By Jim Spoonhower
In January 1967, the first annual SEMA Show was held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Show provided a forum for industry competitors to meet face to face and a venue for showcasing their new products to potential buyers. The first SEMA Show featured 98 booths and had approximately 3,000 attendees.
The annual SEMA Trade Show has certainly been a major factor in the association’s vitality and growth, although it was an idea that took a few years to catch on. In fact, the first “Speed & Custom Equipment” (SCEN) Trade Show wasn’t even sponsored by SEMA.
In January 1967, the first annual SEMA Show was held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Show provided a forum for industry competitors to meet face to face and a venue for showcasing their new products to potential buyers. The first SEMA Show featured 98 booths and had approximately 3,000 attendees. Believe it or not, there were five cars on display in that first Show; last year, there were more than 2,000 vehicles displayed in the SEMA Show.
The early shows, held in Los Angeles and Anaheim, California, were exclusively card-table-and-masking-tape affairs, but by the early 1970s, sophisticated display and marketing techniques were visible throughout the show. At that time, a Show booth cost $375.
The Show moved to a different location—the new and expansive Anaheim Convention Center (across from Disneyland). Booth sales and attendance kept increasing dramatically. The SEMA Show continued to cater to the needs of industry representatives rather than consumers and began to develop a reputation as a place where business was expected and completed.
As part of the ’70s SEMA Shows, one of the must-attend events was Doris Herbert’s Drag News party, which was topped only by the SEMA Awards Banquet. Then, in 1975, the featured entertainers for the Awards Banquet were April Stevens and Nino Tempo. In 1976 (the last SEMA Show to be held in Anaheim), the Show was a sellout with 570 booths and, in fact, had to turn away a number of manufacturers due to lack of space.
Over the next few years, the Show grew much larger and soon filled the Convention Center to capacity and was moved to Las Vegas in 1977. Las Vegas was chosen because it provided room for continued growth, dependable weather, big-name entertainment and a world-famous location.
In 1998 the SEMA Show broke the 500,000 foot mark with 502,912 square feet of rented space. Each year since then the Show has set new records of some sort. It now occupies one million net square feet, draws more than 2,000 media and has a buyer attendance in excess of 57,000.
In 1977, SEMA’s Awards Banquet (run by Sheldon Konblett) was held at the Sands Hotel and featured Norm Crosby. Sheldon Konblett also developed the design for the SEMA trophies, which have come to symbolize product innovation and excellence in the industry.
In 1979, Nile Cornelison began plans for his Innovations Day seminars program, which has since become one of the major annual association programs. The following year, Innovations Day was a smashing success and featured Lee A. Iacocca as the keynote speaker. Never before had any activity held on the day prior to the Show’s opening attracted anything near the more than 460 who attended. That same year, Willie Nelson was the featured entertainer for the SEMA Awards Banquet.
In 1983, the import parts section of the SEMA Show was added under the auspices of sister organization, Automotive International Association, thus changing the name to SEMA/AI Show. In 1984, there was a combined SEMA/AI/APAA Show in Las Vegas. The Industry Awards Banquet was held at the MGM Grand, and the entertainment was provided by The Platters and Gallagher.
By all indications, the move to Las Vegas has been an overwhelming success. In 1986, Car and Driver magazine noted that the Show was a “…prime opportunity to monitor the West Coast car culture without breathing the smog or fighting the freeways.” That same year, Jay Leno made his first appearance on stage at the SEMA Show Industry Awards Banquet.
In 1990, the onsite registration fee was increased to $20. That same year, the Board approved a fee of $50 for all new-product entries. New-product awards in 1990 saw a number of familiar names on the winners list:
Just to name a few…
SEMA, above all, dedicates itself to its members. The association is constantly adapting to meet their needs. As the economic, technological, legislative, and social environments change, the association is constantly on the lookout for ways to fulfill its mission.
In 1992, the SEMA/AI Show and the Automotive Service Industry, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and Automotive Parts & Accessories Association (ASIA/MEMA/APAA Show—formerly the Big I/APAA Show) came together to form Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) in Las Vegas. The two shows together boasted in excess of 1.6 million square feet of exhibits.
In 1997, the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders (NTDRA) trade show was combined with the SEMA Show. Affiliating the 77-year-old NTDRA trade show with the SEMA portion of AAIW provided benefits to both sides. In the same year, Goodyear sponsored the first SEMA-NTDRA “Racers’ Night Out” at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In 1998, the SEMA Show broke the 500,000-foot mark with 502,912 net square feet of rented space. Each year since then, the Show has set new records of some sort. It now occupies more than one million net square feet, draws more than 2,000 media, and has a buyer attendance in excess of 57,000.
The SEMA Show now routinely brings together more than 2,000 exhibitors, occupying in excess of 10,000 booths. Total attendance at the Show now tops 100,000 manufacturers, buyers and other industry representatives, making contacts and doing business.
As this article shows, SEMA, above all, dedicates itself to its members. The association is constantly adapting to meet their needs. As the economic, technological, legislative and social environments change, the association is constantly on the lookout for ways to fulfill its mission.
SEMA’s mission “…is to help our members’ businesses succeed and prosper. Our members are the producers and marketers of specialty-equipment products and services for the automotive aftermarket.” The association has adopted five key approaches in order to accomplish this mission.
Today, as a result, SEMA publishes a monthly trade magazine, provides technical assistance, prints an annual membership directory, provides legislative updates, sponsors the SEMA Show and several smaller expos, provides market research and other information, maintains OEM relations, offers college-accredited courses through SEMA University, provides export assistance and administers a wide range of cost-saving programs. All designed to help SEMA member companies survive and grow.
SEMA has become perhaps the single most powerful voice in the multi-billion-dollar automotive industry, with membership in excess of 5,000. Ultimately, SEMA’s success can be attributed to always putting the needs of its members first.