Regional trade shows face challenges, but remain critical to the market - SNEWS

Regional trade shows face challenges, but remain critical to the market

A dip in attendance may have dampened the mood at the Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) show in Hartford, Conn., this summer, but on the whole, this gathering and other regional shows remain popular among outdoor retailers and reps.
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A dip in attendance may have dampened the mood at the Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) show in Hartford, Conn., this summer, but on the whole, this gathering and other regional shows remain popular among outdoor retailers and reps.

While specific numbers were not available, attendance dropped noticeably at the Northeast Region show held July 28-30 in Hartford. EORA Executive Director Debbie Motz told SNEWS® some retailers did not attend because they prefer to stay in their stores during the critical summer selling season. "They say July is too early for a show," she said.

Some of the change in attendance was to be expected. Most reps and dealers who focus on paddlesports didn't make the trip to Hartford because they will attend a new EORA show in Sturbridge, Mass., Sept. 8-10. The Sturbridge show was established because paddlesports dealers in the Northeast rely on summer tourist business, and they wanted a show that wouldn't pull them out of their stores until after Labor Day.

With the paddling market absent from Hartford, the show lacked the energy of previous years. "There were a lot of comments about the lack of energy," said Ray Ferrand of the Ferrand Associates rep group in E. Rockaway, N.Y. "You're taking a room we've filled in the past, and now there's a lot of dead space, and it just felt quiet."

Nevertheless, Ferrand and others said that the Northeast Region show was busy. "Hartford was a productive show," said Scott Andrews of the Stoner Andrews rep group in Shelburne, Vt. "We were literally busy the entire time, and there were five of us from our group."

Ferrand pointed out that these days it's almost impossible to produce a show that will suit the scheduling needs of all retailers and manufacturers. "A lot of the clothing companies have very early deadlines -- some even preceded Hartford," said Ferrand. "But the hardgoods guys are just getting started. Their sample deliveries are based on starting the selling cycle sometime around the Outdoor Retailer show."

He said show producers are really struggling with the varying schedules for programs and deadlines. "It's really wreaked havoc all across the country on people trying to do shows," said Ferrand.

There does seem to be a consensus that the Sturbridge show is well-timed for paddle dealers in the northeast, and attendance could be strong. "Looking at the reps who are attending and initial responses from retailers, it looks like it will be a very good, solid show," said Shelley Johnson of Powerface, which represents Seattle Sports, MTI Adventurewear, Accent Paddles and other paddlesports-oriented companies. "We're already getting calls from people worried about getting appointment times."

Johnson admitted the Sturbridge show could lack some energy because it will not include the broader outdoor market. She always enjoyed the vibe at the bustling Hartford show. "It's exciting to see that many exhibitors -- you walk in the building and feel a bit of a jolt," she said. "We won't have that feeling (at Sturbridge), but at the same time we're there to do business, and if all our dealers can come to the show, that's what we're there for, and it's about how well it suits the dealers."

While Sturbridge appears to be getting a good reception, Motz said that she has also seen strong pre-registration numbers for the EORA Southeast Region show that will be held Aug. 17-19 in Greenville, S.C. The flagship regional show for the outdoor industry, the Greenville gathering seems to get bigger and more popular each year.

This is partly due to the fact that a growing number of specialty dealers in the East are attending the Outdoor Retailer shows less often, or sending fewer staff members to those national shows, SNEWS has been told.

"We don't have that many dealers go to OR," said Johnson, "It's difficult for them to leave in early August, and the travel costs have skyrocketed. We've never had large attendance at OR from our middle-sized and smaller dealers, and this year it's even lower."

SNEWS® View: The trade show scene is changing, both at a regional and national level and one of the primary reasons is there is no singular show that meets the needs of all retailers and all manufacturers. That's unlikely to change, so, there is an increasing tendency for retailers to rotate show attendance among shows, or just to go to regional shows regularly and national shows sporadically as time and budget allow. Certainly that is understandable. But at what long-term cost?

To SNEWS, hearing a retailer is thinking about skipping or will not be attending Outdoor Retailer Summer Market has us concerned. Yes, travel budgets are tight, the economy is in the toilet, and airline, hotel and meal costs can seem, well, exorbitant. But regional shows, no matter how good they are, and EORA is as good as they come, cannot possibly represent the national climate in terms of trends, mood, new products, new ideas. All it takes is one new idea, one successful new product to carry in your store to pay for the trip and then some. One retailer told us he attends every show he can, no matter what the cost, because he is always able to find something new and cool that always pays for the trip and keeps his customers excited.

Think on this: If a retailer just attends a nearby regional show to buy from brands they already carry, and then for the rest of the year relies on their existing reps and existing local contacts to provide them with the intel necessary to remain viable in the overall market, how likely is it for that retailer to learn about new trends, new products, new innovations, different ways of doing business?

Look for us to issue reports on other regional shows, including the recently concluded and by all accounts successful MORE show in Madison, Wis., and, of course, full reporting from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. There is sure to be much discussion around what is needed to keep both regional and national shows viable and ensure full retailer attendance, because without gatherings of the tribe, we risk becoming little more than a bunch of passionate individuals scurrying around aimlessly in search of success but with no hope of impacting the national or global market in any meaningful way. And that's just not a good scene.

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