Words by Vince Pornelos Photos by Mike Sabarre
Ask anyone who has ever competed or participated in a car show or a motor show and they’ll tell you this: it’s a tough business. Setting up booths and exhibits in a motor show is challenging to say the least, and it’s all done to build image, branding, and enhance business.
But beyond the red carpets, the attractive models, the loud music, and the many, many automobiles gleaming in glory under the lights are special, dedicated professionals who work ’round the clock to produce a show that the exhibitors, sponsors, and ultimately the visitors, will enjoy and appreciate.
These are our Show Masters, the three people largely responsible for building our aftermarket car show scene, our industry motor shows where all the latest cars are launched, and setting the standard for the way exhibits are staged and events are held. These three are the people the public will rarely see, but they have shaped the Philippine car show and motor show industry into what it is today.
The great showman Sammy Davis, Jr. once said: “Part of show business is magic. You don’t know how it happens.”
If that’s the case, then the three people here are magicians of the highest order.
Sophie Delos Santos
TransSportShow, Manila Auto Salon, Philippine International Motor Show
If you have ever been involved or competed in the biggest aftermarket shows in the country, then Sophie Delos Santos needs no introduction.
As the founder and president of Trade Show International (TSI), Sophie has been the driving force behind many of the Philippines’ major auto shows, the flagship being the TransSportShow (TSS) that has been held annually since 1992.
The TransSportShow actually traces its roots way back to 1982 with Transhow International, an event which was held for 10 years until 1992. Sophie was actually part of that original team that staged the event at Philcite within the CCP Complex in Pasay City. When Sophie conceptualized the first TransSportShow in 1992 with Mariles Villar, they envisioned it as a show for car enthusiasts, one that would become the springboard for many car restorers and custom car builders.
“I will always remember selling my first TSS booths and competition slots in 1992 armed with only my five years experience in Transhow,” recounted Sophie Delos Santos. “All I had was a bucket load of guts to convince them that a car show in a mall will work just as well.”
The 1st TransSportShow was held in December of 1992 at the then newly-opened Shangri-La Plaza Mall. The show occupied the 6th Floor Parking Lot and Indoor Exhibit Area. The very first Best Of Show Winner was a 1976 Lancia Stratos.
After the great response to the TSS, Sophie relocated the event to the likewise newly-opened SM Megatrade Hall at the top floor of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong. The new venue was purpose-built for exhibitions, but still it presented some rather unique problems, especially where the ingress of multi-million peso exotics were concerned.
“I will never forget the time that I borrowed a Lamborghini Diablo for display at Megatrade Hall,” continued Sophie. “I thought I had the width specs right to fit through the roll up door, until I realized the tech details you get from the Internet do not include the side mirrors… and so I had the roll up door dismantled!”
The next couple of years after those first two stagings of TSS were some of the most interesting, as the event became a chronicle of the rise of the Honda Civic EG as a show staple. But despite the success of TSS, the celebration would have to wait, as the event would have to weather the coming economic -and literal- storms. Like any car enthusiast, however, Sophie and the team she leads have two key traits that helped them get through tough times for the auto industry.
“You can never let go of your passion and commitment in the brand if you want it to last,” said Sophie. “There will be times when the challenges seem too overwhelming …and you need these two to push you past your limits. TransSportShow survived three economic crises and several natural calamities but canceling a show was never an option.”
The President of TSI then shared with us her formula for ensuring the success of any of her events; a formula that is built around four key players for any event. By meeting the objectives of the Organizer, the Participants (sponsors, exhibitors), Suppliers (venue, contractors), and the Attendees (visitors, media), the event’s success can be attained.
“The moment you forget the objectives of any of these key players, your event will never be a complete success,” continued Delos Santos. “There will definitely be a lot of cost/benefit analyses and balancing in the process which will require mastery in financial management, public relations, and [the] right attitude.”
The early years of the TransSportShow during the 1990’s. Note the DeLorean S2, the Mitsubishi Galant Rally Car, and how models dressed two decades ago; a stark contrast to today. (photos provided by Ms Delos Santos)
Over the years, the TransSportShow has endured and grown as the premier car show in the Philippines, and Sophie has expanded her events portfolio to other areas of interest including the Defense and Sporting Arms Show. But at her core is the drive to produce shows for car enthusiasts, such as the Manila Auto Salon.
“Before [the] Manila Auto Salon, we conceptualized the first aftermarket show entitled the Custom Car Show in 1995 which focuses on modified vehicles held simultaneously with the Sport Truck Show, which was also the first ever SUV truck and off-road show,” narrated Delos Santos.
