Back in the day, when the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) was formed and scheduled alongside the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show (SEMA Show) in Las Vegas, the lofty goal was that our entire industry would have one week — Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) — where all channel partners would meet under the umbrella of Industry Week.
In its early stages, there were other activities and meetings scheduled throughout Sin City, in an attempt to draw more of those doing business in the aftermarket, trying to include all levels in the aftermarket channel. The Congress of Automotive Repair & Service (CARS), the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) and other service-level shows and events were held at the same time during a long week, particularly for exhibitors.
Over time, CARS and NACE relocated their events to other locations and to different times of the year, and, at least for a while, the dream of getting shop owners and technicians together with manufacturers, suppliers and distributors in one place seemed to be a lost vision.
This year’s AAIW may have finally got some traction in getting technicians and shop owners to show week, and there was anecdotal evidence everywhere indicating the dedication to such a vision.
First of all, there were dozens and dozens of events at exhibitor booths more specific to technicians than I have ever been aware of in the past. Under the AAPEXedu banner, there were countless sessions specifically designed for those doing the work in the service bays. And — coupled with the AVI Training Conference presented by the Automotive Video Inc. Training Solutions organization and sessions presented by such folks as the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) and the like — there was plenty for techs to do and a seeming endless number of techs and shop owners taking advantage of the opportunities.
One of the more dramatic examples of technicians at the show was provided by 3,000 customers of the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance who marched their way from the Mirage hotel to the Sands Expo Center (home of AAPEX), temporarily closing down busy Las Vegas Boulevard on Thursday of show week. The Alliance customers, who were technicians and jobbers, arrived at AAPEX that morning and participated in pre-arranged meetings with approximately 80 preferred Alliance suppliers that were exhibiting at the event. They also attended AAPEXedu sessions, which this year focused on disruptive and emerging technology and their impact on businesses in the auto care industry.
It has always been a challenge getting owners and techs out of the shop. Most shop personnel are just too busy to take time away from the shop to attend such events. But — with these types of activities offered at AAPEX, and giving these “car” guys and gals the added treat of enjoying some time at the SEMA Show — well … that is an offer that is hard to ignore.
The key, though, is what the folks at The Alliance did, supporting members and member customers in getting them to the show and planning constructive events for them once they were there. The Alliance should be lauded for this effort, and we can only hope this is just the beginning of reaching the goal originally defined for AAIW when it was first conceived.
Gary A. Molinaro