Auto Service World
News   July 9, 2020   by Allan Janssen

AAPEX organizers acknowledge ‘unparalleled challenges’

Bill Hanvey (centre) and Paul McCarthy (right) address the challenges of planning the Automotive Aftermarket Parts Expo with AAPEX-TV host Kimberly Bottom.

Concerned that the global pandemic could keep tens of thousands of people away from the annual Automotive Aftermarket Parts Exposition (AAPEX), organizers are stressing “The Power of Being There.”

The show’s new slogan reflects the industry’s determination to meet in person rather than in virtual space.

But making that happen will take extraordinary effort. In fact, the event, to be held in Las Vegas during the first week of November, could well be the most challenging show organizers ever planned, as they try to identify all health concerns and address all security issues.

With months still to go before doors open, any number of changes are still possible, but without doubt this year’s show will be virtually unrecognizable from previous iterations.

“This is going to be a very different AAPEX, as it should be,” said Paul McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), one of the host groups of the annual show.

In a recorded video message, McCarthy outlined the many changes exhibitors and guests can expect when they arrive at the Venetian Hotel and the Sands Expo hall in Las Vegas in early November. Some features of the show have also been moved off-site – a decision that was made before Covid-19 struck, but which is proving to be valuable for social distancing purposes.

“We will have the Caesar’s Forum space. This was a good year for the expansion. It gave us more space for the show but also for a spread-out registration,” McCarthy said. “We’re doing what we can do to cut down on the traffic and grouping.”

He shared the video stage with Bill Hanvey, president and chief executive officer of the Auto Care Association, the other host group. Hanvey said measures will be taken to reduce personal contact on the show floor.

“It’s going to look very different,” he said. “Most of the aisles we increased, in their width, by 25%, to help us maintain social distancing. We’re designating several one-way aisles to help with traffic flow just as we see in grocery markets. And in some cases, flow is going to be structured to reduce traffic clusters while maintaining accessibility.”

The hotel and exhibition facility itself has introduced some 800 new safety protocols as part of its “Venetian Clean” initiative.

Designed to make guests feel secure from the spread of the novel coronavirus, it includes continuous cleaning of public areas, discrete thermal-scans to identify people with fever, hundreds of hand-sanitizing stations, and reduced meeting room capacities.

By state order, masks must be worn at all times by all guests. That’s the rule right now. It is unknown whether that will still be the case in November, but organizers plan to hand masks out at the doors of the show and encouraging people to wear them.

In a conference call with automotive journalists, Mark Bogdansky, vice president of meeting and events for the Auto Care Association, told automotive journalists that decision may be problematic for some people, but it was made for the right reasons.

“There are people that don’t want to wear them, and we have heard from them. They are telling us that if we go through with that, they are not coming this year,” he said. “But we have to make a decision that we feel is in the greater good.”

Liz Goad, director of meetings and events for AASA, echoed Bogdansky’s sentiments that there are “an unusually high number of moving parts” this year. But she said many association members are counting on an in-person event.

“We have heard from a lot of people that AAPEX is very important to their business year, on both the exhibitor and attendee side,” she said. “And if AAPEX were not to happen – in any year – our members would be looking for other ways to make those connections and push their businesses forward.”

There have not yet been any major conventions in Las Vegas for AAPEX organizers to learn from.

Meanwhile, organizers of AAPEX’s sister show, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show, say they believe the industry will be ready and able to meet by November.

“We are steadfast in our belief that our members and our industry will recover more quickly from the current climate by safely coming together to share ideas and look ahead to strategize for 2021 and beyond,” said Tom Gattuso, SEMA VP of events. “In some respects, it will be one of the hardest events we have produced in the Show’s 54-year history, but it will also be among the most gratifying.”

Organizers are focused on building the optimal business environment where showgoers will feel safe to congregate. Plans involve many experts across multiple industries, including healthcare, facility management, city and state leadership, and event experience and design.

“We are proactively calling on all our partners to pool our collective resources to establish best practices and deliver the highest levels of safety and security along with the business value SEMA is known for,” said Gattuso. “Even with the show still months away, we are well into planning what it will look like when we all gather in Las Vegas.”