Q&A: Maximizing ROI at the 2023 SEMA Show

››› With exhibitor numbers expected to top 2,000 companies, buyers and media will have plenty to explore live and in-person at the 2023 SEMA Show.


"You Can't Smell Burning Rubber on a Zoom Call." Why and How Attendees Can Get the Most From a Live Event

By Mike Imlay

Automotive specialty-equipment manufacturers are geared up and eager to connect with attendees at the 2023 SEMA Show, taking place October 31–November 3 in Las Vegas. With exhibitor numbers expected to top 2,000 companies, buyers and media will have plenty to explore at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"The commitment we've seen from exhibitors is a positive sign that companies are excited to reconnect face-to-face," said Tom Gattuso, SEMA vice president of events. "It's also a sign that companies are confident that they will have new products and stories to share."

Meanwhile, SEMA officials are finalizing new features to further evolve the Show and deepen attendee engagement. To help attendees get their best return on energy and investment, we turned to Gattuso and SEMA Trade Show Director Andy Tompkins for some behind-the-scenes insights.

SN: There's been a lot of talk in the media about how trade events are changing. In a world of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and social media, what is the value of a live trade event like the SEMA Show?

Tom Gattuso: I'd go a step further and ask, "What is the value of face-to-face events?" We find a tremendous positive response from the people who attend the SEMA Show. They value connecting in person with their end users or future suppliers and industry colleagues. There's just no replacement for what you can see, hear and feel in terms of industry passion and enthusiasm on-site at the Show. You just can't replace that peer-to-peer exchange, and you can't smell burning rubber on a Zoom call.

Andy Tompkins: I'd underscore the value of relationships. The SEMA Show gathers the entire industry in one place so people can do business with one another, regardless of how technology is accelerating. It's a great opportunity to rekindle relationships, develop new ones, and have significant conversations. It can be difficult at times to solve business issues and more nuanced situations through technology like the phone, internet or email. A trade show offers the chance to look somebody in the eye and really talk about your issues and goals. You can pick up on non-verbal cues and have more innate conversations that are really part of our DNA.

SN: Part of business is ensuring return on investment and energy. What does the SEMA Show offer attendees in that regard?

TG: In 2021, the SEMA Show was the highest attended trade show in the United States. That emphasizes the value people see in our Show. It reflects the trends and interactions within the marketplace and is set up to help people make connections efficiently and then foster those connections for the next one, three and five years. And that's important—return on energy doesn't stop at the Show.

Connections need to be followed up with periodic conversations throughout the year because if you don't do that, others will. If your plan is to come to the SEMA Show and try your hardest for four days but then do nothing else, you're not going to see a good ROI. But if you come to the Show to make connections that you plan to nurture over the next weeks, months and years, you will definitely get a very strong return.

AT: It's so important to have goals as you enter the SEMA Show and really think about what ROI means to you. Do you have a three- to five-year strategic plan? The SEMA Show offers a long-term opportunity to truly think about what's coming next for the industry. It helps you see business challenges or opportunities that you might not be aware of. It's a glimpse of the future that you can only get from a global, immersive event like our Show.

As Tom mentioned, relationships are built that can deliver for your business in the future. They might be those
serendipitous moments in the aisles, a conversation that sparked an idea, or a tangible business opportunity you're working on that needs time and connections to develop. That face-to-face interface is just so enormous.

››› Seeing product displayed, explained and demonstrated face-to-face is one of the SEMA Show's many exclusive advantages.

››› As SEMA Show organizers like to say, "You can't smell burning rubber on a Zoom call." Live events and demonstrations help immerse attendees in industry trends, innovation and excitement.

SN: Maintaining an edge in today's market is more vital than ever. How does the SEMA Show help attendees stay competitive?

AT: The Show is a great opportunity for that. You'll have the entire landscape of industry products in one location so you can see firsthand what's being introduced and how it's being marketed. You'll get an understanding of the buzz over not only what the business audience sees, but what consumers are gravitating towards through the Show's Friday Experience. If you're looking for skills that you and your team may need, there are also the Show's educational opportunities. You'll also see where you stack up in the marketplace from a competitive angle. You'll be in the best position to utilize it all to be successful going forward.

TG: I'm going to key in on the word "innovation." A sustainable business is about constant innovation and evolution in answering consumer needs. That manifests itself at the SEMA Show through new products, cutting-edge vehicle builds and world-class education. You're able to be part of where the industry is going. There's no place as passionate about the industry's growth as the SEMA Show. Vehicles keep evolving in technology, performance and styling, and the Show immerses you in all of it to help you stay up-to-speed and competitive.

SN: Let's talk about some key 2023 Show features that attendees will want to leverage.

AT: They'll see thousands of products on display from our New Product Showcase to our more than 2,000 exhibitors, many of whom are debuting them for the first time. Again, our educational tracks offer a whole series of ways to fine-tune your business and your career, along with presenting some skills you might want to work on personally. Then there's just the experience, the chance to get out of your day-to-day work to really think about what's next and those inspirational opportunities that come from being immersed with thousands of like-minded peers.

