Answering The Call

Recently the question of “Should the SEMA Show be opened up to more consumers?” was posed to the 2019 SEMA Board of Directors candidates via the Automotive Aftermarket Networking Group on Facebook. Since the question was posed by a longstanding SEMA member and generated some great dialogue in the follow-up comments, I feel a responsibility to provide my perspective on the issue.

This is a great topic, albeit a very complex one, that deserves more meaningful discussion among the membership and SEMA Board. In my last three years on the Board, it frankly has not been widely discussed as we have been mostly dealing with urgent legislative/regulatory matters (RPM Act), next generation engagement along with financial oversight/guidance.

First, as a sitting member of the Board of Directors, let me make the obligatory “these opinions are my own and in no way represent the opinions of the SEMA organization or staff” statement. With that out of the way, my position on this matter has remained consistent throughout my current Board of Directors term, but I am always listening for new perspectives on this issue and will continue to refine my stance as those are presented.

My Board Position – I feel strongly that my personal opinion on this issue is secondary to my obligation to represent the consensus of the SEMA members, particularly the manufacturers within the SEMA membership as that is the category for which I have been elected. Based on the input that I have received recently, I do believe the consensus on this issue is evolving, and I feel it is important for the SEMA Board to “check the temperature” on this topic every 2-4 years to ensure that the wishes of the membership are being best served. In the year ahead, I would like to see new surveys on this issue with the potential for a referendum if there is sufficient interest among the membership. Honestly, I don’t know that there is enough interest in changing our current approach to make this a priority issue for the Board, but I am certainly willing to if the research shows otherwise. My “gut feel” is that there is vocal minority on both edges of the issue, and the vast majority of the members are content with the current approach.

Since the question specifically asked about my “personal opinion” on the topic, I will address that candidly below while once again noting that my obligation is to represent the consensus, regardless of my personal feelings.

My opinion based on 16+ years as an exhibiting manufacturer is that I would like to see the following:

Create Media Preview – I support adding a show wide, official media preview slot to the Monday afternoon prior to the show opening. The members of the media are critical to telling our story, and they deserve a dedicated time slot that allows them to interface with exhibitors with minimal interruption. Additionally, this allows them to “get the scoop” prior to the official show opening and generates additional pre-show buzz that benefits all attendees and the overall industry.

Strengthen Show Credential Criteria – I support tightening down the criteria for show credentials during the B2B (Tuesday – Thursday) portion of the show. The exhibitors and trade members should be able to conduct high-level business discussions with less distractions than exists today. With that being said, it’s worth noting that the majority of the credential abuse comes via the exhibitor guest badges. We as exhibitors create much of the consumer traffic on the show floor so collectively we must be prepared to sacrifice this right/privilege to curtail the number of consumers walking the show floor.

Consumer Day – I support turning Friday of show week into a consumer day. I believe this will provide less incentive for consumers to work around the system to gain entry Tuesday – Thursday, provide revenue that can be used to reduce exhibitor booth fees, and it will also give us the consumer interaction that serves to expand/promote the overall industry. In some ways, we have already turned Friday into “Consumer Day” via SEMA Ignited so I’m not sure this is as big a change as it seems on the surface. I believe we collectively have an obligation to grow the industry (even if the ROI doesn’t directly benefit every exhibitor) by creating consumer interest and what better way to do that than to offer consumers a day at the show, capped off with seeing the industry “in motion” at SEMA Ignited? There are certainly challenges that will need to be addressed with a Consumer Day, but I have confidence that SEMA staff could navigate them “if” that was the directive from the membership.

I appreciate Jason Sakurai posing this question as we need to tackle more tough conversations such as this one rather than sidestep the issues. Our industry is experiencing rapid change, and the only way we can properly serve our members is to be responsive, transparent and accountable for the actions of the association. That’s what I signed up for in 2016 and what I plan to advocate for over the next three years if re-elected. #Chris4SEMA