire automotive repair and parts industry gathering in Las Vegas at the same time, trade show insiders are cautiously giving an initial green light to conducting Automotive Service & Repair Week (ASRW) and Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) as stand-alone events with separate dates.

ASRW and AAIW officials are eager to avoid any indications that a feud is erupting between the two parties. Neither side anticipates a drop-off in exhibitor participation because of the shift, saying their respective segments will ultimately be better-served by reducing the “distractions” and “competition” inherent in running concurrent conventions along the Vegas Strip.

AAIW consists of the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) held in conjunction with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, which includes the Tires, Wheels & Equipment Section (TWE) hosted by the Tire Industry Association (TIA). AAPEX is jointly sponsored by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), an affiliate of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA).

ASRW features the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE), the Congress of Automotive Repair & Service (CARS) and Auto Glass Week, which are all sponsored by the Automotive Service Association (ASA).

ASA made the decision to distance itself from AAIW, citing the benefits of being exclusively dedicated to the industry’s vehicle servicing segments. (Although TWE contains elements of repair relating to tire care, it will remain with SEMA.)

Reaction was mainly positive as ASA broke the news.

“It’s Day One, and I love what I’m hearing so far,” reports ASRW show producer Lindsay Roberts at Hanley Wood Exhibitions.

As Hanley staffers worked the phones, responses included “shock and surprise” but little opposition, she says. “A lot of people are really excited; for a lot of them, it didn’t make sense to begin with” to have ASRW and AAIW running at the same time. “The idea of having a stand-alone event without the distractions up the Strip is very appealing.”

Roberts reminds everyone that the ASRW segments had long been distinct entities before associating with AAIW in 2004. “It stood on its own for 20-plus years before they decided to do the co-location.”

This year less than 1,500 AAIW attendees visited ASRW; most came from the SEMA Show. There were about 30 overlapping vendors with a presence at both expos. “It’s a pretty small percentage of our base,” says Roberts.

The double exhibitors are almost unanimously signaling that they will continue to buy booths at each of the events while coming up with plans to manage the logistics. “It simply comes down to hotel rooms and airline tickets,” Roberts observes, noting how “there are a lot of things we can help them with,” such as making arrangements for storing display materials.

Vendors with dual participation faced “a logistical nightmare” when struggling to maintain two sales staffs to concurrently cover separate sites, according to ASA President Ron Pyle. “They were splitting up for that week.”

Shop owners and their employees will appreciate the tighter focus that NACE, CARS and Auto Glass Week can now provide, Pyle points out. “We didn’t feel that many people were coming to our show (from AAIW) because the target audience was different. We didn’t feel we were getting a good trade-off – we were losing more than we were getting,” he says.

Expressing concern that some of his previously published comments may be perceived as being overly negative, Pyle asserts “there are no hard feelings on our part. We’re not doing this to thumb our nose at anyone.”

He remains aware, however, that this sense of good will could waver when more industry participants start voicing their opinions. “It might get really nasty over the next few days as people think about it. We can’t please everybody, and we weren’t pleasing everybody before,” says Pyle.

“We had to protect our show,” he explains. “It was a successful show when it was on its own before, and it will be successful again.”

The relationship between ASRW and AAIW has been teetering for several years, according to trade show insiders. The debut of a SEMA body, paint & equipment section was seen by some as yet another slight against NACE.

Pyle is conciliatory: “Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. They had to do that to hedge their bets,” he says, “but it’s like feeding a competitor, and that’s not a good situation for us. To be honest, those guys (at SEMA) have much bigger pockets than we do.”

SEMA’s membership wants BP&E, contends Peter MacGillivray, the association’s vice president of communications and events.

“There’s been a shift in the industry,” he says. “There’s a cross-buying and cross-selling opportunity” among SEMA attendees and exhibitors “going outside of traditional audiences” with custom finishes gaining popularity as an alternative to standard-production crash repairs.

“My sense is that the momentum will continue,” MacGillivray forecasts. “The traditional auto body shops are coming to the SEMA Show, and they’re going first to that section,” he adds.

“It’s important to note that NACE never was a formal partner with AAIW,” says MacGillivray. “We’ve had businesses in this category for decades at our show. While we re-launched a paint and body section this year – it wasn’t the first time we had such a section, and it came at the request of the businesses in the category.”

SEMA issued a press release in April announcing the expanded section.

He goes on to say that “the landscape is definitely changing,” and “our section will increase in size next year. We don’t anticipate a loss.”

For his part, Pyle predicts a more fertile future as well. “We’re not just going to rest on moving the date. We’re going to do some other things” to make the event a better experience. “You just can’t rely on something to remain productive and viable without making changes. A common theme was, ‘We need a refreshing of the show.’”

In the months approaching AAIW, ASA embarked upon “a full analysis” of the annual industry extravaganza. “We tracked everything we could and engaged consultants to study the shows,” Pyle recounts. “They recommended exactly what we had concluded ourselves.”

It was time to make the break.

Given the nation’s troubled economy, Pyle is pleased that ASRW’s 2009 attendance was down just 6 percent from 2008’s figures. Mindful of what has been happening at other, non-automotive industry expos, he’d been braced by show director Roberts at Hanley Woods to anticipate an attendee loss approaching 20 percent.

“We felt it was a huge victory as opposed to what our expectations were,” says Pyle. “It was a blessing that it wasn’t worse than it was.”

In the meantime, Steve Handschuh – who represents suppliers as the AASA’s president and COO – was taken aback by the news of the split. “I just heard about it a few minutes ago. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Ron Pyle yet,” he says.

“I’m disappointed,” reports Handschuh. “I would have thought we’d have a way to bring both shows closer together rather than apart – that would have been our hope,” he says, adding that he had favored heightened AAIW attention toward a stronger service professional focus. “They (ASA officials) feel they have to isolate the shows to reduce the distractions. It clearly shows they have an interest in segregating the shows.”

AAIA was mum on the topic. “We just saw the announcement about the NACE case,” says Rich White, senior vice president of marketing and member relations, “so we don’t have any comments or response at this point.”

The National Windshield Repair Association (NWRA) was equally reticent, referring all Auto Glass Week questions to NACE. “We’re like a side event to them,” says spokeswoman Penny Stacy. NWRA operations director Wendy Jozwiak refused to discuss the matter.

A spokeswoman for a high-ranking NWRA official declined to make him available: “He probably doesn’t want to give you his comment.”

Opinions posted by several bloggers reacting to a previous news account of the split have been vigorous in denouncing the move. Some are calling for a shift eastward now that the separation has occurred.

Leaving Las Vegas is not that easy, according to NACE Chairman Jerry Burns. “Most trade shows are long-term contracts; we have to work with the contracts.”

Burns is confident that repairers will benefit from a new and improved ASRW. “Our showcase is to the shop owners and technicians. It’s a very good thing for attendees of NACE and CARS. Vendors and attendees have both been wanting a change in the dates. It will cut away some of the congestion,” he says.

A particular plus is that “all of the events will be on the same floor of the convention center,” reports Burns, adding that a pattern of ongoing enhancements will be widely welcomed when compared the old AAIW.

“We were supposed to compliment each other’s shows,” he explains. “That hasn’t happened, so we’re switching to another time period. People have been wanting a change.”

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