The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ) announced late last month that it would be moving its 32nd annual NORTHEAST Automotive Trade Show to the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J. AASP/NJ President Tom Elder explains the move and the high expectations AASP/NJ has for the 2009 show in the following Q & A.
Q: AASP/NJ has held its NORTHEAST show in Suffern, New York for almost two decades. Why change now?
Tom Elder: First, let me give you some background on the show. We first ran the event in the mid-’70s as a tabletop show for a few of our vendors. One of the association’s founding fathers, George Threlfall, put the whole thing together and it took off immediately. Within a few years, the show had grown so much that we moved to the much bigger Hilton in Secaucus and then the Sheraton in the Meadowlands.
Q: Why did you move to Suffern?
TE: By that time, around 1990, we had outgrown the Sheraton and began looking for a bigger facility. Back then, the exposition center industry was just beginning, so we really didn’t have anywhere to go without traveling a great distance. We met up with Rockland Expositions and Dave McCarey. He brought us to the Suffern Arena and it was certainly big enough. We just didn’t know if our attendees would travel to a facility that far away. So we hired Rockland Expositions to manage the show for us.
Q: Obviously with the success of the show, you were able to get attendees to travel.
TE: Initially it was tough, but through AASP/NJ’s persistence, we were able to get automotive professionals to come up and check out the show. The first year in Suffern, I believe we only had about 10 more vendors, so we were concerned at the beginning. But after a few years, the show took off. It became the East Coast focus for the
collision and mechanical repair industry.
Q: So why the move back to New Jersey?
TE: Over the last four or five years, we have seen a drop in attendance and booth sales. We spent countless hours looking for solutions and coming up with new ideas to turn that around. An example of that was giving away a Harley, which we did the last two years. In spite of the buzz the Harley generated, growth didn’t happen. This year’s attendance was below expectations. Last year, we did a CSI of vendors who had stopped coming to the show, and the top two reasons they gave for dropping out were attendance and location. They felt Suffern was too remote.
Q: Did the relationship with Rockland Expositions change?
TE: As I said, we had a great run with Rockland and Dave McCarey. But last year we sat down with them and requested a new marketing strategy. Since they were the managers of the show, and they controlled the marketing and the sales, we wanted some new ideas from them on how to improve attendance.
Q: Did Rockland come up with anything?
TE: They made some minor changes, but it was the same venue with basically the same approach. The poor result is unacceptable to AASP/NJ and our vendors. It was time to move on.
Q: How did you decide on the Meadowlands?
TE: We looked around and met with a few different exposition centers, and what we found was that things had changed dramatically since we had moved to Suffern. First of all, due to the competition among the exposition center industry, prices had come down and the labor costs were nowhere near what we had heard they would be. Once we met with the Meadowlands and saw its state-of-the-art facility and location, we were very interested. We attended a few shows at the site and came away extremely impressed. Everything about the location was a positive. Parking surrounds the facility. Five hotels are within walking distance. Restaurants, shops and bars are everywhere. It has the racetrack and the arena. A new state-of-the-art theme park, Xanadu, will be opening a few months prior to our show. And it’s five miles from the heart of New York City. There are so many attractive
things about the location, we felt it would be foolish not to move there.
Q: What about attendees?
TE: We contacted a mailing house to find out how many shops were within a 30-mile area of both the Meadowlands and Suffern. It reported there are approximately 1,200 shops within a 30-mile radius of Suffern. There are almost 10,000 shops within the same distance to the Meadowlands! That’s not even including all of Central and South Jersey, areas in which shops have told us Suffern was just too far. Nor does it include the thousands of shops in the boroughs of New York or shops in Massachusetts, New York State, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and other states up and down the East Coast. At the Meadowlands, access is simple from everywhere in the country. It’s five miles from Newark Airport, Interstate 95 runs right past it and every major highway in the state will bring you there. We’re going to make NORTHEAST 2009 a must-see show. We expect to triple our attendees from Suffern.
Q: How are you going to market all of these improvements?
TE: We have two great resources to market our show. First, we have hired SGW Marketing to put together a comprehensive marketing plan that will target attendees from the entire Northeast region. SGW’s clients include Sony, JVC and New Jersey Travel and Tourism, so we know we’ve taken a dramatic leap upward in our marketing strategy. We’ll have a new Web site, electronic marketing, press releases, online space booking and online promotion, things we fought for years for but were never able to get from Rockland Expositions. We also have Greco Publishing, publishers of automotive trade publications throughout the Northeast. It will be making a concentrated effort to promote and feature NORTHEAST 2009 and its vendors in such publications as New Jersey Automotive, New England Automotive Report and Hammer & Dolly throughout the next 12 months.
Q: What about the rumors of a competing show at the same time?
TE: I would like to clear this up once and for all. AASP/NJ is a non-profit association that’s made up of over 450 automotive professionals. AASP/NJ’s NORTHEAST Automotive Trade Show is the only show with a 32-year history of strong industry sponsorship and support. All of the profits go right back into improving and educating our industry, and helping our members become better and successful businesspeople. It allows the association to hire lobbyists to fight for our rights as an industry and hold meetings to inform and educate our industry, and allows our industry to have a strong voice not only in Trenton but across the country. I don’t know of any vendor that would rather support an independent company instead of an association that fights for and represents the industry purchasing its products. AASP/NJ has been giving back to the industry through the NORTHEAST show for 32 years. Vendors know and support the association and the goodwill they generate by participating with our members and the industry.
For more information, visit www.aaspnj.org.