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We loaded our roller briefcases with emergency shoes, Band-Aids, back up batteries, business cards and granola bars before heading for Vegas. Any other week this would be a strange way to pack for Sin City but during Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) these are survival tools.

The bright lights of Vegas lit up the dark Nevada sky as we touched down on the evening of Monday, November 2, excited and ready to hit the trade show floor. We didn’t care anymore that what was supposed to be a 4.5-hour flight from Lubbock, Texas, to Las Vegas had turned into a nine-hour ordeal thanks to mechanical trouble, flight delays and a missed connection. All we cared about was we made it.

The Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show are like Christmas in November to those of us in the automotive aftermarket industry. AAPEX and SEMA are the industry’s two largest trade shows. They are known for bringing out the best professionals, exhibitors and new products. We, alongside what seems like everybody else in the industry, anxiously wait 365 days to see what the next year will bring.

This year, it brought an estimated 2,200 automotive aftermarket manufacturers and suppliers who set up shop in the Sands Expo Center. Their elaborate booths of all shapes, sizes and features carefully displayed wares ranging from innovative products and services to groundbreaking technologies. More than 39,000 targeted buyers ambled the aisles of AAPEX talking, shopping and connecting with industry friends old and new. When it was time to take a load off (because if you’ve ever experienced AAIW you know there is a time), we headed down to the AAPEX educational sessions.

We grabbed a seat and a drink, but the most beneficial thing we received was information about some of the most buzzed about topics in the aftermarket. David Portalatin, executive director of Industry Analysis for The NPD Group, Inc., offered valuable insights into consumer driving patterns, retail pricing, consumer attitudes and an overall look at how 2015 measured up to expectations and forecasted the year ahead in the 2016 Aftermarket Outlook.

Over the course of three days, celebrities like NASCAR drivers Michael Waltrip, Landon Cassill and Clint Bowyer made appearances as well as the family of drag racers, John, Courtney and Brittany Force. You could also catch TV personalities like Bogi Lateiner, host of the show “All Girls Garage” that airs on the Velocity network.

If you think AAPEX sounded like the place for cool cars, celebs and the best new technology for gear-heads, put on a brain-bucket because the SEMA show may blow your mind. To check it out, we hopped on one of the complimentary shuttles and made our way to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The SEMA show kicked off on Tuesday, November 3. By the time we got there, it was swarming like an anthill. More than 2,300 exhibiting companies, 60,000 qualified buyers, 3,000 members of the media and 130,000 industry professionals and enthusiasts filled more than one million square feet of show space.

We had to be our own tour guides as we perused the show floor, but for those who wanted to have a guided tour with their morning cup of joe, SEMA featured an edition of Cars & Coffee for the third year in a row. The event is exactly what you think it is: sipping on coffee while looking at cool cars. As if the cars aren’t enough excitement, the celebrity lineup at SEMA show seemed endless. It included names like Chip Foose, from the Discovery TV show “Overhaulin,” country music star Craig Morgan, “The King” himself Richard Petty and countless others.

Of course, the best way to experience AAIW is to attend, but if you weren’t able to make it out to Vegas this year, hopefully this will inspire you to start planning your trip for 2016 early. Dates have already been announced. AAPEX will be November 1-3, 2016, and SEMA will be November 1-4, 2016.

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