Driving B2C from B2B

Stephanie Selesnick revs us up for a race around the 56th edition of the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

The SEMA Show ( 31 October-3 November 2023) is the longest-run annual citywide B2B exhibition in Las Vegas. Going on its 46th edition in the city (56th overall), this juggernaut four-day event for the performance automotive aftermarket industry takes place the first week of November, attracting 150,000 attendees from 140 countries and close to 2,200 exhibiting companies to the Las Vegas Convention Center. It is an exclusive gathering of qualified industry professionals and media from all over the world.

New this year? A B2C component: SEMA Fest (https://www.semafest.com/), a two-day celebration taking place at the nearby Las Vegas Festival Grounds which is open to everyone, complete with big name bands, activations, highly modified vehicles, and the industry’s end users, consumer enthusiasts.

I spoke with Tom Gattuso, vice-president of events with SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association), the owner of both events, about this new foray into the B2C space.

“SEMA has been tracking the evolution of the marketplace for many years and has been working on new solutions to engage both the industry and enthusiasts,” Gattuso says. “2021 was the first year SEMA offered individual membership, not just to companies, but also allowing end users to join the association.

At that year’s SEMA Show, we opened the last day to a limited number of enthusiasts to enjoy the SEMA Show Friday Experience. While exhibitors were initially mixed about the idea, many discovered the feedback received from first-hand users was invaluable and extended the ROI of participating in the Show.”


SEMA Cruise

One of my favourite parts of the expo is called the SEMA Cruise. It’s a parade of hundreds of vehicles from inside and outside of the exhibition halls at show close. There are multiple spectator bleachers installed along the route with commentators discussing the vehicles as they exit the Las Vegas Convention Center. The cars and trucks become the stars.

As Gattuso describes it: “It’s a great showcase of cool cars and a place for car enthusiasts and industry affiliates alike to share a unique facet of the show. The SEMA Cruise alone generates millions of social media impressions and is a great example of the consumer interest in what the SEMA business community is doing.”

The event between the B2B SEMA Show and SEMA Fest was called SEMA Ignited and featured the SEMA Cruise along with a display area nearby the convention centre where consumers could see the modified vehicles up close. It was a big hit. As Gattuso says: “It was proof of concept that more than just industry professionals were interested in being part of the show.”

“The performance automotive industry is social, passionate, and connected,” Gattuso underlines. “During Covid, a lot of consumers had the time and resources to work on their vehicles. With the launch of SEMA Fest, enthusiasts have a new opportunity to meaningfully connect and celebrate with each other, see some amazing, modified vehicles, and interact with brands.”

Two-day tickets are on sale now, with between 30,000-35,000 festival goers expected daily. Additionally, 10,000 of the tickets are a three-day pass and include entrance to the SEMA Show on 4 November, along with admission to the two-day SEMA Fest.


Appealing to a new audience

Running another new large event on top of one of the world’s largest exhibitions isn’t an easy feat. SEMA has assigned a couple of people to SEMA Fest and outsourced some of the other moving parts (concert production, for example). They also look forward to taking new learnings from the Fest to apply it to the Show.

Gattuso explains: “There will be more activations at the show grounds along with top tier bands. After all, cars and music have a very long, intertwined, and passionate history. Our two events are synergistic. As the industry continues to change, we are poised to take advantage of trends in both the B2B and B2C marketplaces. Our goal is to keep the SEMA Show B2B, and enhance the experience for car enthusiasts, while recruiting new fans (the car-curious), at SEMA Fest.”

The association hopes when people are exposed to the performance automotive lifestyle, they’ll want to modify their own vehicles, and help grow the industry in the process.

Since Gattuso lives and works in Southern California, a mecca for car enthusiasts, our final question was on what he drives. His answer: “I’ve always liked ‘pocket-rockets’ like the VW GTI, particularly their spontaneous acceleration. These days I have two cars I alternate between for my 45-minute commute to the office: a Subaru BRZ with a few modifications and a BMW M-240i – with more modifications planned. Both cars are manual transmission and keep me on my toes (pun intended).”

Gattuso sums up the philosophy behind both the SEMA Show and SEMA Fest this way. “When you arrive at the SEMA Show, there are specific sights, smells and sounds which greet you. Our audience knows they are in an incredibly immersive experience. We want that same feeling of excitement and community to greet everyone coming to SEMA Fest, making it yet another ‘bucket list’ event.