TG: Building on what Andy said, I'd add that our New Products Showcase and features like SEMA Central, SEMA Electrified and the ADAS and Overland Experience sections are designed to educate attendees on the latest marketplace trends. More than that, they make it efficient for Showgoers to connect with product exhibitors on the Show floor, get questions answered by experts, and see hands-on product demonstrations. We've also made it easy to connect with exhibitors whose products are found on featured and sponsored vehicle builds throughout the Show.

In addition to educational seminars, keynote events and presentations, there are also countless other ways to advance your professional development and become an asset to your company or business. For example, our Battle of the Builders program highlights what's happening in the builder community and what's coming next there. We have a whole series of council events and other industry activities that help you network and immerse yourself in the marketplace. You can connect to become part of the industry's next generation of leaders or support them and the industry's diversity. There are opportunities everywhere.

Industry Exhibitors Geared Up for 2023 SEMA Show Attendees

Eager to connect with buyers and media in person, introduce new products, develop relationships and tell their company stories, the 2023 SEMA Show was on track to exceed 2,000 exhibiting companies as of press time.

An up-to-date exhibitor list of the major automakers, iconic aftermarket brands, and new, first-time exhibitors confirmed for the Show can be viewed at Participating Manufacturers.

SN: You've mentioned that the SEMA Show is always evolving. Can you offer any insights into new Show features or plans for 2023 that we should

TG: We can offer a teaser: With the industry workforce changing and evolving, we've seen a desire within the trade show industry to provide more features that entertain attendees. As many know, we're creating a new SEMA Fest event to give people the chance to connect with the industry on a whole new level. It's really a lifestyle event combining entertainment and vehicle demonstrations.

Although it's not a direct part of our annual trade Show, it's going to be adjacent to the SEMA Show. It will give those who want to mix their business needs with world-class entertainment the opportunity to do so. Unlike the SEMA Show, which continues to be trade-focused, SEMA Fest will be a public event. It's designed to help generate enthusiasm and excitement for our industry among consumers, especially those drawn to the automotive lifestyle.

AT: I can also report that there will be some new and interesting thought leaders presenting SEMA Education sessions. We'll absolutely have more for attendees to experience there. We're also expanding several of our industry-community areas to spark more interaction and connections. Plus, as Tom mentioned, we'll see a greater presence of enthusiast end users in the Las Vegas Convention Center through the Show's Friday Experience.

SN: We've covered a lot in this interview. Do you have any closing thoughts you'd like to add?

TG: We're really keyed in on what industry attendees seek in an event. We're building new facets of the Show around those needs. So we're excited with what the future holds not only for our Show, but face-to-face trade events in general, and the value they bring. We feel strongly as a trade association that showcasing innovation, providing education and building an engaged community delivers attendees personal and professional development in a rapidly changing industry.



SEMA Week Expands in 2023

At last year's Industry Awards Banquet, SEMA introduced SEMA Fest, an enthusiast-focused experience that connects automotive enthusiasts with the aftermarket industry for a celebration of car culture and automotive lifestyle. The event will add a new dimension to SEMA Week.

Over a planned five-year rollout period and beyond, SEMA will remain dedicated to producing the annual SEMA Show—the specialty-equipment industry's premier automotive trade event—at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Open to the automotive trade, the Show takes place October 31–November 3.

For more information or to register, visit www.SEMAShow.com.

Not to be confused with the SEMA Show, SEMA Fest will be an enthusiast-
focused event open to everyone, including automotive enthusiasts and professionals. The two-day celebration will be held at a separate venue—the Las Vegas Festival Grounds—Friday and Saturday, November 3–4. It will feature music and entertainment, craft food, automotive celebrities, drifting competitions, freestyle motocross and the world's most innovative and advanced custom

To register for SEMA Fest or for more information, visit www.SEMAFest.com.


Advantages of Meeting Face-to-Face

The SEMA Show is driven by connections, and brings exhibitors, buyers and media from around the world together for the automotive aftermarket's most impactful business-to-business experience. Its in-person nature delivers key advantages that other forms of connecting simply can't match.


  • When you meet in person, you can read body language, see facial expressions, use context clues and better get to know someone's personality.
  • The automotive aftermarket prefers to meet face-to-face, without potential distractions or technical difficulties.
  • It's more effective to brainstorm, generate ideas and discuss what is working, and what is not, face-to-face.
  • Conducting business in person provides the opportunity to engage in purposeful small talk, deepening relationships, loyalty and trust.
  • Research from MIT's Human Dynamics Lab shows face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those sent by email, and that a physical handshake promotes cooperation and influences negotiation outcomes for the better.
  • According to a Forbes Insight study, 85% of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during in-person meetings and conferences.
  • According to a Harvard Review study, 95% of people say face-to-face meetings are a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term business relationships.