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SEMA trade show offers story nuggets for the biz beat

The end of October brings not only Halloween but also one of the most important trade shows of the year, the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s monster expo and conference in Las Vegas.  And even if your beat isn’t directly tied to the automotive sector, chances are you can find story nuggets coming out of the buzz surrounding the show, which automakers, suppliers and accessory makers use to showcase new products and technology.


A exhibit at the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas. Photo by Flickr user Kevin Durant

The 2012 SEMA show runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the trade group offers plenty of resources for reporters on the show’s website, so even if you can’t make it to Sin City for the convention, you’ll find plenty of interest.  With tens of thousands of industry attendees, it features industry announcements, product reveals, celebrity appearances, theatrical media events and more.  Here’s the press conference schedule and the show news blog, all full of ideas you can localize back home.

My favorite is the exhibitors’ list, which is searchable by city, state, company name and descriptive keywords.  Plug in your state and see which firms pop up on the list; a search on Arizona, for example, turns up Alwooga.com, a Tucson company that appears to be a sort of eBay or Etsy for sellers of car, truck, motorcycle and RV parts among other items.  That’s a neat nugget for a reporter on the small business, e-commerce, technology or retail beats, or for someone looking for an offbeat car-related feature.  Similarly, a search on Oregon kicked up a few hits, including Yakima Products, a company that makes “cargo management solutions” for motorists wishing to tote bikes, skis and other outdoorsy equipment. 

Some states aren’t hotbeds of aftermarket manufacturing; searches on Iowa and Vermont, for example, came up empty.  But you still can nose around the exhibitors’ database for ties and trends related to your beat; I typed in “health,” for example, and came up with an ergonomics company and a distributor of “professional hygiene” equipment.  “Finance” turned up a subprime lending program that apparently sells services to dealers related to ‘no money down’ and other types of financing; this might spur you to parse the poor-credit lending biz in your area. 

Another hit was for a GE Capital product called CarCareONE that “helps” people finance car repairs; I looked up its website and boggled at the 29.99 percent annual finance charges.  With the average age of vehicles at an all-time high, repairs inevitably followed and the pros and cons of these credit offers is a great personal finance story. 

If you want a more direct tie to the show, use it as a window to the issues, concerns and trends in various auto-related arenas you may cover.  For example, if your beat includes retail, consumer or personal finance issues, be aware that automotive dealers attend SEMA — in fact there is special programming just for dealers – and use the show as a peg to get their take on the state of car sales, how their business trends reflect your local economy (are work-truck sales up?  are consumers choosing pricier options or staying no-frills?) and on product trends they’re excited by. 

If you cover manufacturing or small biz, same thing — seek out local representatives of those industries who plan to attend or follow the show events, and get their take on 2012 and the 2013 outlook.  Here’s a good NBCNews.com article from last year that will give you an idea of the scope of the SEMA show and the likelihood that you’ll find a link to your beat from among the 60,000 attendees.  And be sure to check out #SEMASHOW on Twitter, it’s already fairly active. 

In Beats, Featured, Manufacturing | Large companies, Retail | Lifestyle, Small | Private | Non-profit, Story ideas, Technology.

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