The 2018 NAFA Institute & Expo was held April 24-27 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim,...

The 2018 NAFA Institute & Expo was held April 24-27 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Photo by Mike Antich.

Apparently I struck a bit of a nerve last month with my comments about the upcoming NAFA I&E. Judging from the emails and texts I got, roughly 99% of the suppliers and fleet managers who read Automotive Fleet agreed with my comments and thanked me for pointing out the obvious. A couple of people took exception and took the time to respond, in quite a bit of detail.

Rather than digressing into a prolonged point-counter point, I’ll just take this moment to appreciate that sometimes things get lost in translation and sometimes the message you think you are sending isn’t the message that is received.  

If anyone appreciates how difficult it is to get fleet managers to turn out for an event, it is me. We host several events throughout the year and we partner with several associations that put on fleet events. Year in and year out, it is always a struggle to get fleet managers out from behind their desks.

However, no matter how we perform we never stop looking for ways to reinvent our conferences, to make the content more compelling, and to make sure our attendees and our exhibitors are getting what they need. One way we do that is by reaching out to the people who didn’t come to the event so we can discover why they didn’t think it was worth their time and money.  

In the case of the NAFA I&E, it looked like there was the usual size crowd this year in Anaheim, Calif. I’m sure there are some press releases about growth over last year, about the 1000+ plus “fleets” that were there and about the event being a home run again. As usual, the 1000+ fleets will probably distill down to a couple hundred once we take out the suppliers. And, once again, I’m left wondering why more fleets don’t attend.   

Our databases indicate that there are about 60,000 commercial fleets of various sizes across the U.S.   There are another 18,000 or so public sector fleets that are also potential attendees. So even if we take the “over 1,000 fleets” at face value, that still means that 98.8% of the fleet decision makers did not attend.    

At a recent OEM advisory board meeting I attended, the subject of the NAFA Conference attendance came up. Out of the 20 fleet managers in attendance, 19 said they were not planning on going because they didn’t see value in it anymore.

This wasn’t just any group of fleets. These were some of the rock stars of the business, people who manage fleets of 5,000-10,000 vehicles, including several past Fleet Manager of the Year winners and nominees. Those 19 rock stars along with roughly 77,000 of their peers made the decision not to go.  Again. Which begs a couple of questions: first, why don’t they see value in attendance? And second, why doesn’t anyone seem to care that they aren’t showing up year after year.   

If anyone in a position of authority at NAFA wants to reach out to the silent non-member majority, the staff of Automotive Fleet would be more than happy to help. We reach those people in print and online every month and would be interested in finding out what changes they are looking for. But we also understand if the echo chamber is too loud and there isn’t any appetite for reaching out to the greater fleet audience.   

It’s a difficult thing to realize you need to make big changes in the way you do business. We all struggle with that in today’s climate. We understand that as well as anyone. When I started here, Bobit Business Media was Bobit Publishing and all we did was publish magazines.

Now, 20 years later, we produce events, we host websites, we do market research, we do deep demographic studies of our markets, we consult with suppliers on how to reach our markets, and then when we have a few free minutes, we try to produce a few magazines. We had to make a lot of painful changes along the way, but it was well worth it.

The change was good for us and makes me grateful every day that Ed and Ty Bobit were willing to listen to what our readers and suppliers were telling us. I hope someday that someone at NAFA feels similarly inspired to listen to the market. If you disagree, let me know. 

Related: The Art and Science of Managing a Fleet

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Sherb Brown

Sherb Brown


Sherb Brown is the former president of Bobit Business Media. Sherb has covered the auto industry for more than 20 years in various positions with the world's largest fleet publisher.

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