Five Things Every Exhibitor Must Know

Five Things Every Exhibitor Must Know

An Interview With Trade Shows Director Tom Gattuso

  Tom Gattuso
SEMA Trade Shows Director Tom Gattuso addresses the audience at the 2017 SEMA Exhibitor Summit.

SEMA Trade Shows Director Tom Gattuso has been involved with trade shows for decades, which puts him in a position to share information with trade show exhibitors about how to succeed. In the following interview, Gattuso outlines best practices on how to manage time, utilize marketing better and, ultimately, come away with the optimum return on your SEMA Show investment.

While Gattuso’s strategic observations are intended for first-time exhibitors and those with less experience, we think that even veteran exhibitors can benefit from his perspective. For a full list of deadlines and exhibitor information, visit

SEMA News: The prospect of exhibiting at the SEMA Show for the first time is perhaps a little daunting. What are a few easy, cost-effective actions that exhibitors can take to maximize their Show potential?

Tom Gattuso: A staggering majority of the buyers who come to the SEMA Show are looking for new products, so we have a centrally located display of products—the New Products Showcase—to enhance efficiency for buyers. We are finding now that buyers are choosing which companies they interact with based on whether or not they participate in the Showcase.

I’ve had many conversations with exhibitors over the years who report a significant increase in booth traffic in years when they entered products in the Showcase as opposed to when they did not. In terms of cost efficiency, the New Products Showcase is specifically designed to offer the most value per dollar spent, bringing the most foot traffic to your booth. And remember, the first product you enter into the Showcase is free.

Additionally, you want to make sure that you cover everything SEMA offers to help you brand your company. Submit your company description so that it is entered into our floorplan and 2017 SEMA Show Directory. Equally important is to visit the Online Media Center for additional PR opportunities.

show floor
An exhibitor demonstrates their product to a group of booth visitors at the 2016 SEMA Show.

SN: Why is Friday—the last day of the SEMA Show—such an important one for Show exhibitors to focus on?

TG: The SEMA Show bucks a trend in the industry that, generally speaking, the last day of a trade show is not well attended. In looking at our surveys, we see almost 60% of buyers at the SEMA Show are there for some portion of the day on Friday. If you have a mentality that Friday is not a day good for exhibitors and therefore not worth attending, your results will show accordingly. However, if you go into Friday knowing that it could be one of your best days, that mentality will take you much further. Buyers are still in attendance, and the SEMA Show does not have the same drop off in traffic as other trade shows on Friday. We have countless stories of exhibitors finding their most prolific buyers on Friday, and good data to prove it.

SN: You have told exhibitors that “time is the currency of the SEMA Show.” What do you mean by that?

TG: Think of the SEMA Show as its very own marketplace, and the currency within that marketplace is the amount of time that a conversation takes between buyer and exhibitor. In looking at the week of the SEMA Show, what you are really trying to do is have as many meaningful conversations as possible.

When you manage your booth, look at it from the perspective of “I can talk to 12 people an hour with a five-minute conversation, or I can talk to two people an hour with a 30-minute conversation.” In doing so, you prioritize what your messaging is and know that there is importance in both conversations—but you have to be judicious about who gets what.

Our recommendation is that you have a presentation—and practice it—that is a minute long. Also have one that is five minutes long, and get really good at both. That way, you are ready at Show time to have as many purposeful conversations
as possible. You cannot afford to practice on the Show floor; you want to be as good on Tuesday as you are on Friday.

If you do the math, you’ll see that there is the potential for one person to have a total of 372 five-minute conversations with people who visit your booth over the course of the SEMA Show. Obviously, that does not account for food breaks and any other time you spend away from your booth, but recognizing this as the scope of what is possible in terms of time puts everything very clearly into perspective. Time is precious at the SEMA Show, so use it as wisely as
you can.

In terms of cost efficiency, the New Products Showcase is specifically designed to offer the most value per dollar spent, bringing the most foot traffic to your booth.

SN: You and your staff frequently make the declaration, “You’re not alone at the SEMA Show.” What resources are available to an exhibitor?

TG: We build in layers of support for every stage of exhibitor Show planning and execution. From the moment you click to signal interest in the SEMA Show, you are assigned an industry sales director who will be your liaison to the association. From there, we have a SEMA Show staff that has years of experience in assisting with many of the logistical and production needs that you may have. And finally, once you are on-site at the Show, there are people specifically designated to ensure that your move-in and move-out processes are as smooth as possible.

Beyond that, we have built-in support for any number of things, including
on-site intellectual property attorneys, international buyer specialists who can provide translating services and make introductions to buyers on the Show floor, and a Show office that assists with anything and everything else in between. Because we are a member-centric association, it is our goal to ensure that we have your back as an exhibitor every step of the way.

SN: Any final words of advice for first-time exhibitors?

show floor
The SEMA Show floor on Friday morning, the last day of the Show.

TG: If you look at the SEMA Show broken up into 12 sections, your focus becomes a lot easier. It shouldn’t be your mind-set that you need to speak with all 70,000 buyers at the Show. Instead, focus in on that maximum of 372 conversations and understand that your targeted demographic is much more attainable than it may appear. Figure out a way to narrow down your audience as much as possible and give it your best effort from there to interact with that audience in the most impactful way possible.

Lastly, and perhaps the most easily overlooked, you have to have a plan that starts at the Show and extends beyond it. It is not realistic to show up at the SEMA Show without a plan and expect everything to go perfectly. Have a well-thought-out plan that has goals that you can measure. The most successful companies check in on that goal on an hourly basis, just to ensure that the conversations they’re having are contributing to the goal without going
off course.

Once the Show comes to an end on Friday, your focus should be to follow up in the most significant way possible. Over 80% of buyers are planning to do business with exhibitors within the 12 months following the Show—so make that opportunity count!

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