Canoe & Kayak show announcement sparks debate and OIA response

Like a tsunami, frustrations that have been swelling in the paddlesports market came crashing across this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show floor with a surprise announcement that Canoe & Kayak was launching a new paddlesports-only trade show. “I’ve been going to OR for nine years and listening to the laundry list of complaints from clients, and this year with 25 or so core paddlesports businesses backing out of Outdoor Retailer, something needed to happen,” Jim Marsh, publisher of Canoe & Kayak, told SNEWS®. On July 23, one day after Marsh announced the new show to be in Minneapolis Sept. 9-11, 2010, Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of OIA, said in a response, "Both Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer feel that a separate trade show at this time will split the industry when together we should concentrate more on growing the market.”
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Like a tsunami, frustrations that have been swelling in the paddlesports market came crashing across this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show floor with a surprise announcement that Canoe & Kayak was launching a new paddlesports-only trade show.

“I’ve been going to OR for nine years and listening to the laundry list of complaints from clients, and this year with 25 or so core paddlesports businesses backing out of Outdoor Retailer, something needed to happen,” Jim Marsh, publisher of Canoe & Kayak, told SNEWS®.

On July 23, one day after Marsh announced the new show to be in Minneapolis Sept. 9-11, 2010, Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of OIA, said in a response, "Both Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer feel that a separate trade show at this time will split the industry when together we should concentrate more on growing the market.”

OIA on July 30 sent an open letter to paddlesports companies announcing that it would take a leadership role in addressing the many problems surrounding OR. A portion of the letter reads:

Historically, the responsibility of advising Nielsen on behalf of specific paddlesports companies was left to TAPS and PIA. As we all know, these struggling organizations are not in the position to speak on behalf of our entire community. As your elected representatives on the OIA board of directors, we believe that the time has come to unify our fragmented industry and coordinate the more than one hundred OIA paddle industry members so we have a clear and influential voice.

To that end, we are volunteering to be your champions for the major concerns that were raised at Outdoor Retailer town hall discussion. Here is a list of the issues that we heard:

  1. Advocate for a unified national tradeshow with appropriate dates that work for everyone.
  2. Address rising exhibit fees, especially for companies that require large equipment footprints.
  3. Reinstate paddlesports prominence on the show floor
  4. Improve demo day logistics and location.
  5. Recruit back the missing paddle retailers and manufacturers.
  6. Lead the formulation of a unified Paddle Advisory Council.

Over the next several months, we will work with OIA staff and Nielsen Business Media to develop and communicate material improvements that address your issues. On September 30th at the Outdoor Industry Rendezvous in San Diego, we will host an OIA Paddle Advisory Council meeting and report on the progress made with OIA and Nielsen Business Media.

The letter is signed by Sutton Bacon, CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center; Darren Bush, president of Rutabaga Paddlesports; Norm Cavallaro, president of North Cove Outfitters; Paul Fish, president and CEO of Mountain Gear; Ed McAlister, owner River Sports Outfitters; Will Manzer, president and CEO of EMS; Sue Rechner, president and CEO of Confluence Watersports; and Brian Unmacht, executive president of REI. It should be noted that each of the above are current members of the OIA board of directors with the exception of Fish who is a past board member.

It should also be noted that in the above letter, many of the very points OIA is now suggesting it will advocate for were suggested earlier in the week in an email sent to both OIA and Outdoor Retailer from Tim Rosenhan, president of the TAPS board. In that email, shared with SNEWS, Rosenhan called for moving dates of Summer Market back as late in August as possible, reducing paddlesport company booth costs (shipping and exhibiting boats is cost prohibitive for many), move the open air demo to Salt Lake City, and work to make Summer Market THE national trade show by ensuring East Coast buyers come to the show.

A wave of confusion

When Canoe & Kayak announced its new show at OR (pictured right is the postcard Marsh was handing out as early as Day 1 of Summer Market), the news came as a surprise to many retailers and manufacturers, as well as OR show producers, and it sparked an impromptu discussion in the Paddle Zone of the Salt Palace. This meeting quickly turned into a tense exchange, with members of OIA and Nielsen Media (producer of the Outdoor Retailer show) squaring off with Jim Marsh and supporters of his new show.

