It Didn’t Kill Us; It Made Us Stronger

SEMA News—May 2019

It Didn’t Kill Us; It Made Us Stronger

Chris Kersting

Chris Kersting

It’s been about a decade since our industry last coped with a serious recession. Some say there will be a downturn in the next year or two, although that sentiment has been in the forecast for several years now. Current economic indicators are still pointing in the right direction, and a recent SEMA poll found that most member businesses are predicting that 2019 will be another successful year. Our industry and the association learned much from the last downturn. The lessons learned are worth highlighting, because they represent opportunities even today.

The last recession taught us a good deal about efficiency. The industry has taken advantage of technology and is making products differently. Since 2009, the use of computer-aided design (CAD) and rapid prototyping has become more prevalent. We see evidence at the SEMA Garage, where use of SEMA’s OEM CAD file-sharing program—known as Tech Transfer—and custom scanning services continue to grow. Today, SEMA members download hundreds of CAD files every week.

It’s also clear that the industry has recognized rapid-prototyping and 3-D printing as useful tools. As a result, it’s faster and cheaper than ever to develop new products. SEMA’s only disappointment is that there are still too many manufacturer members who are not yet using these technologies—or the services SEMA offers to help them get started.

The industry has also learned to market differently. Companies began taking advantage of the ability to reach customers using digitized product information. Digital assets empower businesses to reach one another and to inform consumers far beyond the limits of the printed page. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was in 2009 when the SEMA Business Technology Committee secured SEMA board approval to launch the industry “product data pool” known as the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC).

Today, the SDC assists hundreds of manufacturers in organizing and maintaining their digital product information in an industry-owned database that supplies millions of files to thousands of resellers on a monthly basis. The SDC is a tool which helps ensure that your high-quality marketing copy and images will appear when a reseller or consumer is searching for a product you make. SDC data also powers business-to-business electronic transactions in sync with today’s leading office systems. New-product speed to market has improved, and broader markets have become accessible.

The last recession also alerted many businesses that there are good markets overseas, even when U.S. market may be struggling. Entirely new markets have emerged in less than a decade, and other established overseas markets have continued to grow.

Many SEMA members have invested time and effort in building new business around the globe. According to a Department of Commerce report, export sales for those taking advantage of SEMA overseas business development programs alone have amounted to nearly $150 million in new sales over the past few years. And more than 260 SEMA members have taken the opportunity to attend SEMA measuring sessions featuring vehicles that are otherwise available only in overseas markets.

One more positive factor in our industry rebound has been increased awareness of government policies and regulations and their impact on business. Participation in the SEMA Washington Rally, increased contributions to the SEMA Political Action Committee, and participation in the SEMA Action Network have all helped the industry gain a more prominent voice on Capitol Hill and throughout state capitols. But a more prominent voice does not mean we are nearly as effective as we can be. That will happen only with even greater participation by industry members.

It’s not clear when the next economic downturn may occur. But if there is a slowdown in our future, the playbook for responding and evolving our businesses laid down over the past decade can serve us well. Considering that positioning a company to become more recession-proof does not happen overnight, we would all be wise to continue with lessons learned and generate yet more new ideas to advance and grow.

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