BJ Kimbrough: Impressions From The Trade Show Season

Trade shows are a lot of work. From the exhibitor’s perspective, it takes a lot of money, time and effort to host a great display at one of the major Automotive Industry tradeshows. From the media perspective, it’s a grind. There’s so much to see and trying to find that one special item that is going to get attention in your article is like playing hide and seek in a toy store. There’s just so much there that it’s difficult to cover everything.

Having done the trade show circuit for a few years now, I’ve come up with a few of my own observations and things to look for when attending one of the prestigious events in the automotive industry like the SEMA, PRI or IMIS trade shows.

Trade shows are a great place for industry leaders and friends to catch up. Here Corky Coker and Ed Justice Jr. are waiting for their radio interviews.

What to Look For

Odd as it may sound, I love going through the trade show floor looking at each booth to get a feel why each vendor is there. It’s easy to say that the aftermarket companies are there to increase their potential sales, but their displays can tell you so much more about each company’s objective.

For example, there are some companies that have a great new product and they have designed their display to create some excitement about the new product or introduce a new product to the public. These booths and displays are among my favorites because of the activity. Edelbrock’s new touch screen EFI kit was a perfect example of that at this year’s SEMA trade show.

There are always company’s that feel like they don’t have a new product to create a media frenzy about – and their displays show that lack of glitz – but I love to stop and talk with them. Behind the plain Jane displays are a magical feeling of pride that these manufacturers have in their tried and true products. You can only tap into that feeling by stopping and talking with the company representative. These type booths are usually where I get the biggest sources of inspiration for future articles.

Displays like Edelbrock’s new touch screen EFI kit gives you insight on where the industry is going.

Listening to the Message

I like to watch and listen to the message being communicated by the vendors. Perhaps I’ve become jaded after several years of trade shows but I can tell which companies have hired PR agencies to determine the message that is being displayed. Maybe it’s just me, but these types of displays are very fast-food like. They seem to lack a real connection with the viewing public. To me, a trade show booth is there to build rapport with potential customers, not simply exist because the event is on the company’s calendar.

The PROFORM Parts booth is always a fun place to visit.

Getting the Message Out

Vendor that make their displays and trade show booths fun really seem to get the message out. Booths that have a “theme” or have loud product demonstrations are fun. They are also the ones that are visually exciting with plenty of colors or beautiful models. The PROFORM Parts booth is always a fun and interesting display to stop by at the trade shows.

Getting off of the beaten path can lead to wonderful discoveries. Meeting and talking to the people at Lithium Pros batteries was a highlight this year.

Getting Off the Beaten Path

While it’s fun to be in the area where all of the activity is taking place, at some point I like to get away to the lower foot traffic areas and check out the booths that are in the dead end aisles or close to the loading docks. This is where I usually find the most ingenious tools or parts developed by “garage engineers.” I’ve accidentally stumbled across some of the neatest tools in these out-of-the-way spots. This year’s key find for me was Lithium Pros batteries. While they weren’t exactly “hidden,” they also were not in the highest traffic area either. Searching for these wonderfully unique products is one of the greatest aspects of attending a trade show. When you eventually find that one special product, it’s like having found a gold nugget that wasn’t shown in the treasure map.

Celebrities signing autographs are aways fun to watch. Guys like Mario Andretti and Vic Edelbrock Jr. will sign for hours and always have a smile with a kind word for each person.

Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?

Lastly, I like to look in vendor’s booths for other company’s products. To me, this suggests a partnership or endorsement of some kind. I don’t know if they do it on purpose, but MSD ignition boxes are common in many other booths and many of the cars that are on display in the shows. It happens too frequently to be an accident. I can respect and value a company that does everything it can to get noticed. After all, isn’t that why all these companies come to the trade shows?

Checking the project cars for what products were used in the build is often pretty interesting.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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