Organizers are constantly looking for new ways to put the “big” in The BIG Show. Over the past 16 years, The BIG Show has been held at higher-quality venues and seen more customer and supplier participation, celebrity appearances and promotional opportunities.

“Every year is a challenge to out-do the previous year’s show, but we always make it happen,” says Jane Donnelly, marketing director for Keystone Automotive Operations, a distributor and marketer of specialty automotive equipment and the company that hosts The BIG Show.

The first BIG Show was held in 1999, one year after Keystone acquired American Specialty Inc. Prior to the buyout, American had held an annual show for its suppliers and customers to come and learn about the latest advancements and innovations in the auto industry. Keystone decided to continue that tradition to better connect its suppliers with customers. 

The BIG Show was originally held at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, N.J., and its success led Keystone to start a second event, BIG Show West, which has been held in Texas since 2011. The following year, the original BIG Show was rebranded BIG Show East and moved to Atlantic City, N.J., and was rebranded as the BIG Show East. It is now held in Washington, D.C.


Suppliers exhibit everything from wheels, tires and exhaust systems to lift kits, van storage solutions, tuners and tonneau covers. “There is literally something for everyone,” Donnelly says. “Whether your business specializes in horsepower or ground clearance, towing or professional trades, you will find opportunity at The BIG Show.”

Unlike larger public trade shows, the BIG Show is a one-day by invitation, wholesale-only buying show. “Retailers come to our shows with a plan and spend quality time with our suppliers, leadership team and sales associates,” Donnelly says. Attendees are able to buy products at aggressively discounted prices, take advantage of special promotional offers and win prizes. By limiting the audience, the BIG Show encourages an industry focus and attendees can freely walk the buying floor and engage in one-on-one conversations with other industry professionals. “The mix of automotive industry knowledge on our show floors is second to none,” Donnelly adds.

Next year’s events will take place early in 2016. The BIG Show East will take place Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., and BIG Show West is scheduled for Saturday, March 5, at the Gaylord Texan Grapevine Resort in Grapevine, Texas. The customer experience at shows is mostly the same, Donnelly says, as both events enjoy a high level of supplier participation and feature a number of custom vehicles and promotions. The differences are minor, Donnelly explains. The BIG Show East is slightly more speed- and performance-oriented while the West event tends to be more truck-centric, she says.

In addition to the show floor hours on Saturday, Keystone hosts two receptions around The BIG Show aimed at allowing customers and suppliers to connect in a less formal setting. The night before the event, the company opens the exhibition for a two-hour cocktail reception and provides a sneak peek at the New Products and Display Showcase. Once the event ends on Saturday, Keystone also holds a dinner reception where customers and suppliers can mingle over food and drinks in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

“The timing of our events allows us to bring the best of the new product introductions and new suppliers from the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show to our customers,” Donnelly says. “I think they look forward to this the most so that they can see what the hot new products and applications will be heading into the selling season.” 

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