It stands for Specialty Equipment Market Association, and it’s the continent’s largest trade show for the automotive aftermarket. It’s not open to the public, and attendees can’t actually buy something and bring it home. Instead, companies show their products, in the hopes that wholesale and retail buyers will take a chance on putting them in stores and repair shops.
Crystal Glass Canada, based in Edmonton, has a booth where it shows a specialized tool called the Extractor. It looks like a kitchen spatula attached to a power drill, and is meant for breaking the seal so a broken windshield can be removed.
As noisy as the Extractor is when it’s demonstrated, it’s lost in the overall din. SEMA is ridiculously huge and just as loud. Between buyers, sellers, media and industry experts, a total of some 200,000 people fill the Las Vegas Convention Center over the show’s four days. And since it’s all about cars, there are well over 1,200 of those as well, both inside and out.
If a car uses a company’s product, the best advertisement is to bring it here. High-end vehicles that would be the major draw at a car show are just stuffed into booths or scattered about. Auto celebrities like builder Chip Foose, Gas Monkey Garage owner Richard Rawlings and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. show up to sign autographs. Out front, race cars drift sideways in clouds of tire smoke.
It can get pretty crazy, but it’s still primarily about making the deals. Bill Kellett came from Surrey, B.C. to promote his Loss Prevention Fasteners, which can be used to secure such theft-enticing items as license plates, light bars, and catalytic converters.
“The bolts and screws need a tool that is not available in stores,” Kellett says. “The head has a five-lobe design and an anti-tamper centre stud. Thieves are lazy, and this slows them down. It’s very difficult to remove it, and they give up and move on to the next car.”
He also sells nuts and bolts with tops that break off once the fastener has been completely tightened, leaving a smooth crown that requires extensive cutting or grinding to remove. “The company goes back to 1978, when we originally sold all types of automotive fasteners,” Kellett says. “In 2002, we decided to specialize in anti-theft devices.”
The SEMA Show is divided into twelve sections, with halls devoted such specific items as wheels and tires, truck accessories, racing and performance components, and hot rods and antique cars. Except for some trade-specific items, such as collision repair tools or window tints, almost everything could potentially appear in stores for consumers.
In another convention centre south of SEMA, the AAPEX Show runs at the same time. It’s short for Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo. Smaller and quieter than SEMA, and with far fewer cars stuffed inside, AAPEX specializes mainly in items for manufacturers and trades – such things as engine components, auto fluids and software programs, as well as a floor dedicated to overseas manufacturers looking for companies that want to produce their products offshore.
ABS Friction is not one of them. The 80-employee company makes brake pads at its factory in Guelph, Ontario. “Some people still value parts made in Canada,” says general manager Jason Janssen. “There’s still a market for quality parts, and depending on the product, ours could even be less expensive than overseas brake pads.”
Production started in 1996, making private-label brake pads for other companies that sold them under their own names in some 20 countries. In 2008, ABS Friction started its Ideal Brakes brand for Canadian sales.
“There’s no asbestos in our brakes,” Janssen says. “We can’t use asbestos here, but offshore manufacturers who don’t have our environmental regulations can use it. A technician cleans the brake dust off when he’s servicing the brakes, and he can be breathing that in. It’s not safe to have asbestos in brakes.”
In the next aisle, Jack Leggo is trying to interest store buyers in going bright. His Primeline Tools, based in Mississauga, Ontario, sells LED flashlights under the Prime-Lite brand.
“We do everything from key chains to stand-up work lights,” Leggo says. “Last year, we sold two and a half million lights across Canada alone.”
One of his best-selling items is a small light that turns on when it’s pulled apart. Half stays securely on a key chain, while the light portion can be used to illuminate the lock you’re trying to open. A magnet pulls them back together, which also shuts off the light. “Children love them,” Leggo says. “They clip it to their backpack, and pull it off and stick it back together.”
Last year he offered pink lights for breast cancer research in Toronto. “We donated a dollar a light, and I gave a cheque for $25,000,” he says. “We sell quality products at a reasonable price, and that’s the key to success here.”