Outdoor Retailer Winter Market Fallout Swift, Unforgiving

SNEWS® wondered how long it would take before the post-show grumbling about this year's Outdoor Retailer Winter Market began. Well, how about nanoseconds after we hit "send" on last week's email that announced the posting of the SNEWS® Weekly News Digest? The email flood began -- none of them all too kind -- and hasn't subsided yet.
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SNEWS® wondered how long it would take before the post-show grumbling
about this year's Outdoor Retailer Winter Market began. Well, how about
nanoseconds after we hit "send" on last week's email that announced the
posting of the SNEWS® Weekly News Digest? The email flood began -- none
of them all too kind -- and hasn't subsided yet.

Granted, the PR machine for Winter Market was revving at high speed,
pointing out that Brunton's president, John Smithbaker was very pleased
with the results his company realized at the show – despite low
attendance. According to Smithbaker, Brunton opened 18 new accounts and
tallied a 22-percent increase in show sales this year compared to last.

Smithbaker, commentary aside, appears to be in the vast minority. Most
retailers and manufacturers we spoke with on the third and fourth day
of the show (yes, we were able to find one or two green retail badges
on that infamous last day) ranged from resigned to the low attendance
and mildly unhappy with it, to concerned about the low attendance and
very upset with OR trade show management.

Emails we received following our headlines last week that including
"Show Attendance Light, Plenty of Time to Schmooze" even took us to
task for not accurately reflecting what really occurred -- empty
aisles, exhibitors spending more time in each other's booths, and the
dearth of green badges.

The following are three representative and even printable emails (this
is a family newsletter you know) summing up the feelings of some
retailers and exhibitors following the show. Names have been removed at
their requests:

  • From a well-known East Coast retailer:

    "I'm
    not looking to be immortalized in print -- but who was kidding whom
    about attendance? I don't think even the West Coast people went. I was
    very disappointed. The only positive note was that I did have a chance
    to have some meaningful conversations with a couple of my vendors.
    "
  • From a key vendor who returned to Winter Market after a five-year absence:

    "I
    just got back from OR. The people that thought this show would work
    should be fired. The show attendance was not “light.” Rather, there was
    NO attendance!! Sorry to be so direct, but I wonder who plans these
    shows or is it just a matter of how to rake in the money. I've been in
    this business 26 years and this show was an embarrassment to our
    profession. For the money spent to be there I would say we spent $1,000
    per hour to schmooze! Rather expensive wouldn't you say?"
  • From a small vendor who was attending its first Winter Market:

    "We'll be really happy if we just break even. What happened to all the people they promised would be there?"

Outdoor
Retailer show management kept touting record "pre-registration numbers"
that raised exhibitor hopes for a beneficial show; SIA is now doing the
same thing and had better watch its step too. It is important to
realize that "pre-registration" really means nothing simply because it
is free. There is no guarantee of attendance by those who pre-register.
It is just an indication of interest.

Emotions
and false assurances aside, the reality of unavoidable attendance
numbers speak volumes about the show and its perceived success or
failure.

Fact: Total attendance plummeted, down from 15,782 in 2001 to 10,915 in 2002.

Fact: Exhibitor numbers this year dropped to 642, down 149 from last year's reported 791.

Fact: Buyer numbers were also dramatically off, down from 4,994 in 2001 to only 3,258 in 2002.

Fact: Actual stores in attendance hit a free fall, down to 1,900 this year -- or only about 60 percent of last year's reported 3,189.

Fact: Prior to the show, Winter Market show management said it anticipated 4,475 buyers from 2,950 shops.

If there was one bright spot on the dark picture, it's that low
attendance (called "mellow" by many to sound nicer than "dead") allowed
normally frantic exhibitors to spend lengthy and quality time with key
retailers, as well as time to spend time with suppliers they might
normally not have had time for.

SNEWS® View:
Outdoor Retailer trade show management should be embarrassed! Granted,
the dates did not help, but show directors were the ones who decided on
them. They then chose to sugar-coat the situation to entice exhibitors
and attendees. SNEWS® heard that OR pressured exhibitors to attend, with
veiled threats that exhibitors might lose their booth space for next
year if the exhibitor chose not to take a booth space this year, or
would be unable to secure their traditional space in 2003 if the
exhibitor simply downsized.

OR kept publishing
pre-registration numbers as if they were set in stone to demonstrate
that the show would be a good one despite predictions of doom and
flying in the face of their own exhibitors' statements to the contrary
following retailer polls.

While we understand, to some extent, OR trade show management's need to
put on a brave face, this industry deserved more honesty from the
VNU-owned company. SNEWS® heard time and again at last week's Winter
Market that exhibitors were more upset with OR management for its lack
of honesty than they were with the attendance. Said one exhibitor to
us, "They expected us to attend in order to guarantee our booth space
for next year, yet they won't guarantee the show will have the
necessary retail attendance – seems a little one sided to me, don't you
think?" Yes, we do. But it gets worse. In a move that couldn't have had
worst timing, OR show management sent out price increases for next
year's Summer Market space, just weeks before Winter Market. Nice work,
folks! That's adding insult to injury, isn't it?

It is our feeling that OR show management should seriously consider
rolling back the announced price increase for Summer Market as a
minimal show of good faith. It should also publicly acknowledge that it
could have -- and should have -- done much better by this industry, and
it should consider offering significant credits to returning 2003
Winter Market exhibitors as a small gesture to thank them for their
support at this year's "Mickey Mouse" show.

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