Exhibitors Connect With International Buyers at the SEMA Show
Exhibitors seeking to grow their international presence spent the Monday before the opening of the 2018 SEMA Show participating in one or more international roundtables—with a sizable number participating in all four sessions.
This is the first of a two-part series focused on international activities at the SEMA Show. New this year was the addition of a fourth networking roundtable on Latin America, bringing together exhibitors and trade buyers from the region.
With more than one in five buyers at the SEMA Show residing outside the United States, networking with international resellers is a priority for many SEMA Show exhibitors.
“SEMA has become very important for international business at Fox,” said Dan Moser, international sales manager for Fox’s truck and off-road vehicles division. “In addition to a trade show, it has become a place where Fox can sit with multiple current and potentially new customers in very high volume over a four-day span. It’s a unique opportunity to discuss current and future business face-to-face and put aside the emails and phone calls for a week.”
Sally Goldberg, Truck Hero’s director of international sales, talked about why she and her staff set aside the time to participate in the international networking sessions. “The networking events SEMA offers its members who are exporting or would like to begin exporting is invaluable,” said Goldberg. “During the four networking roundtables events held pre-Show, we have the opportunity to learn about each market and the expectations directly from the buyers as well as being able to meet and personally invite the buyers to visit our booths. Truck Hero had a record attendance of international buyers this year.”
Kevin Floody (center), international sales manager with Kooks Headers & Exhaust, spoke at the session on the Middle East. “The SEMA Show attracts buyers from across the globe, and it gives us the chance to interact with them and find out if our products are a good fit for their markets,” he said.
David Alari, Mickey Thompson’s international sales manager, spoke at the first SEMA Latin America Roundtable. In addition to Alari, Erica Martinez from Warn and Anthony Caputo from BOOSTane provided insights into their experiences developing business in the region. Buyers from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica and others talked about the opportunities and challenges of selling in the region.
“The international customers have come a long way to meet us, and at great expense,” Alari said. “We have invested a lot of money to make sure we are there to take those meetings. We consider the SEMA Show to be the best international meeting in the world. We actually think it is more international than domestic because of all of the meetings we have every year.”
Alari noted that there are definitely challenges to doing business in a region where English is not the primary language. But U.S. companies should not let that deter them.
Eduardo Bernasconi (center, holding microphone) of Brazilian-based Fullpower magazine was one of more than 50 buyers and media from 10 Latin American countries who participated in the first SEMA Latin American session.
“The first [challenge] might be the language,” Alari said. “That is probably the biggest one that seems insurmountable. Finding someone inside your organization who speaks Spanish is more than possible. If not, there are employees at most companies in South America and Central America who speak English as a second language. You won’t know until you try. But if two people want to do business, they will find a way.”
Alari said that distance is also sometimes considered a challenge. For instance, a customer might be in Chile, while your factory or offices are in Sturgis, South Dakota. No problem. That’s why they have telephones, airplanes and airports.
Alari also noted the role that your customers can play in helping make your first trip to the region more successful. “Once you have vetted the customer and are in agreement on price and programs, you board an airplane and go meet them in their market. They can help you make arrangements, coordinate lodging and show you around their country. They are always gracious and hospitable. You, of course, are their new business partner.”
A walk through the 2018 SEMA Show highlighted the growing number of exhibitors prominently displaying “We Export” signs, signaling to international buyers that they would be welcomed into the booth and that the company is eager to grow its international sales.
Alari urged companies to not forgo the opportunities due to fear over venturing into new markets. “New business opportunities are exciting and challenging,” Alari noted. “The question is, if you aren’t growing your business around the world, who is?”
He pointed out that establishing the first customer in a new country or region might be time-consuming and difficult, but it gets easier.
“Once you have created an international customer, you are better at it for the next one,” he said. “You may have learned a few things to avoid or questions to ask in advance as you go through the process. All that experience begins to build, and after a while, the perception of how difficult it is gets reduced.”
During the Australia/New Zealand international session, exhibitors met with representatives from a number of different business categories. The panel included (from left) Alastair Ritchie, representing New Zealand Hot Rod magazine; Matt Raudonikis, 4x4 Australia; Bill Barbas, owner of Australia-based Double Black Off-Road; Ziggy Sadler, car builder and designer; and Rob Herrod, owner of Melbourne, Australia-based Herrod Motorsports.
Roberto Schliesser, international projects representative for Borla Performance Industries, also provided a few tips to those new to the region. He noted that he looks for countries that have free trade agreements with the United States, such as Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Mexico. He said that Mexico has the added benefit of ease of shipping at very affordable costs and a long tradition of trading with and buying from the United States.
Eduardo Bernasconi of Brazilian-based Fullpower magazine was one of more than 50 buyers and media from 10 Latin American countries who participated in the first SEMA Latin American session. As a SEMA Show Global Media judge, Bernasconi selected 10 products from the New Products Showcase that he thought would best resonate with his home market, and he encouraged U.S. suppliers to consider the Brazilian market despite challenges such as high tariffs. He noted, however, that the right distributor can assist with getting U.S. products into the market and with servicing that market of passionate car enthusiasts.
There were also three other international sessions at the 2018 SEMA Show—one each for the Middle East, Australia/New Zealand and China. This was the sixth year that those roundtables were held on the Monday before the Show opened, allowing exhibitors to meet international buyers and media and invite them to visit their booths.
During the session on the Australia/New Zealand market, exhibitors were given the opportunity to meet with journalists and buyers from that region who were involved in the off-road, performance, hot-rod and racing sectors.
David Alari, Mickey Thompson’s international sales manager, spoke at the first SEMA Latin America Roundtable.
Rob Herrod, founder of Herrod Motorsports noted that the popularity of the Ford Mustang and demand for customization has been good for business. “The Mustang has energized the aftermarket like we have never seen before in Australia and teaming up with the right American suppliers is the key to success, and I would urge U.S. manufacturers of Mustang components to come to the SEMA overseas Business Development Program in Melbourne in May 2019.”
Kevin Floody, international sales manager for Kooks Headers & Exhaust, spoke at the session on the Middle East. He commented on the central role that meeting with international buyers has played for established companies such as Kooks Headers & Exhaust.
“The SEMA Show has become an important part of Kooks’ development of international business,” Floody said. “The SEMA Show attracts buyers from across the globe, and it gives exhibitors the chance to interact with them and find out if our products are a good fit for their markets. We also can gain intelligence on what is hot in other markets, so we know where to focus our product development. In addition, the Show allows us time to interact with current international customers and have better face-to-face interactions.”
The second installment of this 2019 two-part series will cover the Global Media Awards. SEMA News talked with a number of the 30 leading journalists who each selected 10 products from the 3,000 entries in the New Products Showcase which they believe will sell best in their home market. We also talk with some of the 170 winners, including 23 of these winners who were first-time SEMA Show exhibitors.