Your Goals for the SEMA Show

Do what makes the time valuable for you.

This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.

I don’t remember the exact year of my first SEMA Show, but I know it was more than 25 years ago.

In fact, it was long enough ago that when I ate breakfast at the casino that morning, the steak and eggs were only $4 (of course the freshly squeezed orange juice was also $4). Obviously, Las Vegas, and the show itself, have both changed a lot since then.

Why do you go to the SEMA Show? For me, the answer has changed over the years and will probably continue to change as time goes on.

For many years, my primary—and really only—reason for attending was to find and look at the new products that were being displayed for the first time. It was exciting to see all that was introduced and imagine how I could work it into my business.

As time went on, however, manufacturers stopped waiting for the show to release or display new products—instead, they revealed them through email and now through social media. Yes, you will still find some new products each year in Vegas, but not to the degree there used to be.

Still, if you need more intimate details or have questions, the SEMA Show is a great place to grab the undivided attention of manufacturers to get help or support and strengthen those supplier relationships.


So, what do I look forward to these days? For me, now it is more about what I would categorize as “processes,” which include business services, networking with peers or just overall ways to help my business besides adding new products.

It is the one time of year that I can join with fellow shop owners who face the same challenges I do and discuss what is working for them. It can be a great interchange of ideas to help take your business in a new direction or try to perfect what you are already doing well.

Two examples of this are things I learned at last year’s SEMA Show.

First, my business had been doing some window tint and paint protection film, along with some smaller, partial-wrap blackout packages, but never complete cars. When I arrived at the SEMA show last year, I immediately went to the SEMA Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) booth in the West Hall, where the PRO Cup Challenge was being held.

Josh Poulson black Navigator build
Finding inspiration is a big reason why I head out to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas every year.

This is a yearly competition where restylers from around the country enter a vehicle with an accessory package that can be no higher than $12,500 wholesale cost and require no more than 40 hours of labor and is aimed directly at car dealership customers. The competition is centered on packages that are creative, reproduceable and profitable.

Last year there were seven vehicles entered that looked really good. One that caught my eye immediately was a 2023 Cadillac Escalade that had been lowered and fitted with larger wheels, and then wrapped in a full matte clear PPF.

The package was finished off with some Gucci seatbelts and was a real show-stopper. Props to Auto Trim Restyling of St. Louis—Kevin McGowan and his team knocked this package out of the park!

Even though this vehicle didn’t end up winning an award, it won my heart. I took some pictures and eventually went back home to a Cadillac dealer client that hasn’t been doing a lot of business with me lately. They really liked the package but had no inventory, and every Escalade coming in was already sold.

I didn’t give up. Undeterred, I then visited my local Lincoln dealer and sold them on the package concept. Even though we didn’t lower the vehicle or add 24-inch wheels, we did powder-coat the wheels, tint the windows and then install matte clear PPF on the entire vehicle.

The success is that it sold in 24 hours, and we have since redone eight Navigators for them in the past five months, along with many other smaller jobs.

This made my visit to the SEMA Show a success. It wasn’t necessarily a new product I found, but a new concept of an exciting product with a different perspective.


My second example is the software I now use in my business. As a bit of a technology guy, for years I have been frustrated with how far behind our industry is when it comes to finding good software to run our day-to-day operations.

Yes, QuickBooks or Zoho Books do a good job for inventory or accounting, but most auto business software is aimed at service or mechanic shops or body shops. The restyling and accessory business is different enough that it felt like I was just shoehorning those software programs into my business.

I then discovered Restyler Connect software that exactly fit what I felt my shop needed and now have the latest technology to help me run my day-to-day business. It solved many pain points that I had in running a restyling shop that serves both car dealers and retail clients.

To date I have been able to save many man hours every week and my business is now almost completely paperless. I can’t wait for the day that full automation of work orders, workflow, scheduling, tech commissions and invoicing can handle the majority, if not all, of my business activities.

For me, these days it is discovering those types of processes for my business that becomes the biggest incentive for me to attend SEMA, and I can’t wait to see what the 2023 show has in store.

I hope you find what you are looking for as well, and when you do, please look me up and tell me your story. I will be at all the SEMA-PRO events and hanging around the West and North Halls. Safe travels!

Josh Poulson

Named the 2022-23 SEMA Person of the Year, Josh Poulson is the principal of Auto Additions in Columbus, Ohio, which was named Restyler of the Year, 2012-13. Auto Additions offers a complete line of product upgrades including 12V and appearance packages with a specific focus on the dealership segment. Josh is chairman of the SEMA PRO council.

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