When we SNEWS editors were 25, we were still drinking too much beer and pulling stunts that might air on "You Gotta See This!" Conversely, at the quarter-century mark, the SHOT Show has grown into something quite mature.
Well-run and well-attended -- that's the quick skinny on this year's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference in Orlando, Fla., February 13-16. Despite the fact that the Orange County Convention Center is undergoing significant construction and expansion, things for the most part ran smoothly for the show's 15,559 attendees and 10,735 exhibiting personnel.
Granted, those attendance numbers are down from the previous year's 18,549 attendees and 11,184 exhibitors. However, in 2002 the show was in Las Vegas, so it's really comparing apples and oranges. Vegas historically draws a couple of thousand more attendees than any other SHOT show host city. (The SHOT Show moves around a lot, having visited Dallas, Atlanta and New Orleans in the past seven years.)
We did talk to several attendees who said the jury's out on whether Orlando is a good venue. Orlando is still more oriented toward vacationers going to see The Mouse rather than business travelers. As a result, you have a $35, 10-minute cab ride from the airport to the convention center, which is enough to drive you to drink -- if you still had any money left to drink -- which you'd have to do quickly because the bar will likely close at 11 p.m.
On the bright side, things inside the convention center went swimmingly. We had been in the building for no more that 10 minutes before locating a camouflage bikini and a booth display of three -- yes, three -- fake deer mounting each other (a male on a male on a female, we think). CamelBak's booth was located right next to this plastic ménage a trois, so if you think we're making this up, just ask them.
This was CamelBak's second time exhibiting at the show, and should the entire staff not be in sex therapy, they'll likely be back. CamelBak's Matt Curtis said the company did a soft launch at the 2002 SHOT Show with three hydration packs, which, he says, "have picked up momentum." Which is exactly what that female deer wished she'd done. But we digress.
On the other side of the convention center, we found Black Diamond, which was exhibiting at the show for the first time and displaying its headlamps. Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf even made the trip and explained to SNEWS that the company is forming a new division, Performance Lightware, to make all kinds of lights for a variety of markets. "We might have certain lights in a hunting store that you couldn't get in an outdoor store," said Metcalf. He noted that Black Diamond's first non-Outdoor Retailer show was last year's Fly-Fishing Retailer, during which the company got great response. Within the shooting and hunting realm, LEDs are still a new concept, so this looks like a good time to get in, before Petzl and Princeton Tec lock it up.
Also making their first foray into the SHOT Show were Backpacker's Pantry and High Gear, the manufacturer of electronic navigation devices. When we caught up with High Gear's Tim Morgan, he told SNEWS that the company was already signed up for next year's SHOT Show. "We know that customers who are buying [our products] at REI are also using them for hunting and fishing," Morgan said. "We know this is a strong market for us."
It could be a strong market for Backpacker's Pantry, as well. We dropped by its booth several times throughout the four days (hey, Pad Thai was being served, we couldn't help it) to find the booth constantly busy. "This type of product is completely new to this market," said L. Penn Burris, vice president of American Outdoor Products Outdoor Division. "A lot of people here still associate this type of thing with MREs (military meals), and they're amazed at the simplicity of our products." He said that, on average, foot traffic was great. "We didn’t expect to write orders, but we've exceeded our expectations and have actually written a fair number of orders."
Next year, the SHOT Show moves back to Las Vegas, where we expect the party atmosphere to spark strong attendance and booth displays that get even more bang for their buck…get it? Bang for their buck…a buck's a deer? And bang means…oh, forget it.