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Dealer interest in SEMA show grows

Charles Blum is the big wheel of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, serving as the trade group’s president since 1980. But Blum started out as one of the little wheels in the aftermarket parts industry, which now posts $23 billion in annual sales, during a 22-year stint at vehicle wheel maker Keystone Wheels.

This week, Blum presides over the association’s big annual event, the SEMA show in Las Vegas that is one of three concurrent trade shows that make up Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week.

The SEMA show will fill the Las Vegas Convention Center with more than 1,300 exhibitors with offerings that run the gamut from engine performance parts to body styling kits. There also will be plenty of aftermarket companies selling wheels — the most common customization consumers make to their vehicles.

General Motors, as the feature automaker of this year’s show, plans to display several customized vehicles. GM, along with competitors Ford, Dodge, Honda, Toyota and Nissan, also have given vehicles to customizing firms to showcase their talents.

Blum was interviewed by Staff Reporter Richard Truett.

How has the SEMA show changed in the last five years?

Because of the mushrooming sales of light trucks, probably the major change has been the focus on a lot more products and accessories for those vehicles. Electronics has been growing, but not as fast. Sound systems were captured by a different segment of the industry. But now we are seeing a shift by more installation shops offering navigation systems and high-end sound systems. We anticipate that this will be a major growth area.

Last year, about 800 car dealers attended the SEMA show. How many are you expecting this year?

We’ll have a strong car dealer presence this year, over 1,100. The focus on accessorization by the vehicle manufacturers has heightened the awareness of the opportunities there to boost profits. We are also working with NADA. They helped us book the show.

Any new elements to the SEMA show this year?

We have a go-kart section, and we have expanded the telematics section. There will be some new exhibitors. The show will cover 1.1 million square feet. We’re expanding show space next year 500,000 square feet.

What about interesting new products?

It’s difficult for me to answer that question. You know this industry doesn’t give a lot of advanced notice to the media, perhaps the way they should. SEMA started out with a few entrepreneurial-type companies that held things close to their vest. I’m sure there will be plenty of new products this year. But to be honest, I don’t know everything that is going to surface. I remember a few years ago, I got blindsided by the rearview mirror with the built-in turn indicator. I thought, wow, what a great product. I had no idea it was going to be at the show. We’re a very patriotic industry. You’ll see a lot of American flags, anything patriotic that you can slap on a car, such as magnetic flags.

Will the events of Sept. 11 affect this year’s show?

Not from the domestic standpoint. We have not had any abnormal runs of cancellations by exhibitors. We always have small entrepreneurs come and go. But registrations this year are actually about 4 percent higher. Having said all that, we, like everyone else, are very security conscious and have implemented a lot of security actions around the convention center. Security will be tight. In addition to that, we are requiring double IDs for attendees, and the security staff will do daily sweeps looking for suspicious packages. Security will also be looking for any suspicious vehicles that come onto the property.

How about attendance?

We think domestic attendance will be very strong. We have a concern about international attendance. It may be down a bit. There seems to be greater concern about international travel rather than domestic. I don’t think many people are as concerned about the security of flight as they are about the hassle at the airport. It’s an added inconvenience that most of us are not used to. A lot of us just ran to the airport and got on the plane. Those days are gone.
You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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