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Have you heard of SEMA? It’s an acronym for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, and their show is held annually in Las Vegas, NV. SEMA was founded back in 1963 by several of the most prominent automotive speed equipment suppliers at the time. Over the years, the focus has evolved from speed equipment to specialty equipment. The SEMA show has 2300+ exhibitors and approximately 150,000 buyers, manufacturers, and industry representatives attending. I’ve been hearing about SEMA for years, and have long had an interest in attending. The only catch is, you need some sort of “connection” to the automotive industry to attend. It’s not open to the general public; it’s intended for people in automotive sales, repair, performance, racing, and refinishing businesses. Well, this year I lucked out! As an employee of Dakota Digital, I got a call several days prior to SEMA to inquire if I’d be interested in working the show. The answer was, of course, an enthusiastic YES…how soon do I go?

The plan was that I would fly to Las Vegas on Monday, October 31, work the booth on Tuesday and Friday, and I would have Wednesday and Thursday to take in the show. Friday evening, after tear down, I would drive the show rig back to Sioux Falls. It sounded like a full plate, but I was definitely on board.

Upon approaching the massive Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday morning, it was readily apparent that this show was huge, and my kind of event. Even before entering the convention center, there were major automotive displays set up outside. Tire manufacturers, builders, paint companies, sound systems; you name it, they were everywhere.  We walked past dozens of high-end cars of every description; customs, 4-wheelers, drag cars, restored classics…every genre was represented.  And, we hadn’t even gone inside yet!

Once inside, I followed along with my co-workers to “Central Hall”, where our Dakota Digital booth was already set up. Central Hall houses the Racing and Performance area, “Hot Rod Alley”, and the Restoration Marketplace, among other things. Imagine that, the entire area that I would be working in covered my exact areas of interest! I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store while walking through this huge hall to our booth. Everywhere I looked were more displays that I wanted to check out. In addition to the previously mentioned areas in Central Hall, Chevrolet had a major display at one end of the hall, and Ford had the same at the other end.

But, it was nearly time for business. After an initial prepping of the booth to ensure that it was ready for the day, I was able to take just a few minutes to partially get my bearings in this place. Having been told, but never having seen, it is hard to imagine just how big this event is.  Fortunately, maps of the various halls were available and I kept mine close at hand. At 9 AM the doors were opened and it was game on. 

We had six team members working the booth on Tuesday and we were all busy interacting with people the entire day! As an exhibitor, I found that this was an “in between customers eat some munchies and grab a bottle of water as you can” kind of day. No extended lunch breaks here. The day flew by, and it was a very interesting experience for me as the “new guy”. In addition to talking with folks from all over the US, I was amazed at the number of international shoppers. I talked with people from Australia, New Zealand, countries all over Europe, Japan, China, the Gulf region, and South Africa, among others. Pretty amazing stuff! The show ended at 5 PM daily and the masses were ushered out. We then picked up the booth a bit and headed off for some relaxation and an actual meal.

Wednesday was a day off for me but, as an exhibitor, I was in the show early and able to begin my exploring. I also did much of my photography early before the crowds appeared. Since Central Hall was exactly my kind of place, I began at one end and started walking aisles. Then, I walked all the cross aisles. Prior to the show, I had gone on the SEMA website and used their app to make myself a list of booths that I especially wanted to explore. I checked many of those off as I went, but continually got sidetracked by displays that caught my eye as I progressed. The displays at SEMA are amazing…eye candy everywhere! Many of the booths had high-end cars on display showing off that company’s latest products, or that builder’s talents. If you did nothing at SEMA but walk around and just look at the cars on display, it would be one of the best car shows you’ve ever attended.

Outside there were more exhibits to be experienced. Chevrolet, for example, had a large area with each generation Camaro on display. In the same area you could get a ride with a professional driver around a course in a brand new Corvette or Camaro. As much as I would have enjoyed that, the lines were long and I had more things to see. Maybe later in the week. Ford, Continental Tire, and others offered similar experiences.

After I felt like I had seen what I needed in Central Hall, I moved on to South Hall where the “Global Tire Expo”, wheels and accessories, power sports and utility vehicles, and trucks, SUVs and off-road vehicles were displayed. Sensory overload was beginning to set in at this point. Everywhere I looked were more exhibits to explore.

I actually made a couple trips through all of these areas in an effort to get to the places I’d previously listed as “must see”. Being a Chevy guy, I spent a certain amount of time in the Chevrolet booth. Besides having a great display of production vehicles and concept vehicles, they also had some nice lounging areas set up where I could give my legs a break. On Wednesday I walked nine miles and there were other show areas that I never even went to! Did I mention that this show is huge?

Thursday was to be a day off, but the volume of shoppers was such that I had the opportunity to work the booth if I desired. After walking nine miles the day before, and feeling like I’d seen what I needed to see, I elected to work the booth Thursday and Friday. It was more of the same each day in the booth, very busy with interested shoppers from all over the world. Friday evening, after we took down and loaded our display, I jumped in the truck and started the long haul back to Sioux Falls.

SEMA was an amazing experience, an event I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend. It really shows you just how big the automotive market is, not just here, but worldwide. If you ever have the opportunity to attend, I certainly recommend it.

I can now check off one more item from my ever-changing bucket list.

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