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What arose from the Paddle Zone exchange were concerns that Outdoor Retailer Summer Market (particularly its new, earlier show dates) did not meet the needs of many paddle retailers and manufacturers, plus a counter argument that the Canoe & Kayak show would fracture an already discombobulated paddlesports market.

Throughout the remaining days of the show, SNEWS spoke with many manufacturers who generally seemed unsure about whether they should continue to support the OR show, shift their resources to the new show, or attempt to participate in both. Michael Duffy, sales and marketing director for Kokatat, told SNEWS that, following the show, he would survey his dealers to see what direction they would take.

This week, Duffy said that there seems to be a “split decision” on whether or not his dealers would support the Canoe & Kayak show. “There are certain folks who would support it, and others who says there’s no need for another trade show outside of OR,” said Duffy.

Many other manufacturers are also talking with their dealers this week to put together a plan of action for the future. This includes Werner Paddles, which did not attend OR this year due to the July dates and financial concerns, opting instead to interact with retailers through web-based training and by providing reps more money to visit dealers.

“We’re on a fact-finding mission right now,” said Jim Miller, marketing manager of Werner Paddles. “We’re surveying retailers on how their Werner programs have worked, whether they attended OR and what they would like Werner to do in the future, and that includes asking them about a fall show. By late September or early October, we hope to have our go-to-dealer strategy for the future.”

SNEWS has not been able to confirm the number of manufacturers that have actually agreed to participate in the Canoe & Kayak show, but Marsh said, “It’s certainly a go on about 95 percent of companies in the business. I haven’t put together an actual number, but it’s a lot more companies than went to Outdoor Retailer this year that said they want to sign up for booth space.”

Representatives from TAPS and PIA say that they are preparing to survey their members to see which show, or shows, they will support. Neither organization has formally expressed its support for either Outdoor Retailer Summer Market or the Canoe & Kayak show despite what has been reported in other trade news sources. “TAPS has had a board discussion, but we have not taken a board position,” said Rosenhan.

One company that will not participate in the new show is Confluence Watersports.

“We are going to remain dedicated to Outdoor Retailer. We having been going to Outdoor Retailer for two decades and will exhibit going forward,” said Rechner. “The early indications on that (Canoe & Kayak) show, through conversations with retailers and peers, lead us to believe it’s not accretive for us. OR has some work to do in being more attentive to the specific needs of the paddle industry, but I believe they are very open to that.”

Retailer opinions concerning the Canoe & Kayak show are all over the map. “It has some interest to me if they’re going to move into September, and it’s a good location for us; it’s certainly an easy place to get to,” said Rich Hage, general manager of Jersey Paddler in Brick, N.J.

“I probably wouldn’t support it,” said Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga in Madison, Wis. “I already go to too many trade shows. I don’t think we need another one.”

OR dates are the chief concern

If there is an area of agreement among all parties involved, it’s that OR’s July dates do not work well at all for the paddlesports market. Manufacturers told SNEWS that a significant number of their dealers did not attend Outdoor Retailer Summer Market this year because it fell during the heart of their selling season.

The show dates were the primary thing that prompted Marsh to create a new show. “If OR hadn’t moved into July I wouldn’t have tried to launch our own show in the first place,” said Marsh.

“The timing of the show is a challenge for a lot of companies,” admitted Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA’s executive director. “The majority of retailers in the outdoor industry want the show between the third week of July and the second week of August. We used to be at the end of it; now we’re at the front of it, and it sounds like there may need to be some middle ground found.”

Hugelmeyer said that OIA and Nielsen Media are going to review the dates to see if they need to change them for 2011 (the dates for 2010 are already locked in), but also they will address other issues brought forward by member of the paddlesports market.

“For those who require a large booth footprint, there are concerns about the cost of the show. The shipping costs for equipment are growing, and that’s a valid concern,” said Hugelmeyer. He added that people want the Open Air Demo moved to a more convenient location, while other people want the show to recruit back manufacturers and retailers who have stopped attending.

