SEMA 2021: Lessons Learned From Our First SEMA Show

Exhibiting at one of the largest auto industry trade shows was not in our plans at the beginning of 2021, but life is what happens while you are busy making other plans!  Our team took the opportunity and had an amazing experience we want to share with those who have been following the TailHand journey and for other startups out there. 

Follow along for the TailHand takeaways from SEMA Show 2021

What is SEMA Show?- The Trade Show Experience!

Startups new to the opportunity of attending a trade show as a first-time exhibitor should expect an experience similar to jumping into the deep end of a pool without your water wings. Such was our feeling as rookies at the SEMA Show in the beginning of November.  For those who aren’t familiar, SEMA is the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association and each year they host one of the largest, auto industry-only trade shows for automotive professionals.  Even though SEMA 2021 exhibitor attendance was slightly smaller due to covid challenges, this was still a MEGA show. The Las Vegas Convention Center, which houses the show, boasts 4.6 million square feet across five unique halls and leverages a visionary underground transportation system to move people from hall to hall. Over 1,300 exhibitors filled the halls over the 4-day show and thousands of product innovations were presented to the industry fans hungry to see what new innovations have evolved and rekindle relationships interrupted by the pandemic. 

Cars at the SEMA Show 2021


Here are Team TailHand’s personal favorite highlights from the SEMA Show 2021

1. Making Top 10 in the SEMA Launch Pad AND Winning the TORA Best New Product Award

When TailHand was selected as a top 15, then top 10 finalist with the SEMA Launch Pad business competition, we hadn’t yet realized how impressive this recognition was within the automotive aftermarket accessory industry. This impressive yearly competition recognizes only the best automotive aftermarket start-ups in the world, so you can imagine the sense of reassurance and excitement felt when we received the call that we had been selected from the largest pool of applicants in the history of Launch Pad! After making it to the top 10, arriving at the show a few days before SEMA 2021 made it clear how truly special it is to be part of this select group. SEMA treated us like gold, providing us with a fully-furnished booth in the Central Hall (right next to Ford, no less!) providing us VIP tickets to the annual SEMA Banquet and highlighting the Launch Pad finalists in social media and publications both before and during the show. The Launch Pad’s recognition of the power TailHand wields for pick-up truck drivers gave our team the extra boost needed to make it to SEMA this year, and we are extremely grateful to the Launch Pad team and SEMA for this extraordinary leg-up. 

Michael Ruhs standing in front of Launchpad sign at SEMA Show

From our inception, TailHand has recognized the value of SEMA and its Truck & Off-Road Alliance (TORA) council. There’s no better resource than a representation of the collective interests of all light-duty pickup truck, van, and SUV-related companies through a single, powerful voice that plays a significant role in shaping the industry. We wanted to be part of that group, but couldn’t have expected the way that TORA would embrace us. We were surprised and delighted to be awarded with TORA’s Best New Product Award at the SEMA show. (We literally had no clue!!) In receiving this incredible award from some of the sharpest minds in the pickup truck space, it became even clearer how special the TailHand product will be for bettering the lives of people using their trucks for work and pleasure. 

2. Building Partnerships at SEMA Show

We couldn’t think of a better way to expand TailHand’s exposure at the SEMA show this year than to partner with others and we found ourselves doing just that with the amazing group of guys at Top Gun Performance based out of Laredo, TX. Top Gun reached out to us before the SEMA show, interested in the TailHand product. TailHand was thrilled to sponsor their 2021 GMC Canyon truck build and we were happy to join forces to offer a truck build for the show that would appeal to pickup truck audiences. Top Gun CEO, Jorge Ramos, oversaw the install of the TailHand in preparation for the show: “I honestly think TailHand is a game-changer for truck owners. The install was really easy. We had no trouble whatsoever.”  Music to our ears! 

Michael Ruhs with Top Gun Performance Truck

3. Meeting Customers at SEMA

SEMA Show provided Team TailHand with an invaluable opportunity to meet our potential customers and supporters in person and it gave them an opportunity to touch and test the TailHand. Oh, were those interactions amazing!

We were overwhelmed by the positive response and feedback we received from truck owners (and a few non-truck owners as well!). People who visited the booth loved the install process, often commenting on how easy it looks. 

Here were a few of their favorite takeaways from seeing TailHand in-person:

• The universal frame allows for mounting around tailgate features such as electronic cables and pull-out steps without sacrificing a solid TailHand install on the tailgate.

• The secure connection that TailHand’s locking key design offers; ensuring a dependable connection of tools to the tailgate workbench base

• People from across industries recognized the versatility that TailHand and its accessories offer.

There’s no doubt that truck owners love to use their trucks and are always searching for better, more reliable ways to extend that use. Now, thousands that attended SEMA know how a TailHand will increase their Truckability™!!

One customer’s comment made our day and got us even more psyched to deliver on even more Truckability,I’ve only seen two things [at the SEMA show] that really got me excited, and TailHand is one of them.” 

people looking at TailHand at SEMA Show 2021

Lessons Learned at TailHand’s First SEMA Show

1. Get started on your booth early

Trade shows represent so much opportunity. To extract as much from any show you plan to attend, you must begin planning and outreach early; well before you may think you should. Know your audience and what they’ll want from you. Arriving at the show with just-in-time planning will result in disappointment for both you and your prospects.

2. Know who your show organizers are

The show organizers are invaluable as you plan your show presence and get your booth and supporting activities arranged at the show. Trade shows are complex with many moving parts. If you want your time there to result in progress for your brand and product, you’ll need to successfully navigate the complexities of the show planning and setup. Reach out to the show organizers before you need them. Introduce yourself and your product. Let them know you understand the complexities of the event. Express your appreciation for their work. Finally, ask for resources you may need and ask for their permission to reach out as you prepare for the opening day.

3. Familiarize yourself with the show facilities beforehand and immediately upon arrival 

The Las Vegas Convention Center is HUGE!!! Use the show website for insight to the floor plan and where your onsite resources are located. Reach out to previous show attendees for perspective. When you first arrive, walk the grounds before trying to get your booth setup, especially, if this is your first time at the show. Familiarity has a way of reducing anxiety. 

4. Be prepared for things to go wrong 

Nothing ever goes entirely as planned. Expect that. Plan for it. What will you do if your product doesn’t arrive on time? How will you respond if you find your booth understaffed? So many things can go wrong and some will. Accept that and roll with it. Remember, “progress over perfection.”

5. Bring help

You’ll need others to get setup, work the booth, enable you to network, take down the booth and much more. Decide what your objectives are while attending the show, look to  your team for whose expertise is best suited to achieving those objectives and bring the right people at the right time.

6. Know who’s exhibiting and attending so you can schedule meetings

 Time at the show is precious. Everybody you’ll want to meet with is running around trying to meet everyone on their own list. Identify key individuals relative to your show objectives well before the show. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Introduce yourself and your product. Let them know you’d like to arrange a meeting, and highlight how the meeting will be mutually beneficial. How will your solution help them? Once you’ve got their attention, commit a day and time to their calendars. When you do meet, be prepared; you won’t have much time. Ask questions. Demonstrate your authentic interest in helping them. Plan your followup together and then followup.

The experience, knowledge and feedback we received from this experience was invaluable.  We will take all of it and put it to use as we take TailHand to market and into 2022.  Can’t wait to see y’all at SEMA 2022! 

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