Fresh back from the inaugural Mobile Tech Expo (MTE) Las Vegas, I am encouraged to write a positive review of the first-ever such event on the West Coast. MTE is a well-established tradeshow and convention that has occurred in central Florida in January for the last 19 years. Its target audience is automotive reconditioning technicians and businesses, including detailing, paintless dent removal (PDR), minor auto body spot blending, windshield repair, and interior surface repair, among others.
The presence of the detailing industry at MTE has grown exponentially since the International Detailing Association (IDA) was established at the 2009 MTE. Since that year, IDA has utilized MTE facilities to host its annual business meeting and awards ceremony. Attendance of detailing supplier exhibitors and technicians has been in the hundreds in recent years.
The management company for MTE decided to take a chance on the West Coast in an attempt to attract potential attendees that may not be able to travel to Florida in January. The reaction of many in our industry was something like, “it’s too close to SEMA” or “not another tradeshow that we have to exhibit at.”
My stance throughout the discussion is that we as an industry ought to support MTE by at least showing up, because MTE has done so much for our industry in the last 10 years and even previous to that.
In short, MTE Vegas offered some great educational opportunities, a successful IDA presence, the opportunity to meet new industry friends and create new business relationships, as well as — and this is my personal favorite part of any convention — seeing old friends.
ALWAYS BE LEARNING
As is typical with MTE Orlando, MTE Vegas offered lots of education. There were a total of about 25 seminars on Thursday, the traditional MTE “Education Day.” At least seven of the offerings were directly related to automotive detailing. About half of the remaining sessions offered business and marketing information, and the rest of the sessions were mostly related to PDR.
The IDA coordinated three educational seminars on Thursday afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised to find about 40 attendees in each of these sessions. The attendees gave consistently good reviews of the presentations, and audience participation was excellent. One of my personal gauges of audience appreciation is if the attendees are not in a rush to leave at the end. This was the case with all three of the IDA sessions. In fact, in the last session, we went 30 minutes late, and the group still didn’t leave. I believe this shows the quality of the attendees at MTE Vegas — they were hungry for education and eager to participate.
The IDA also offered two certification events. On Thursday morning, there was a “Certification-in-a-Day,” during which attendees receive a full detailing seminar that provides them with all the information (and more) needed to pass the IDA Certified Detailer exams. Those exams are also administered and graded during the seminar, allowing virtually all attendees to complete their IDA certification in one place at one time. (This is a great opportunity to do something that might otherwise be a bit onerous online.) At MTE Vegas, six detailers passed their IDA certification exams, including three who became members and signed up for the Certification-in-a-Day on-site.
The second certification event was a Skills Validation (SV) testing on Friday. The SV is the next level of certification available after a detailing professional has passed the IDA Certified Detailer exams. The SV experience involves a live, one-on-one validation of the candidate’s detailing skills under the supervision of an IDA Recognized Trainer (RT). At MTE Vegas, we ended up providing SV certification to eight candidates, including three who became members, attended the Certification-in-a-Day event on Thursday, and signed up for the SV on-site!
Thanks to volunteers Mark Abarr, CD-SV, Zaia Dinkha, CD-SV, and Oscar Hernandez, CD-SV, for helping with the SV event. Without the help of these fine examples of IDA members, there is no way this single RT could have handled so many SV candidates in one day.
THE TRADESHOW FLOOR
There was concern about attendance, both of attendees and of exhibitors from the detail industry. Concurrently, there was concern about attendance of paintless dent removal (PDR) technicians, given that September is a strong part of the hail-chasing season. Actually, the PDR section of the tradeshow floor was buzzing with activity. There was no shortage of PDR exhibiting suppliers and there were plenty of dent techs roaming the “PDR side” of the show.
There were only about 10 exhibitors representing the detailing industry, and a few other exhibitors that were offering more general business and marketing products and services that could apply to a detailing business. Nonetheless, there was actually a sizeable number of detailing operators floating around the tradeshow floor.