Sophie and her team have just concluded the 25th TransSportShow this past May at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. There is, however, no time for rest, as next up on her busy calendar is the biennial, CAMPI-held Philippine International Motor Show (PIMS), followed by the Manila Auto Salon in the last quarter. It’s a busy year for her organization to say the least, but she always pushes through regardless of the challenges, all to bring forth a show that enthusiasts will enjoy and appreciate.
“I always go back to my intense training in 1987 when I was doing the Transhow in Philcite where gender is never a hindrance, lack of manpower never an excuse, resilience never an option and willingness to do the most menial to the most back-breaking job is a requirement,” concluded Sophie Delos Santos, founder of the TransSportShow.
Manila International Auto Show
To many of us in the automotive press, Alvin Uy is known as one of the friendliest personalities and one of most enthusiastic individuals when it comes to automobiles; especially classic cars.
Truth be told, automotive journalism is just one of Alvin’s many responsibilities, a long list of official duties that include businessman in the field of construction adhesives as well as executive for the CW Home Depot, one of the largest home improvement supercenter chains in the Philippines. But one of his biggest hats -one that he has worn annually since 2005- is motor show organizer, as Alvin Uy is one of the co-founders of the Manila International Auto Show, or MIAS.
“Being in the motoring scene, Jason Ang [motioncars.com] and I observed that the Philippines doesn’t have an international auto show that would serve as a venue to launch the new models of the year and that was about the time I met with an old friend in the construction supply industry whose family runs one of the most successful construction shows in South East Asia. The company is called Worldbex Services International, known for staging the Worldbex Construction Show,” narrated Alvin.
Often, many of us who visit and observe these massive international motor shows envision that events of this magnitude were conceived in a boardroom with big Powerpoint presentations, figures, projections and a board of directors flipping through prepared notes. The conceptualization of MIAS, however, happened a little differently.
“Over coffee with its chairman Joseph Ang, we explored the idea of staging an international auto show in 2003. I felt that he would be the ideal partner and principal to do the Manila International Auto Show given his experience, network, and resources in the events management industry,” recounted Uy.
The first MIAS opened in 2005 at the World Trade Center Metro Manila in Pasay City. Unlike car shows that center around custom cars, restoration and modification, the Manila International Auto Show was meant to serve the automotive industry; a major launch platform for car manufacturers, assemblers and distributors in the Philippines.
“We simply wanted to put up a show similar to Tokyo Motor Show and Bangkok Motor Show where automotive companies can use this event to introduce their new models for the year, and have an all-in-one-roof event where all the brands in the market are showcased to the public,” continued Uy.
And so MIAS became a venue for car brands in the market to show off their latest wares, often with large, expensive and elaborate booths that are consistent with their target demographic as well as their corporate identity. Later editions of MIAS also explored the possibility of presenting the talent and capability of local car shops to modify and restore automobiles on a large stage.
“The secondary vision for this event was also to have a showcase of what’s new and trending in the aftermarket industry. Lastly, we wanted to use this as a venue to celebrate the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Filipino talent in car restoration and customization. That was why we came up with the MIAS Custom Classic Car Competition as well.”
The broad appeal of the Manila International Auto Show has seen attendance push the venue to its limits and even past it. Recently, MIAS breached the 100,000 visitor mark; a remarkable milestone since the event is only held for four days in summer (typically in April from Thursday to Sunday), unlike international shows that are often held for two weeks.
“The greatest pressure is how to outdo the previous year’s show. Since we began in 2005, the visitor traffic and quality of displays have been improving. The number of brands and participants has also grown since then, and is still growing. However, the floor area of the exhibition halls remain the same. We were hoping that we can have a bigger venue and perhaps World Trade Center would consider expanding. Despite having the venue size as a limitation, we also feel a bit frustrated because not all the automotive brands join the MIAS. We hope that one day we can be able to get all the brands to join the MIAS,” continued Alvin Uy.
Holding a motor show is a stressful business, but Alvin, Jason, and the rest of his team have all stepped up to the plate, moving the show forward despite the many challenges that were thrown their way left, right, and center. Still they pushed on, applying pressure to achieve the expectations directed their way. They built an international-caliber motor show where there previously was none, and it’s one that the industry can truly be proud of.
