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How the New York auto show gets put together

Mark Schienberg has served as president of the

Mark Schienberg has served as president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association since 1988. (Credit: Handout)

This Friday, the New York International Auto Show opens for the 113th time at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. The event features more than 1,000 cars, including 60 making their North American or world debuts.

While the show is open for just ten days, the planning and preparation for it is a year-round process. The show is organized by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which represents new-car dealerships throughout the area that total more than $23 billion in sales, deliver more than $1.7 billion in sales tax revenue and employ some 60,000 people.

For these dealers, the event is an “extraordinarily great marketing event,” according to Mark Schienberg, who has served as president of the GNYADA since 1988.

But it’s also an important event for the automobile industry as a whole. There are events, conferences and seminars surrounding the show that distinguish the event from others in North America and make it an even bigger draw. As a result, last year, the New York International Auto Show brought in $255 million to the city, according to Schienberg.

Just days before the show, Schienberg, a Queens native, took some time to speak with Newsday.com about the event. See the interview, condensed and edited for space, below.

When does the planning process start for the New York International Auto Show?
Well, the planning is already under way for 2014, so it gives you a sense of how ongoing and how big of an event this is. As we are putting together this year’s show, we think about things we need to do for next year. It starts with the research reports we need to put together. We do a lot of research work so that we can present it to the industry going forward in 2014.

For whom are the research reports prepared?
Some of it is for us. We want to understand who comes to the show, what they’re looking for, what they enjoyed and what they didn’t enjoy so much. We also want to know whether visitors are in the market for buying cars or just car enthusiasts. We share some of the attendance research with the manufacturers to give them an idea of the kind of media reach that we have. We also do an economic impact study, which is shared with New York City, the mayor’s office, city council, Albany, and the governor’s office. Last year the show’s economic impact was $255 million. We’ve also begun gather a tremendous amount of information from social media outlets.

Are a lot of people in attendance as part of their new car shopping process?


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The last study we did on this was in 2011 -- we’re going to do it again this year -- when 86 percent of people said they found the show very influential in their decision to buy a car and what kind of car to buy. And 44 percent of the people who came to the show in 2011 said they were considering buying a car within the next 12 months. So that’s a very, very strong indication that there are a lot of consumers in the market and that the show helped them decide what particular vehicle to buy.

When do you start figuring out the logistics of it in terms of the different booths?
We look at space according to national market share, because it’s not just a New York show. It’s an international one. The bigger spaces go to the bigger car companies. We also take market share into account for luxury cars and for trucks, which is obviously a different sector. But we try to be very straightforward with this: Manufacturers’ performance dictates the kind of space they can get at the show. We think that’s a fair way to do it.

I’m picturing a scenario where some manufacturers will promise to debut models at the New York show in exchange for more space. Does that kind of negotiation take place?
Well [laughs], you’re right, there are a lot of phone calls that come in all the time. Listen, this auto show is such an important marketing and media event for the manufacturers -- New York is the media capital of the world, the financial capital of the world, the advertising capital of the world -- it’s such an important market for selling vehicles. That’s what differentiates the New York auto show. [The tri-state area is the largest car market in the country.]

Manufacturers that do have debuts, and want to do world premieres on the world stage with the media that’s there, are going to try to make sure that they’re able to get big recognition. So they’ll build extraordinary exhibit spaces and put on elaborate events and that’s what makes the show so fascinating. It is the largest marketing event for the auto industry that there is and so there’s a lot at stake.

How does the GNYADA benefit from putting on the show? Clearly, the impact on New York City and manufacturers is big, but what’s your benefit?
We’re a membership-based organization and our members are new-car dealers. So the stronger the show can be -- the more people that come into the show and see the exciting things that are going on -- the more that people are going to want to go into dealerships and take test drives and hopefully buy new cars. It’s an extraordinarily great marketing event, where people can come under one roof and see more than 1,000 cars and, this year, 60 vehicles that have never been seen before in the world or in North America. So it’s getting people to get in, under no pressure with no sales people, and to sit in cars, get information and make their decisions. It’s extremely important for our industry.

That lack of salespeople is one interesting aspect. Is there a hard and fast rule on that? You don’t have the stereotypical “used car dealer” there, which I think is one thing that people really like about going.
Well, one thing is there is no selling on the floor. They can’t sell. And that’s a hard, fast rule. Most of the manufacturers have what they call “professional presenters.” These are people who go from show to show and are trained by the manufacturers to deliver certain information about the product. There is some dealership personnel there, but you really hardly see the local salesperson anymore.

At what point do you start reaching out to these manufacturers?
We’ll start sitting down a couple of weeks after this year’s show, and we’ll start looking at floor plans and what our booth sizes will be and what our aisle exits are, which is determined by the fire marshal. Then we’ll start getting the market-share data for manufacturers and we’ll start putting together blueprints of what it might be.

What’s the most challenging aspect of planning and putting on the show?
The biggest problem we have, is that logistically, the Javits Center is too small. We’re at about 900,000 square feet of space right now, but if I had another half of a million square feet of space I could probably sell it. So our biggest complaint from manufacturers is that they want more space. But we can’t give it to them. The manufacturers would love to do bigger displays and have more elaborate things going on in their exhibit space.

The second problem is that the Javits Center is a very successful building, but because of its size it can only do one show like ours at a time. That complicates the move-in schedule. We have to bring 14 million pounds of exhibit freight -- a city within a city -- and put together within 6½ days. We hired 700 electricians alone, not to mention all the carpenters and Teamsters. They’re building this city within a week, and we have to meet all the appropriate building codes while doing so. If we had more time and more space, that $255 million economic impact would be substantially larger.

Is there anything that keeps you up the night before the show?
Well, I clearly don’t want to have a power outage like [during the Super Bowl] in New Orleans, so you worry about that. A long time ago I’d always sort of worry about the weather. Will it be too warm? Too cold? Too rainy? Snowy? But you can’t do much about it. The truth is, people come. It’s a 10-day show and it is the granddaddy of all auto shows. It’s the first auto show that was ever produced in North America, dating back to 1900, and it’s the largest auto show in the United States with over one million people that come in. So no matter what it will have a great following.

In your 25 years as president of GNYADA what’s your greatest memory from auto shows past?
Well, when we hit 100 years old in 2000 we put together a book. We hired a historian who took a look at all the things that happened at the auto show over the years. And this didn’t happen when I was on board, this is way before me, but BMW was exhibiting at the old Coliseum and they had a caged lion that was on the floor. I don’t’ know why they thought it was a good idea, but it did get a lot of attention. At one point, a trainer went in, and luckily enough she survived, but got bit on her arm. I’m told that was the last time they allowed a caged lion into anything but a circus in New York.

But we’ve had so many different exciting things happen over the years. For example, we were the first show that did a ride and drive. It’s one thing to put a car on a piece of carpet and have people sit in and take a look at it, but we actually brought in -- and still do to this day because Jeep does a ride and drive -- and erected a course that goes up a mountain, if you will, a fake mountain, and over logs and water and sand so the consumer can get the feeling of how secure the vehicle is. It’s still one of the most popular events that we hold.

What does the GNYADA do during the 350 days of the year when it’s not in the Auto Show’s spotlight?
We’re a trade association so we represent the retail new-car automobile dealers in New York. We have a $28 million training center in Whitestone that prepares young people that are interested in getting into the business with training sessions. We put on 100 different seminars a year for people already in the industry to keep them informed about different compliance or training issues, we train our billing clerks on how to handle the state Department of Motor Vehicle paperwork, we do sales training, marketing training, and so forth. Most of what we do is keeping our members educated and informed about things that are happening in the industry.
 

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