Debating the merits of a paddlesports-only show

While the Canoe & Kayak show would fall during a time that’s more convenient for paddlesports retailers, there is an issue concerning the benefits of a paddlesports-only show.

Hugelmeyer contended that niche shows are a dying breed, and some have seen their attendance drop as much as 40 percent.

Marsh, on the other hand, pointed to the uber-successful Kanumesse show, held each September in Nuremberg, Germany, as evidence that a stand-alone paddlesports show can thrive.

But Bush of Rutabaga pointed out that the European show works because traveling there is easy and relatively inexpensive compared to what’s required in the U.S. “In Europe you can get anywhere in a few hours. You get on a train in Sicily in the morning, and in the evening you’re in Germany and it costs you a hundred bucks,” said Bush.

There is also debate over whether the paddlesports sector needs to operate within a tradeshow that includes the greater outdoor industry. Marsh said that most paddlesports equipment is sold by smaller, core paddle shops that do not feel the need to attend OR.

But Bush, Rechner and others said that at least 70 percent of retailers who sell paddling equipment also cross over into other areas such as hiking. Therefore, they said, it’s imperative that paddlesports manufacturers go to a show that draws general outdoor retailers.

“Does it make sense for a paddle shop to go to a specific paddling venue? Yes, but they’re still going to carry Chacos and Keens and things from people who don’t go to a paddlesports-specific show,” said Duffy of Kokatat. “So, they’re going to be forced to go somewhere else or make the rep work harder. There’s a benefit to the Outdoor Retailer format, because a paddlesport dealer can sell all they could possibly see.”

Another issue is whether a niche show allows companies to benefit from the opportunities created when they interact with colleagues in the broader market. “We go to OR for more than just a trade show,” said Rechner of Confluence. “It’s networking, the opportunity to get access to a multitude of categories. That show showcases innovation, and innovation provokes thoughts and ideas.”

“An isolated show misses out on the synergies that develop from working with companies that reach beyond paddlesports to serve other consumers,” said Hugelmeyer. “You get a greater diversity of retailers, and new retailers looking to extend into padddlesports. You’re not going to get that at a stand-alone show.”

Fracturing the paddlesports market

Though the Canoe & Kayak show might not offer the networking opportunities of OR, its September dates and other aspects could prove appealing. Exhibition space will cost $10 a square foot, which is significantly less expensive that what Outdoor Retailer charges. Plus, its on-water event will be held at Lake Calhoun, which is only eight minutes from the convention center and not an hour away, as is the case with OR’s Open Air Demo at Pineview Reservoir in Ogden, Utah.

Still, some people worry that the new show could have a negative effect, further fracturing the paddlesports market, which has previously split into camps while trying to merge paddle trade associations.

“There’s a new fault line emerging, unfortunately in paddlesports,” said Rosenhan of TAPS. “There are some people for whom a new show makes sense, some for whom a new show makes no sense, and some people who will find reason to go to both.”

He is worried that, as companies are forced to choose between these options, we’ll see the paddle market split into opposing camps, with one side supporting OR and OIA, and the other supporting the Canoe & Kayak show. In the midst of this, he thinks the industry will lose sight of addressing the core issues preventing paddle retailers and manufacturers from operating effectively.

Rosenhan and many others we spoke with agreed that further fracturing could be prevented if OR were able to increase buyer attendance, reduce booth costs, change the show dates, make the Open Air Demo more convenient, and make paddlesports a more prominent entity on the show floor.

As for Marsh, he plans to go ahead with the new show, not sure that OR will actually address these issues.

“We’re not from Missouri,” said Marsh but we’re saying, ‘Show me.’”

Joe Flynn, sports group vice president for Nielsen, stated, “The issue of how to work with the paddlesports industry has been an ongoing challenge for the OR team due to the lack of a unified voice in the industry. In the past, we have been very supportive of TAPS and worked hard and spent tens of thousands of dollars to help in that unification with PIA. When that did not materialize, we were left to make decisions on our own. Some may have been good some bad. Moving forward, we expect to be addressing the industry issues through a unified voice which we are very thankful that OIA is taking the lead on. All of the issues that have been raised are resolvable and we will work very hard to address them one by one over the next few months. Our ultimate goal is to serve the outdoor industry, of which paddlesports is a part, and help them grow their business through OR.”