“A few years back, I remember telling my partner Jason Ang that I would have recurring nightmares about the show, weeks before each show would start. We both just laughed because it turns out he would have the same nightmares as well. There’s a lot of pressure in setting up a show like this because our exhibitors and sponsors invest a lot of money and resources in participating, so we have to live up to their expectations every year,” concluded the co-founder of the Manila International Auto Show.
On Demand Group
While Alvin and Sophie are the recognizable personalities and organizers of their respective shows, Faiz Sheik is someone who enjoys operating in the shadows… often quite literally.
Faiz and his flagship company Brand On Demand are not show organizers; they are events specialists, meaning they are contacted by automotive companies to stage their events and, more often than not, handle their auto show booths and construct their displays.
Truth be told, Faiz was a little reluctant when I initially asked him to join us for a few hours of drinks and good conversation. He’s not a fan of the limelight, even though his job revolves around ensuring that his company’s clients and brands get as much of it as he can deliver.
“BOD is first and foremost a consultant to our clients,” said Sheik. “Our philosophy is to help our clients invent creative marketing breakthroughs and enjoy sustained higher brand recognition.”
Spotting a BOD event is easy; it’s usually where the company president and officers are typically busy with entertaining and talking to guests, partners, media and clients and not fussing about the actual event which is running like a well-oiled machine. To the industry, any BOD-handled activity is special simply because they are able to operate autonomously; meaning the client can sit back, relax, chat with guests and look good.
“BOD loves a challenge and it is great when you find a sweet spot with your client where the trust and faith is there, that they let you go with the wackiest ideas, knowing you will deliver,” continued Sheik.
“I remember in 2004 [when] a client of mine told me ‘Faiz, we like you because you tell us nothing is impossible, do you have the budget?’ That was when we launched the BMW E60 (5 Series) in Central Luzon. It posed a problem because the only suitable venue at the time was the Holiday Inn at Clark, and the ballroom was located on the second floor with no car access whatsoever. We worked with the hotel management and had the glass facade removed from the second floor, constructed an elevator outside to bring two cars up to the level and a ramp to drive through the window opening. The audience was watching a live feed on a giant LED wall and was shocked when the ballroom doors opened behind them and the vehicles drove in,” recalled Faiz.
With the growth of the auto industry in the country, Faiz and BOD found themselves at the top of the list of many automotive brands to set up a display space at the two largest industry shows: MIAS and PIMS. Working with a motor show venue can also be very difficult, especially when it comes to large, elaborate structures and exhibits that have to be erected and disassembled within a short period of time.
“MIAS and PIMS are both very professionally organized and the clients’ booth requirements are getting more and more sophisticated. Many manufacturers have realized that participating in the Motor Show is not just taking your showroom lineup and displaying it but trying to stand out in a sea of competition, vying for visitor attention,” said Sheik.
One of BOD’s longtime clients is Ford, and Faiz knows very well what they demand when it comes to their corporate identity especially at motor shows, as Faiz headed up Ford Group Philippines’ marketing department for five years prior to setting up Brand On Demand in 2002.
“In 2011, Ford agreed to get a 1000-square meter pavilion at MIAS, all while other booths had 200-400 square meters. We had a setup time of 2.5 days. We had to design all the components in a pre-fabricated manner so that they could be prepared in the preceding two months and then brought inside in sequence and screwed together during ingress,” said Sheik.
“We flew to China, invested in the structural systems and materials, had them shipped across and did this for the first time, learning on the job, while ensuring we still had time for rehearsals. Since then, we have done it many times and simultaneously for more than one client at the show but the satisfaction of doing it right is highest from conquering an untried idea,” continued Faiz.
The drive to achieve new heights in events and exhibitions is at the heart of what makes BOD unique and so sought after in the industry.
“Coordinating the logistics of bringing everything together in time for rehearsals is a thing of beauty to watch. Hundreds of elements, from the platform to walls and electronics to models, talents, scripts, detailers, car carriers, video and audio production have to be precisely timed and coordinated to ensure that come rehearsal time, everything is a go.”
In the last MIAS, BOD handled the displays of four brands; more had actually asked, but Faiz’s growing team had, quite literally, ran out of manpower to handle more.
“At heart, BOD is still the same as it was 15 years ago but with more expansive and refined systems and processes and of course, a larger client list. The team has grown immensely and many members are approaching a decade with BOD if not more.”
“We are now the On Demand Group made of three corporations and while we may be generating much higher revenues today, we still have that core team, small business, personal feel in how we run things,” concluded Faiz Sheik, President of the On Demand Group.