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Editor's Notebook

Reality Check: How Was the Show? Some Straight Talk About SEMA 2009

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So, how was the show? In the past, that conversational query required minimal response. Kinda like, “So, how was vacation?” or “So, how was the movie?” the inquirer assumed the best and really wasn’t asking for any other reason than to be, well, politely interested.

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Today, post SEMA 2009, “So, how was the show?” is a serious question, one deserving a straight-forward answer.

So, how was the show?

Honestly? Better than I expected. Way, way better. While I could not get to the farthest reaches of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center, the action in the show’s two main halls – the Tires, Wheels & Equipment hall in particular – was solid from the opening bell. Lots of people, lots of discussions, lots of buzz, lots of positive vibes. (See our December 2009 issue for full coverage)

Did we see the hordes of three years ago? No, and frankly I don’t see that as a problem. While final results have yet to be tabulated, I think overall attendance was far better than 2008, when the sudden, sharp economic falloff caused late travel plan cancellations.

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Any perceived shortfall in quantity was more than made up for by quality. Dealers sent fewer folks to Vegas, but sent those in a position to make buying decisions. Exhibitors got to see more of the right people, and that’s the point. Business went on, a positive that benefits everyone.

Some said they didn’t get the traffic they expected. Then again, when asked, most couldn’t articulate what they expected. If you don’t have a plan, you don’t get results.

So, how was the show?

No secret that there were fewer exhibitors. The hall footprint was smaller. A lot of big names were absent…and not just in the TWE section. And, from my view, a lot of the missing exhibitors represented discretionary goods – the blingy stuff – that consumers have moved away from anyway.

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As it concerns tire companies, let’s consider real-world facts here. Some of the missing majors had been missing for years. Some were part-timers that seem to come and go from year to year. Others were regulars hit hard by the economic downturn. In realistic terms, I know of no one who makes their show attendance decision based on which companies are exhibiting, but rather what they intend to accomplish.

Keep in mind that companies – especially ones with big plans – have to make their final decisions in early spring. I seem to recall that March-April 2009 was not a pretty time. No corporation can commit to such a major expense in April on hopes for better revenue and profits come October. I know of exhibitors that previously were spending more than $1 million all in to have a “presence” at SEMA. Where in anyone’s budget is a line item that says: “By God’s Grace?”

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Were the missing missed? Sure. And from my discussions with those companies, they very much want to return – as market conditions improve. They have to be prudent businesspeople, but they understand the value of the show.

They understand it so well that virtually every absent major was in Vegas, either strolling the show floor, holding off-site dealer meetings or hosting cocktail receptions. If SEMA and TIA didn’t matter, why would they bother?

So, how was the show?

Not sure where these rumors came from, but some people were ready to shovel dirt on graves marked “SEMA” and “TIA.” The outcome of the show should put these foolish notions to rest. SEMA is going nowhere, and neither is TIA. They are strong, they are necessary and they recognize that they need to continuously improve the product.

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The show will continue. Not only does the show represent SEMA and TIA’s single largest revenue source each year, it is THE showcase event for the GLOBAL automotive and tire industries. That’s right: Global. And, in the case of TIA, those revenues come back in the form of programs and efforts that positively support everyone who works in the tire industry.

So, how was the show?

Outstanding, and a source of pride for true tire professionals. Gone was the dated Breakfast With the President program, where clinking china, tired eyes and hurried speeches took all of the starch out of what should have been a highlight event.

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This year, TIA created a “star of stars” night with its Tire Industry Honors program. And it was tremendous. The well-attended 90-minute program included the induction of the Tire Industry Hall of Fame Class of 2009, recognition of various industry magazine award winners, and a well-deserved thank you to outgoing TIA president Dan Beach.

This is the kind of event – where the best of the best are on full display – that makes me proud and excited to be part of this industry.

So, how was the show?

Well, why don’t you go next year and see for yourself!

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