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‘To Be or Not To Be:’ SEMA Show, AAPEX Reach Crucial Juncture

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This year’s edition of the SEMA Show probably won’t look like the 2019 SEMA Show. And the same can probably be said for AAPEX. But that’s to be expected and is OK, in my book.

Just as in the lives of people, there are certain junctures in the “life” of every trade show where big decisions must be made. 

Sometimes these decisions have to do with relocating from one conference center to another. Other times decisions revolve around where to place “company A”  in relation to “company B” or how to effectively fill a new wing or annex with exhibitors. (I’ve never organized a trade show, but I imagine these are good problems to have.) 

However, once in a great while, decisions take on a more existential nature — as in, “Should we continue our show?” or “Is what we’re delivering really what our members want?” or “Is moving ahead with staging this year’s event worth the risk of (potential negative outcome?)” 

The 2021 edition of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show and the 2021 Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) are taking place in Las Vegas, Nev., this week.

You can be sure that both SEMA and AAPEX organizers wrestled with the questions listed above — and countless others — before giving the green light to proceed with this year’s get-together in the face of a worldwide virus that continues to mutate and resulting safety restrictions. 

At the same time, I’m sure that leaders of the Tire Industry Association (TIA) — which was unable to celebrate its 100th anniversary during the Global Tire Expo portion of last year’s SEMA Show due to the event’s pandemic-related cancellation — struggled with the same questions and concerns. 

As I considered all of this recently, my thoughts turned to another big juncture that TIA’s immediate predecessor, the Tire Association of North America (TANA) — which, in turn, was preceded by the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association — arrived at in 1996. 

Faced with dwindling attendance at its own convention and a financial position that was less than stellar, the association was confronted with another stark choice — keep pushing ahead independently, while running a very real risk of the show becoming financially unviable and disappearing or finding a partner that could provide stability and help inject some life into the event. TANA chose to merge its show with the SEMA Show. 

And by any measure, it was the right decision — made at precisely the right time. 

In his December 1997 column, then-MTD Editor Lloyd Stoyer reported that the combined shows turned a handsome, six-figure profit, helping TANA balance its budget for the rest of the year. 

But perhaps more importantly, the event helped restore the industry’s faith in what a strong convention and a reenergized association could do for it. (“Virtually all dealers and exhibitors at this year’s show said they’ll be back and will recommend the show to their friends,” Lloyd wrote.) 

I realize that the dilemma TANA faced 25 years ago and the situation that SEMA and AAPEX faced in relation to this year’s Industry Week festivities are different. Certainly, nobody could have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic and the personal and economic devastation that came with it. 

But just as MTD applauded TANA’s decision to merge with the SEMA Show — a partnership that has benefited both SEMA and TIA — I applaud the decisions to move forward with this year’s events. 

I also applaud TIA’s commitment to ensuring that the tire industry continues to be well-represented within the SEMA Show, as well as its determination to celebrate — finally — its centennial, a moment in the sun that it richly deserves. 

Furthermore, I applaud those tire dealers, tire manufacturers and other companies who are making the time and financial commitment to be in Las Vegas. 

Will the 2021 SEMA Show and AAPEX look and feel like their last, in-person editions, which took place in 2019? The answer to that question is no. And I think nobody is operating under the illusion that they will. But that’s OK, in my book. 

What matters, I believe, is that TIA and the organizers of SEMA and AAPEX — having arrived at a difficult crossroads — weighed the risks with care and concern for their members and made the decision to carry on. That’s a positive thing for our industry and something that should be commended.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at mmanges@10missions.com.

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