Is Outdoor Retailer considering a trade show move?

The buzz is beginning to build on the heels of VNU/Outdoor Retailer's recent trade show survey. Emails and calls are already coming into SNEWS-central asking us what we know. At this point what we know is very little.
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The buzz is beginning to build on the heels of VNU/Outdoor Retailer's recent trade show survey. Emails and calls are already coming into SNEWS-central asking us what we know. At this point what we know is very little.

We do know that the survey happened. We also know from folks participating in the survey that it appears as if VNU is gauging interest in an East Coast show location -- how serious that gambit is remains anyone's guess. Actually, this is not a new idea. Several of our SNEWS editors heard such talk when we were working for Outdoor Retailer – most frequently as a suggestion to alternate west and east years. From our insiders at locations in Denver, Salt Lake, Las Vegas and Reno, we do know that VNU is listening to all offers and pitches from cities desiring to host the show -- though the management is reportedly listening more actively to some than others. As for specifics, Peter Devin, group trade show director for Outdoor Retailer, told us that we'd have to wait a bit while his team sifted through the information itself.

That's not to say we don't already know, however, what the members of the Outdoor Industry Association think. The OIA conducted its own survey of its members in November to discover what OIA members felt were the most important issues to consider when deciding on where to hold a trade show.

The top seven items most important to OIA members were:
1. Ease and cost of travel to a location.
2. The cost to participate in a trade show at that location.
3. The cost of lodging at that location.
4. The ease of working with the chosen venue for the trade show.
5. The friendliness of the city.
6. Access to outdoor recreation.
7. Favorable politics.

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of OIA, also told SNEWS that 81 percent of the members feel that the cost of attending Outdoor Retailer has been worth the experience.

When posing the question of trade show length, the waters muddy. Fifty-three percent of the OIA membership says it prefers a three-day format while 47 percent say they prefer the current four-day format -- certainly not a mandate to change show length.

Regarding the hot button of preferred trade show locations: Suffice it to say that in our own recently completed SNEWS Retailer Survey, we asked several questions regarding trade shows. Two larger East Coast retailers clearly expressed their disdain for Salt Lake. When asked if they could change one thing about their business, one wrote, "Move the trade show to a civilized city," while the other penned, "Move the trade show to someplace that actually knows how to cater to trade show visitors." Ouch!

So, if OIA members had their choice, where would they prefer to see Outdoor Retailer hold its annual trade shows?

Reno, the survey says, is the overwhelming choice, with 50 percent of the membership eager to return the show to the Nevada city just over the hill from Lake Tahoe. Denver and Salt Lake were in a virtual dead heat in the second spot, but quite a way back. As for Las Vegas, let's just say it isn't a popular destination with the membership. While it garnered a fourth-place position in the voting, it was so far back that if it were a foot race, Vegas would be getting lapped by Reno, Denver and Salt Lake.

We felt it was important to look well beyond the emotion and vote percentages, however, and bring you, our readers, some hard facts to compare the top three locations. So, SNEWS® did a little research into the published rates affecting the cost of holding a trade show in each of the four top trade show locations. Keep in mind that these are published rates and NOT the rates that trade show companies such as VNU will ultimately pay. In fact the bidding competition for VNU dollars is so high right now that it is very, very good to be VNU, we're sure.

Reno Sparks Convention Center

  • 381,000 square feet of exhibit space sold at $1.18 net square foot.
  • Freight is charged at $40 to $80 per hundred pounds by GES.
  • Labor costs for move-in and decoration are charged at $54.75 per hour.
  • Booth cleaning costs per square foot are $0.25.
  • Drayage labor costs are $54.75 per hour.
  • Union labor is not required.
  • Less than 15 minutes to the airport.
  • Published hotel room rates range from $90 to $100 per night.
  • Less than one hour to several possible Backcountry Base Camp locations.
  • Summer demo day locations within 30 minutes.

