For most detailers and automotive enthusiasts, the annual Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) tradeshow in Las Vegas in the first week of November is like a post-Halloween Addam’s Family Packard V-12 experience, followed by an early preview of Santa’s favorite big-boy-toy car and truck factory at the North Pole.

            There is nothing there you cannot find, and a lot you can’t even imagine, if your favorite toys are related in any way to the automotive industry.

            For ambitious young detailers, the idea of one day exhibiting your work at SEMA is the stuff of dreams and it signals you have “made it” as a business.

            The smallest booth available at SEMA, which is the largest show of its kind in the world with an attendance of more than 150,000 people, is a 10’ x 10’ space at a cost of between $2,200 and $3,700. That space will be tucked back in a corner along the backmost wall of the show, and it does not include tables, chairs, carpet, signage, curtains, electricity, Wi-Fi, or even a listing on the show map.

            Add all that other stuff, which obviously you will need, and you are looking at about $10,000 and your space will not be big enough to bring a detailing demo car onto the floor. Large companies can easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars cumulatively on just space for the show.

            In the meantime, tickets to attend the two-day show start at $179, and almost everyone can afford that if you stay in a Motel 6 several miles off the Las Vegas Strip. There are many benefits to attending SEMA that do not require being an exhibitor yourself.

Networking and Relationship Building

            Everyone exhibiting and attending an industry trade show is there

because of shared interests, whether you are a seller, buyer, broker, or industry entrepreneur. Building relationships in areas of interest can broaden the prospects for your business.

            Networking, building awareness, and returning with the most advanced products and services for your customers is invaluable. The automotive industry, which has a very fervent and passionate customer base, is equal only to new Apple products in terms of demand for the latest and greatest. 

            If you are an entrepreneur looking for exposure for your creation, invention, or idea – especially if it means drawing the attention of potential investors and distributors, the trip to SEMA or any related tradeshow like the Mobile Tech Expo is well worth the cost.

            As a former corporate marketing manager for an automotive accessories manufacturer with several divisions that included automotive, our company managed and maintained tradeshow booths, bookings, transportation, signage, demos, product videos, and sales literature for more than a dozen of our sales offices across the U.S. and Canada.

            In the early days, I was, quite frankly, appalled at the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent exhibiting at tradeshows for each product line. I questioned whether it was worth it. When we reconciled sales after a show and distributed leads to our sales offices, we almost always showed a significant loss or, at best, broke even in the immediate aftermath.

            However, with proper sales follow-up, customer service, convincing sales literature, and a sharp business growth strategy, the effects of mainstream exposure, live demonstration, and people’s passion for all things automotive made exhibiting profitable in the long run.

            As they say, you must spend money to make money.

New Tech Innovations

            If, as a detailer, you do not stay vigilant on technology, you will miss many opportunities to help customers better maintain their vehicles and create new revenue streams. Industry changes can lead to new problems for detailers to fix, and those opportunities were first evident at a SEMA show.

            During the 1970s and 1980s, the car paint industry introduced better paint, systems, and clear coats, which were disruptive for auto manufacturers. In the 1980s, car makers and

designers switched from glass headlights to a more malleable polycarbonate plastic that allowed them more flexibility in styling.

            By the 1990s, environmental protection agencies had introduced mandates to keep the planet cleaner and protect users from toxins in paints and chemicals used to make cars look better.

            Over the next couple of decades, a slew of waxes, sealants, polishes, and “powder” coats came to market – all of them a hit at SEMA.

            When I started writing for the auto appearance industry in 2001, ceramic coatings were making their debut, and by the mid-2000s, they were introduced to the consumer market to protect car paint for up to 10 years, eliminating the need for waxing.

            Shortly afterward, they expanded into ceramic coatings for fabrics, leather, vinyl, metal, glass, rubber, mats, and carpets. Everything in your life, it seemed, could be coated with a ceramic to prevent absorption and fading, repel dirt and water, and eliminate waxing – while protecting for years rather than weeks and months.

Hello Opportunity!

            But it seems the more technology we create to prevent existing problems, those ‘fixes’ give an automotive appearance specialist or automotive technician new and unexpected problems to solve.

            Clear coats were brutalized with scratches, holograms, embedded contaminants, and environmental fallout. Consumers grew distressed over their car “paint” becoming dull over time, and they couldn’t understand why waxing didn’t help.

            Hello paint correction!

            Skimming off that miniscule layer of damaged clear coat exposed the still vibrant paint.

            Malleable plastic headlights gave us some space-age-looking car designs but oops – the heat from the headlight bulbs dried out the plastic and caused the lenses to yellow, drastically and unsafely affecting their illumination.

            Hello headlight repair kits!

            Mobile detailers were forced to invest in water tanks with mats made to catch and recycle water and prevent soaps and chemicals from running off into drains and affecting the water supply.

            Hello rinseless wash products!

            In the early days, there were only a couple of ceramic coating brands, and they were expensive for the detailer to keep stocked and time-consuming and meticulous for the detailer to apply. Not only that, but mobile detailers also had to find a “clean room” atmosphere to apply them and let them dry without fine debris falling onto the wet surface or risk them becoming a permanent fixture of the unremovable ceramic coating.

            That made the products very expensive to the consumer, limiting their market share. And who needs a product that lasts 10 years when the average car owner only keeps a new car for eight? Today, suppliers offer ceramics in various price ranges, durability, longevity, and even application to broaden the market share.

            And what was the hotrod of this year’s SEMA? Electrification!

            What could possibly be the side effects of that going forward?

Kimberly Ballard has been writing and doing PR for the automotive industry for more than 20 years, covering automotive detailing and a variety of mobile tech services. She can be reached via e-mail at and on her website,