Al Navarro, CCO & Co-Founder

If you are at all into cars, and maybe even if you aren’t, you’ve no doubt heard about SEMA — the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show held annually in Las Vegas. Even though it’s not open to the general public, the show is attended by more than 70,000 buyers according to the SEMA website. If you’re curious about what “specialty equipment” is, think hot-rods, tuner cars, and pretty much every go-fast, upgrade, or appearance accessory for cars and trucks.

SEMA is held in conjunction with another show called AAPEX. In contrast to SEMA, AAPEX focuses on less flashy but more mandatory car parts like control arms and alternators. Which is also a huge market, not just in the US, but worldwide. Together, these two shows basically take over Las Vegas for the week.

It had been a few years since I’d been to AAPEX/SEMA, and it was even bigger and busier than I remembered. Here are a few observations I had:

  • There appeared to be many more women working the booths — and not just as spokesmodels. This is a very interesting trend to me, in what’s traditionally been an arena dominated by men.
  • There were many booths featuring hard walls/barriers at the perimeters of their allocated space. To be honest, I’m not a fan of this trend — as it does not make the booth very inviting. To make matters worse, some booths did not use this added real estate for visual branding. A missed opportunity, IMO.
  • A few booths were offering VR (virtual reality) experiences, and I think this will become more prevalent over time — especially as the cost of equipment and production continues to go down in price.
  • Some of the international booths had extremely poor localization of their branding messages. I really can’t understand this. The costs of renting space, designing and transporting a booth to/from the show; on top of staffing it are significant. And it takes very little to ensure that any printed or digital materials are not just translated for the NAFTA market, but also cater to the sensibilities of the NAFTA audience. Imagery that might work in China does not necessarily have the same effect or meaning in the U.S.
  • Those signs that hang from the ceiling are worth every penny — they make it much easier to find a given booth on the crowded show floor (see photo). Several times, I found myself looking up to help locate a booth that I was interested in visiting.

Got a tradeshow of your own coming up? Feel free to ask us for a second opinion on your booth design and collateral — as well as your pre- and post-show communications. We have a lot of tradeshow marketing experience working with a wide variety of clients.