Mention the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. (SEMA) show to most auto industry folks and they'll say: “Sure, I've heard of it. Big show. In Las Vegas right?”

Yet mention the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX), and many people will say: “What?”

Yet AAPEX is held in conjunction with the SEMA show. Both are part of Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week in November. It's one of the biggest deals in Las Vegas.

What's the difference between the shows? Dimensionally, AAPEX is about 30% the size of big brother SEMA. SEMA focuses on performance items, accessories, add-ons and related products and services. AAPEX focuses more on original equipment and products to service vehicles. It's not as sexy as SEMA, but it's as important.

Hunter Engineering displays at AAPEX. Hunter is known for its back-shop hoists and brake lathes. At the latest show, it exhibited new lathes on which a service technician can grind a rotor in about half the time and adjust the grinding speed while it is working.

Many vehicles today require the rotors to be surfaced while on the vehicle, not removed for that purpose. It also makes the job faster for a technician. It's not as flashy as chrome wheels and rear spoilers, but it's out there.

Equipment isn't the only thing found at AAPEX.

Exhibitors included suppliers of those mini-motorbikes you see tooling around some parts of the country. Electra Accessories of Ontario, CA, sells both 2- and 4-stroke mini bikes and quads. Also of California, Razor Engineering sells electric scooters and mini-bikes.

Cute little things on their own. But some auto dealers are using them promotionally to help move the heavier metal.

Electra and Razor representatives say some auto dealers use their products as promotional give-aways to customers buying new trucks and SUVs.

Not a bad idea. Considering mom and dad are spending $30,000-$40,000 on a new SUV, why not throw it a mini-bike to keep the kids happy too?

On a smaller scale, Dave Bergeron, a back shop manager at Tower Chrysler Jeep in Calgary, Canada saw some great value in a product from Slime Essentials (yes, that's its real name): super-magnetic tire pressure gauges that are small enough to attach inside the fuel door of most vehicles. No more rifling through the glove box or wherever to find the tire gauge — one of the more lost-prone items of the world.

Ingersol Rand showed its nitrogen tire-inflating compressors. At first, I thought: What's the problem with plain old air compression for inflating a tire?

Well, performance enthusiasts know that nitrogen molecules are much larger than oxygen's, so slow leaks are all but eliminated, as are the dangers associated with driving on under-inflated tires. Nitrogen is an harmless inert gas that's all around us. Much of what we breathe is nitrogen. If we can put it in our lungs, we can put it in our tires.

The demographics for AAPEX is different than SEMA's show which attracts more motor heads and customizers. AAPEX is geared less for the “pimp-my-ride” crowd and more for the “service-my-car” set. Plus, there are a lot of suits and ties prowling around to make international supplier deals.

The two shows work well together. It is time well spent to attend both when looking for a competitive edge. Otherwise, you might miss some real opportunity products and services for your store.

AAPEX is at the Sands Expo Center, close to the SEMA show at the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center

I suggest spending two days at the SEMA exhibition and at least a day at AAPEX, where there's less ground to cover. A pass to one gets you into the other.

Dave Skrobot ( 1-888-681-7355) is vice president of fixed operations training for the Automotive Sales College.