2009 Annual SNEWS Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: Looking at trade show attendance

As we announced in Part 1, we are now releasing the full SNEWS Outdoor Retailer survey results, complete with expanded and detailed analysis available to our All Access SNEWS subscribers. In Part 4, this week, we share some very eye-opening results to our trade show attendance questions.
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Welcome to Part 4 of the 2009 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey, where outdoor specialty retailers get to speak their minds and offer industry observations and commentary on what is great, good, not so good and desperately needs improvement in the industry. The full survey results, complete with expanded and detailed analysis of each category’s results, were presented in sections to our All Access SNEWS subscribers over the last few weeks, with this installment focusing on retail trade show attendance for 2009. If you missed last week, click here to read Part 3 of our annual survey, the "2009 Annual SNEWS Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: Top-selling outerwear, sportswear and footwear brands "

Last year, we asked retailers for the first time to tell us which trade shows they frequented, as well as whether their trade show attendance was increasing, decreasing or remaining the same. Unlike other parts of our survey, we predisposed them to a selection of typical trade shows an outdoor retailer might attend, including international, national and regional shows.

Given the economy -- and Outdoor Retailer’s move of Summer Market to July in 2009 (it's back to August for 2010) -- the SNEWS team was certainly expecting to see some downward shifts in reported attendance numbers for all trade shows, but most especially Summer Market. However, nothing prepared us for the responses we received, especially one in particular that we hope is not indicative of a trend that will carry through into 2010 and beyond -- declining to attend any trade shows at all.

In 2008, 7 percent of those responding said they did not go to any trade shows, and if we drill down into the data, it appears most of those responses are from Midwest and East Coast retailers. However, 2009 fired a shot across the bow of trade show organizers with nearly 29 percent of our respondents saying they did not to go any trade shows at all -- and this from retailers spread geographically, not just in the East and Midwest. That’s only a few percentage points behind the 33 percent who said they attended Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, which is once again the show that tops in garnering attendance. Perhaps this was due to the July dates, as indeed quite a few respondents wrote in they typically only go to Summer Market. Most said they did not attend in 2009 partly because of the economy but mostly because the dates were way too early for them. It will be interesting to see if many of these folks return to Summer Market this year with the dates pushed back into August.

In regard to our second question about attendance trends going up, down or remaining the same, about the same percentage told us they decreased their attendance in 2009 as those who reported they decreased it in 2008. Far fewer, though, said they increased attendance -- no surprise there given the economy. What is intriguing to us is that those who say they decreased attendance in 2008, and then again in 2009, may correspond with the dramatic increase in those who said they didn’t attend any trade shows at all.

And what were some of the write-in comments? We got a lot this year, but only listed a representative few with some SNEWS editorial comments in parentheses next to some:

  • "The industry better figure out the timing of OR or else it will lose both retailers and vendors. None of us can afford to travel more given the climate and by forcing the boat guys to go early they WILL bail. We are done with buying all key soft goods brands by the time we go so beyond looking at new stuff what is the point..." (SNEWS® Ed Note: It would seem to us, that looking at new stuff, and perhaps obtaining a new perspective on trends, not to mention being able to network with peers is kind of the point. The more you can get done before the show, fine.)
  • "Used to go to OR. Will return when the show is at a time that make sense.Trying to order in the middle of our season is ridiculous. Much less that we are asked to leave our businesses at the busiest time of our season."
  • "Summer outdoor retailer is likely a goner." (SNEWS® Ed Note: Really? Now unless we are missing something here, it seems like losing a national trade show that is still very vibrant would be a very bad thing for all of us.)
  • "I am a one-man shop, so I don't get away to attend any shows."
  • "Our summer season is short with limited staffing, numerous shows PLUS all of the independent vendors make buying before mid season a challenge."
  • "With video clips of product, we may never go to a trade show again unless it is in our region." (SNEWS® Ed Note: Really? Can those video clips give you a good sense of market trends, new product introductions and a world outside of the immediate store boundaries?)
  • "On the last day of the shows, reps and vendors need to stay focused and not pack up early. The people that do attend want attention until the very end of a show." (SNEWS® Ed Note: We heard this one or a version of it a lot. We know everyone is tired, and eager to pack up, but hear this one well…by doing that, you are not supporting and valuing smaller specialty retailers who really do value every dollar they have spent to attend the show, and if they don’t feel their dollar value, they might just decide to stay home.)
  • "OR was our primary trade show. We no longer attend due to the date change to July. Too early for us!" (SNEWS® Ed Note: Meaning this year, you and the many others who said you sent less staff because the show was too early will be back, right?)
  • "These shows work best for stores with larger staffs, not the smaller specialty retailer."
  • "Still a very worthwhile endeavor, if one can afford bringing the entire staff."
  • "Money was a main factor in not attending summer OR, but if it wasn't the time frame still would have been."
  • "I think OR is still the winner but a West coast show in September would be very nice."

The SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Survey may not be reproduced for redistribution of any kind, in whole or part, including for promotional or sales purposes of any kind, to consumers or the trade, without the written consent of SNEWS. Contact SNEWS at survey@snewsnet.com for reprint details and restrictions.

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