The Southeast winter show for the Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) and Southeastern Winter Reps Association (SWRA) once again lived up to its reputation as an essential, high-quality gathering.
Held Feb. 12-15 at the Palmetto Expo Center in Greenville, S.C., the show included 380 booths and drew 640 retail buyers. Sure, that's a drop in the bucket compared to a national show like Outdoor Retailer, but that's the point. Regional shows continue to build loyal followings of participants who prefer smaller events that are more personal, less expensive and closer to home.
Ellen Kennedy, co-owner of The Bedford Sportsman in Simons Island, Ga., prefers the Greenville show to Outdoor Retailer, partly because it's convenient and less costly. "Greenville is so easy to get to," she said, "and it's an inexpensive city, and hotel rates are low there." She also prefers the vibe of a smaller show. "It's a low-key, pleasant atmosphere, and you really get to know the reps." She said that her interaction with reps at the regional show has really helped to improve her 900-square-foot outdoor specialty shop.
EORA Executive Director Debbie Motz said that the regional show allows more quality time because reps are not stacking appointments and working two to three stores at once. If there's a drawback, it's that the Greenville show can't present the whole universe of brands, and Kennedy admits that she misses some new products when she skips Outdoor Retailer. "But, then I have to think, would I sell enough of those new products to justify the cost of attending?" she said.
Some ski shop employees have also been choosing to attend the Greenville show rather than national events. Burton Davis, a 25-year veteran of the ski business and vice president of merchandising for Alpine Ski Center in Banner Elk, N.C., said he always goes to the regional SWRA show, but this winter was the first time in the three years that he attended the SIA show in Las Vegas. "I have sent my buyer (to SIA), but since SIA moved up to January, there's so much stuff going on here that it just costs me too much to go out there." He said he decided to attend SIA this year just to shore up relationships with some national sales managers.
While regional shows offer a convenient, affordable alternative, the Greenville gathering has an added strength in that it combines the outdoor and snowsports markets. In 1994, EORA and SWRA combined their shows for the first time, and it appears to have been a smart move.
"Having the shows combined has really worked well for us. We have some crossover vendors, and it's very convenient to see them in the same place," said Davis, noting that The North Face is the Alpine Ski Center's No. 1 clothing line.
The outdoor and ski markets have definitely blended over the past 10 years -- just consider the number of ski shops carrying outdoor brands such as Arc'Teryx and Mountain Hardwear. As the two markets sit side-by-side in a trade show hall, there is an opportunity for some cross-pollination. Motz said that ski store buyers are shopping both sides of the aisle, adding, "Many have appointments with someone like Life is Good, and they're looking at things other than skis."
How much real value the cross-pollination opportunity presents though is debatable. Davis said the customer at a core ski shop still differs from the customer at an outdoor specialty store. "We're not really mining the outdoor brands to see what the next trend is going to be," he added.
One clearly identifiable trend is that the Greenville show is drawing a more eclectic mix of retail shops these days. "The EORA show, like many outdoor trade shows, is becoming more oriented toward lifestyle products," said Cynthia Kelly of The Summit Group. "I see a lot of footwear specialty stores, clothing boutiques. It's covering a lot more markets than it used to."
Whatever the mix, participants of the Greenville show seemed pleased with the event, as well as the general state of their businesses.
"Everybody I've talked to is having a really good year so far, and had a strong finish to last year," said Kelly. "Everybody seems pretty upbeat."