SNEWS Analysis:While the trade show floor is clearly 20,000 square feet larger than what SLC currently offers, we still don't think it is big enough for OR. That's not to say Reno would not considering expanding if it could lock up both OR shows. We've been told clearly by the folks at Reno that the convention center will negotiate just about any rate in order to get OR to take the location seriously – it wants the show that badly. Man, it's really good to be VNU right now. With the recent addition of the whitewater park on the Truckee River right through downtown, Reno is certainly making all the right moves to get the outdoor industry to take the city seriously. SLC can't hold a candle to Reno when it comes to convention services, car rentals, taxi availability, hotel room rates or numbers, and the sheer number of dining possibilities, all of which actually do know how to serve a meal in under an hour. (Although many attendees will need a car to get to and from most hotels and restaurants since not a lot are truly in walkable range, if that's one of your ideals.) That said, Reno's big weakness is the airport. Currently, there are precious few direct flights from the major East Coast cities to Reno, and most of those flights still make one stop on the way. Insiders at the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitor's Authority tell us that the Regional Marketing Committee has set aside significant funds to ensure they are able to provide increased flights in and out of Reno should the show choose to locate there. They point out that when the Safari Club comes to town with 18,000 visitors, they work with the airport to increase air service and the number of seats from 10,200 per day to over 16,000 per day, and they'd do the same for Outdoor Retailer.

Colorado Convention Center -- Denver

  • 282,000 square feet of exhibit space sold at $2 net square foot.
  • Freight is charged at $40 to $80 per hundred pounds by GES.
  • Labor costs for move-in and decoration are charged at $53 per hour.
  • Booth cleaning costs per square foot are $0.31.
  • Drayage labor costs are $52.50 per hour.
  • Union labor is required.
  • Approximately 45 minutes to the airport.
  • Published hotel room rates range from $125 per night and up.
  • More than 1 ½ hours to several possible Backcountry Base Camp locations.
  • Summer demo day locations within one hour.

SNEWS Analysis:There is no arguing that the food choices, restaurants, and downtown walking mall at Denver are all tops. With a backdrop of the Rockies -- albeit miles away -- the visual ain't too bad either. The quality and number of hotels in close proximity to the convention center is as good as Reno and better than Salt Lake. In this case, most are also within walking distance, with downtown streetcars available for quick hops too. Toss out the square footage number printed above, too, since with the current expansion under construction right now, the space will more than double by the end of 2004, so in terms of convention center size, Denver gets the clear nod. Despite the fact that you can get to Denver on hundreds of direct, non-stop flights from all over the country, however, the mere distance of the convention center from any recreational venues, as well as from the airport, drops the location farther back in the minds of many as the preferred location.

Salt Palace Convention Center -- Salt Lake City

  • 365,000 square feet of exhibit space sold at $1.15 net square foot.
  • Freight is charged at $40 to $80 per hundred pounds by GES.
  • Labor costs for move-in and decoration are charged at $56.17 per hour.
  • Booth cleaning costs per square foot are $0.26.
  • Drayage labor costs are $55 per hour.
  • Union labor is required.
  • Approximately 25 minutes to the airport.
  • Published hotel room rates range from $110 per night and up.
  • Over one hour to several possible Backcountry Base Camp locations.
  • Summer demo day locations within one hour.

SNEWS Analysis:Sigh. We feel sorry for Salt Lake -- we really do. The city and management has improved so much, but when things were so bad to begin with, sometimes improvement just isn't enough in the eyes of the industry. Entertainment has gotten so much better, as have the quality of meals and the time it takes to actually get served. Also better is the quality of the hotel rooms and service, but the taxi situation remains miserable. On the other hand, the post-Olympics streetcars make getting around easier, and you can pretty much walk to most hotels and eateries. All the griping aside, the bottom line is, SLC has to expand -- and quickly -- or it will lose Outdoor Retailer. The current convention center is bursting at the seams with our show, and there are simply too many dead spots where exhibitors get placed to continue justifying support for the venue without major upgrades.

Where does all this leave us? With no concrete answers -- until VNU makes up its mind. Bottom line is, this is VNU's call alone, although it is certainly spending considerable time consulting with the industry and, we'd imagine, also with the OIA board, for guidance, which is a very good thing.

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