Marshall Hill, CD-SV, RT, and DJ Patterson, CD-SV, had a booth for their ever-entertaining “Pints and Podcasts,” interviewing personalities from the industry throughout the show hours. And Alex Hazard from the IDA headquarters took care of IDA booth duties, signing up 10 new members. The IDA booth is always a gathering place for detailing industry professionals to chat, share stories, and talk about the future of detailing and the IDA.
It never ceases to amaze me who I run into walking the tradeshow floor at these events — no matter the size of the event. I met an old friend Doug Snow, who has offered great educational seminars to our industry over the years. We were able to sit down and work out some issues I had been having with one of my crossover services, interior surface repair. Doug steered me in the right direction, and I was able to solve the issues right there on the tradeshow floor. Sometimes it’s the one or two chance meetings that make attendance at such events so worthwhile.
Additional benefits of walking the tradeshow floor include the fact that many of the vendors offer discounts or other promotions to attendees — it can be a great time to purchase a product or service that you’ve been considering.
Finally, the tradeshow floor included an area that had a smattering of interesting vehicles on display. This is the area where the SV testing took place as well.
In the August 2019 column, I offered some personal stories surrounding the concept of “opportunities,” including looking for them and being willing to take advantage of them. Well, sure enough, an opportunity came up at MTE Vegas. On Thursday afternoon, show director Sheldon Kaye approached a group of us that were setting up the SV area and asked if we would be willing to come in early the next morning before the show opened and wipe down the display area vehicles.
We were happy to and I was also able to contact some detailers that I had met during the seminars that day. We showed up at 7:00 a.m. on Friday and took care of all of the vehicles in about an hour. Thanks to James Connolly, CD-SV; Jeff Costello, CD; Zaia Dinkha, CD-SV; Alan Lehman, CD-SV; and Isaac Ristich for lending a hand. Because I was willing to take advantage of this opportunity, I was able to work on “Hero 2,” one of the “Zebra Three” Gran Torinos used in the 2004 movie “Starsky and Hutch.” The original TV show from the ‘70s was one of my childhood favorites, so this was obviously a fun activity.
So, will MTE come back to the West Coast next year? Will it be in Vegas? Will the powers that be decide to alternate the January MTE between Orlando and the West Coast? The answers to these questions remain to be seen. I suggest that if you have an opinion about it, that you contact MTE leadership and kindly offer your suggestions. If enough of us speak up about it, perhaps the show will end up in a location or timeframe that fits a much larger potential list of attendees and exhibitors, which would benefit us all.
In the meantime, there are a couple of great conventions coming up for us detailers. First, there is The SEMA Show, which will be at the Las Vegas Convention Center November 5-8. There will likely be hundreds of detailers hanging out mostly in the North Hall with the dozens of detailing vendors who will be exhibiting there. The IDA will have its annual Meet-and-Greet on Tuesday night 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Last year, 130 people showed up). Additionally, there will be a Certification-in-a-Day event on Wednesday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Visit the IDA website (www.the-ida.com) to sign up and find out more information about the events at SEMA.
Next, there is the 19th annual (original) Mobile Tech Expo, taking place in Orlando, January 30 to February 1, 2020. This is the IDA’s biggest event of the year and includes two days’ worth of IDA-sponsored seminars, a Certification-in-a-Day event, an SV testing event, and the annual business meeting and awards presentation. There will be hundreds of detailers at this event, including many of the industry’s leading figures. If you are serious about the detailing industry, you should be there!
All in all, MTE Vegas was somewhat reminiscent of Orlando MTEs in the early years — a small, intimate collection of very passionate industry representatives that were happy to be there and network with those of similar passion. And, in those early days of MTE Orlando, we looked forward to the next meeting, knowing it would probably be bigger and better. Perhaps we will have the same experience with any future MTE West Coast events.
Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.