--Marcus Woolf

SNEWS® View: When Canoe & Kayak magazine announced its new show, it created more than a splash; it was like a 250-pound man doing a cannon ball into the shallow end of the pool. If nothing else, it got everybody’s attention and provoked plenty of action. We do find it a bit curious that Marsh chose to announce his new trade show with little preamble and while attending Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. While it certainly gave him a stage and the shock value he was likely seeking, it was also a bit unprofessional in our opinion. Not sure he would feel so warm and fuzzy if Outdoor Retailer, for example, attended the C&K awards party and used that stage to publicly point out that C&K was not serving its advertisers or readers well and as a result Outdoor Retailer would be launching another magazine to better serve the paddlesports community.

It is also worth pointing out that not one person we know of at C&K has any experience in putting on a national-caliber trade show and that C&K’s parent company, Source Interlink, filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year which certainly raises legitimate questions about the motivation behind launching the show as well as financial backing to support such an endeavor. Does this mean that C&K cannot pull off a show? Not at all, but full disclosure is very important we feel as folks begin to weight attendance options with very serious implications.

Our visits with numerous paddlesports companies at Summer Market also uncovered a slightly different tale than Marsh was trying to spin. Paddlesport companies we spoke with were busy through day three of the show. We were told appointment quality was strong, buyers were making ASAP and preseason orders at the show, and that international business was significantly up.

Many retailers and vendors we also spoke with, while shocked by the news Marsh dropped on them about a Sept. paddlesports show, saw the ensuing discussion as very constructive because it got Outdoor Retailer, OIA and many retailers and paddlesport vendors in attendance at Summer Market to engage in serious discussions about the paddlesports industry's sales, growth and future. The irony for Marsh and those aligned on the fence believing Outdoor Retailer does not serve paddlesports well is that this very discussion was enabled by, facilitated by, and supported by Outdoor Retailer.

As for the Canoe & Kayak show, we’re skeptical about the level of support it has secured -- as in firm commitments. Certain companies and organizations that were rumored to be on-board have, in fact, told us they have absolutely not made decisions yet. And many people we spoke with said that if OR were to take real action on the items mentioned in its open letter, it would negate the need for the Canoe & Kayak show.

There is some talk that in 2010, some manufacturers might reduce their presence at OR so that they could also attend the Canoe & Kayak show. But September of 2010 could be a bewildering month. With regional shows and Kanumesse already on the calendar, it would be quite a challenge to add the Canoe & Kayak show to the schedule.

We do agree that a move back into August would be a wise one – and not just because of the paddlesports issues. July dates are just too early for most vendors and retailers we speak with on a regular basis. Of course, late August is too late as well. Truth is, there is NO such thing as an ideal date for all parties with a national trade show. 

Of course, the most worrisome thing is that these latest developments might cause even more discord in a paddlesports market that now appears more dysfunctional than ever. OIA is trying to fill the leadership vacuum that has plagued the paddlesports sector for years, but this is going to require far more effort than simply adding a few paddlesport names to a board roster and holding a few paddlesport summits. Paddlesports needs an industry organization that understands paddlesports retailers, paddlesports manufacturing time lines, paddlesports future trends, federal, state and local paddling and manufacturing regulations, and the distinctness of regional paddling seasons. Could OIA be that association? Sure, but it has a LOT of work to do first in building bridges.

For various reasons that are truly baffling to us, some people do not trust OR and OIA, and they refuse to cast their lot with anyone other than PIA or TAPS.

If OR and OIA succeed in creating a trade show environment that is robust and undeniably beneficial to paddlesports companies, only then, we suspect, will old allegiances perhaps begin to shift. And, even then, some things may never change as it has become increasingly evident that there are those in the paddlesports community who seem to really thrive on continued drama.

And to that we leave all with one, singular thought. It is time to put aside differences over trade show loyalties, trade association woes, finger-pointing and company infighting. At the end of the day, only one thing really matters – butts in boats people. Butts in boats. –SNEWS® Editors

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