Oh boy! SEMA show 2013 is in the books! Though I’m still exhausted two weeks later, it was all well worth the energy, time, and resources that went into making this year’s show a success for our Racing & High-Performance Division.

This is our fourth year exhibiting, so we really wanted to bring something fresh and take it to the next level in terms of quality level in regards to brand representation. We had excellent booth placement this year, pegged between Lexus, Seibon, and H&R Springs right next to one of the main show entrances, and I wanted to seize the opportunity.

If you’re a start-up trying to figure out the costs of becoming an exhibitor, these SEMA exhibitor tips should come in handy for you!

While our booth location may be placed in the main High-Performance Central Hall among the largest and most established companies in the industry, our budget certainly isn’t in the same ballpark! When I talk to media personnel, they always think I’ve forked over a fortune to be among the industry’s big players, and they can’t believe when I tell them my show cost.

This article is dedicated to the inside look of how CSF makes it to the SEMA show every year on $25K or less, with each dollar creating maximum impact.

Exhibition show Tips: Staff

CSF keeps it lean at SEMA, three employees and one product ambassador. We expect the most out of our employees for this week, starting with myself. I didn’t even take lunch breaks and chopped down my lunch, which was brought to me in 5 minutes or so. With my growing company, and obviously knowing the most and being the most passionate about what we make, I did not want to risk the chance at missing key personnel coming buy to check out the booth and our products. You never know when the million-dollar customer or industry leader/influencer is going to go by, and with the show being so busy, that person may never come by the booth again.

Exhibition Show Tips: Transportation

Fortunately, CSF is located in Southern California, which is within driving distance of Las Vegas. Instead of flying, it’s easy for us to drive out there with all of our supplies, display products, and promotional materials. There’s no need to ship our products or booth, and massive savings in airfare and airport transportation. The use of a vehicle around Vegas isn’t needed, but convenient when required, especially on set-up and tear-down days.

This year we had to transport Yamaha North America’s R-1 motorcycle that was showcasing our new motorcycle radiator, “The Works 2.0” A minivan wasn’t going to cut it, and the use of a specialized transporter was in the $800+ range to get the motorcycle there and back safely. Going that route would still require me to rent the minivan for other transportation, and I was looking at almost $1500 for transportation cost, way out of budget.

I was stressing going into the show about how to get the bike there, and almost considered not bringing it. Thankfully one of my best friends is a manager at Enterprise, and he hooked it up with an E-series cargo van for $378 for the week!

Exhibition Show Tips: Booth Rental or Purchase

Space at the SEMA show costs $200 per square foot in the central hall. Do the math and you’ll figure that a 20 x 20 booth comes up to $8000 just for the footprint of the empty booth. It’s not cheap and takes up more than one-third of our budget.

As far as the booth itself goes, there are two options: Buy or rent. I’ve decided to rent every year for three reasons:

  • It allows me to change up my design and layout every year. I personally like the booth (and the price) so I haven’t switched it up, but at least I have the flexibility to do so in future years.
  • I don’t have to pay for the transporting of the booth to the Show loading yard. Usually, the booth has to be shipped in a wooden crate, and the cost of doing this runs $2,000+ depending on how large the booth is.
  • I don’t spend company time setting the booth up, it’s located in the rental price. We get there are ready to set up our display. We use a great booth rental company. Cost $5,450

Exhibition Show Tips: Booth set-up

This is the biggest racket going at SEMA and many other conventions across the country. Want a light bulb screwed in? You can’t do it yourself, and it’s going to cost you about $120! You want a sign hung over your booth, how about $2500! The only thing you are allowed to do is “hand-carry” your materials.

This year we were able to drive our cargo van all the way up to our booth to unload the motorcycle and “conveniently” unloaded everything else that was blocking us from getting the bike out. This saved us about 3 hours and a few miles of walking.

Exhibition Show Tips: Feature Cars

Having a featured vehicle at SEMA cost $400 each, and can only be submitted by an exhibiting manufacturer. Entries have to be submitted in September, and the approval process for quality and relevance takes about three weeks by the SEMA staff. Most companies are capped up four vehicles, but this year CSF brought eight, twice the allowed limit.

One of the best SEMA exhibitor tips is getting to know the right people! Being polite, and a little bit of free swag to the decision-makers goes a long way in this show. $400 x 8 = $3200. That’s a lot of money for featured vehicles and is way more than we can afford. CSF was able to bring 8 cars for the grand total of $1400, less than the cost of 4 featured car entrees. You’re not missing something, and yes we both can do simple math, the trick for CSF is to team up with the right people with the right cars. What many in the position of manager for a high-performance company don’t realize is that most people will do ANYTHING for the chance to be at the SEMA Show, including paying for their own spot!

The show is open to industry personnel only so having your car there gets you inside. More than that, it’s an ego and “bucket list” thing for a prideful high performance or truck owner. The other two types of entrants are tuning shops or race teams wanting to display with their latest creation and non-exhibiting manufacturers that want to have a presence at the show. You see this 3rd type of entrant the most with upstart wheel companies. CSF works with all three of these types as well as vehicles from tuners and companies we choose to sponsor, both full and partially with partial payments and free products.

Exhibition Show Tips: Accomodations

The biggest SEMA exhibitor tip is not skimp on is where we stay during the convention week. I typically choose to stay at The Venetian Hotel. Not the cheapest place by any sort, but if you book it far enough in advance, not the most expensive either. I still feel, regardless of the time of year, it is the best “bang for the buck” in Ls Vegas. You not only get five-star accommodations, but it also has a full living room that can be used for meetings, as well as an office area, which is critical when recapping after the show or needing to send out emails.

In regards to the convention week, it’s connected to the AAPEX convention (replacement parts) which we also have a booth at, and has a shuttle stop going back and forth to SEMA. The time saved and less walking really adds up at the end of the week. An excellent place to stay with a good bed and a place to hold meetings is key to having a successful show—the cost for five nights $1200.

Have Fun at the Show!

So there you have it, folks. If you add it all up, it gets you right under $20,000. There are some other small miscellaneous items, which we won’t bore you with (food, outfits, etc.), but trust that we walk out of the SEMA show everything involved at under $23,000 on average. This year we were just above the $21,000 mark. For young and growing companies who think that the opportunity to exhibit will cost too much, hopefully, this article can be a source of guidance and inspiration for future opportunities.

These SEMA Exhibitor tips have saved CSF hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. We hope they can help supercharge your operation!

CSF looks forward to seeing you at next years show!

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    Awesome article! As a startup I’m looking at Sema 2015 but as you point out it is expensive. I especially like your advice on putting vehicles in the show for people that want to get it displayed. Do you happen to track what type of ROI you typically get from the show? I would also add in the opportunity costs from your staff of being there.

    Best and thanks again for sharing!