Outdoor Retailer Winter Market audited numbers confirm buyer attendance down for 2008

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market recently released its audited attendance numbers to SNEWS®, confirming what many who attended the 2008 trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah, suspected -- buyer and store traffic was down even though overall attendance remained high. But, what does this mean, really?
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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market recently released its audited attendance numbers to SNEWS®, confirming what many who attended the 2008 trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah, suspected -- buyer and store traffic was down even though overall attendance remained high. But, what does this mean, really?

Total attendance dropped slightly in 2008 to 17,341 from 17,382 in 2007 -- not enough of a variance to indicate a trend one way or another. Keep in mind that 2007 set an attendance record for Winter Market with a meteoric rise from 14,138 in 2006. Total number of exhibitors climbed upward to 825 in 2008, from 815 in 2007, and 724 in 2006.

Naturally, more exhibitors meant more exhibition hall square footage was utilized -- 346,999 square feet in 2008 compared with 328,200 square feet in 2007 and 281,288 square feet in 2006, according to Outdoor Retailer.

Of all the numbers, though, the most meaningful figures to exhibitors are buyer and store numbers. And it is here that things become a little less rosy. Whether one wants to blame the economy, which certainly added financial constraints to many travel budgets, or the fact that the show was earlier this year than before, attendance from total buyer numbers was down, with the audited numbers confirming what many felt while out on the show floor -- the aisles were not as full as they were in 2007.

Buyer numbers for 2008 were reported at 5,439, down from 5,651 in 2007, but still up from 5,006 reported in 2006. Total stores in attendance were down too, with Outdoor Retailer reporting them at 2,002 compared to 2,200 in 2007. This continues a general decline in store numbers that began in 2005 when store attendance was at a high watermark of 2,236.

As a percentage of overall attendance, buyers represented 31.4 percent of attendees in 2008 compared to 32.5 percent in 2008. Looking at the numbers a different way, there was one buyer for every 63.8 square feet of exhibit space in 2008 compared to 2007 when there was one buyer for every 58.1 square feet of exhibit space. More than anything, this comparison represents why traffic appeared lighter -- it was more spread out.

Unfortunately, Outdoor Retailer was unable to provide a regional breakdown of attendance by stores, which would be perhaps the most enlightening and relevant statistic of all. Exhibitors told SNEWS® that it appeared from retail lists provided post show in past years that an increasingly significant majority of attendance comes from Utah, and the surrounding western states. The further east one travels on the map, the attendance numbers drop, we were told. However, without official documentation, making statements about the regional nature of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, or even Summer Market, is merely educated conjecture without the backing of substance.

Trade show experts have told SNEWS® that most national trade shows in any market are, by nature, really super regional shows -- attracting the strongest attendance base from nearby states. As such, we would not argue the contention that Winter Market is drawing more heavily from Utah, California, Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Washington, than any other region in the United States. Regional favoritism is one of the reasons some trade shows, like SHOT Show for example, rotate trade show locations east and west on alternate years to ensure a balanced national attendance.

Could it be, as we have intimated before, that the decline in overall store numbers is indicative of several continuing and consistent trends -- retail consolidation and the decision by some to attend only regional shows or no shows at all? Only a serious look at numbers broken down by region, and then compared in a like manner with a similar breakdown of numbers for 2007, 2006 and 2005 will provide meaningful data.

Could it also be that declining store numbers represent more than a temporary blip in the trade show attendance universe caused by economic and date factors? It is certainly possible. Click here to see the answers given in our 2007 SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retailer Survey to the following question: Rate the importance of the trade shows below -- national, international and regional -- to your store and buying staff.

Twenty-five percent of the respondents to that survey question stated that Winter Market was of no importance to them -- a disturbing response if you believe, as we do, that this industry needs a vibrant and viable national trade show as a showcase and gathering point for ideas and new product development. Thankfully, only 10 percent of the respondents said that Summer Market was of no importance -- still disturbing, but less so.

In its new partnership, Outdoor Industry Association and Nielsen (owner of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and Summer Market trade shows) have work to do and quickly. Frank Hugelmeyer, president of OIA, said in a Jan. 23, 2008, press release announcing the new partnership (click here to read), "We will be able to work closely with Nielsen Business Media Sports Group to develop new ways for the show to best serve the needs of the suppliers and retailers of our industry."

And that's a very good thing because it seems clear to SNEWS® if store numbers continue to decline, that either indicates the trade shows are losing national relevance with an increasing number of retailers or specialty retail itself -- and as a result, this industry -- is in a bit of jeopardy.

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