Forced to cut operating costs, retailers have chosen to do more business close to home. The Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) reports that attendance rose at least 10 percent for each of its fall regional shows in South Carolina, New York and New Hampshire.
"Retailers are really analyzing how they are spending their dollars," said Debbie Motz of EORA. "They're really getting business done at the regional shows."
She said the August Southeast show in Greenville, S.C., and the September Northeast Show in Manchester, N.H., each drew about 300 stores. The September Mid-Atlantic show at Lake Placid, N.Y., drew just under 200 stores.
In Greenville and Manchester, there were about 250 rep booths per show, and Lake Placid had 180 booths. "The number of booths grows a little each year," said Motz.
Bill Wilson, owner of Blue Ridge Outdoors in Roanoke, Va., said the rising costs of doing business have forced him to change his trade show strategy.
"The regional shows have been growing in importance," he said. "The shift in our strategy has been to use Outdoor Retailer to look for smaller vendors or new vendors, and use the regional show to see the main vendors we do business with year in and year out. We continue to travel to Outdoor Retailer, but it's such an expense we take fewer and fewer people."
Wilson said the regional shows are helpful because he can afford to send shop managers and other key employees who need to learn the decision-making process. "We're a small business and only have two locations in fairly modest markets, and I can't afford to take these people to OR," he said.
Bill Chandler, a Southeastern rep for core companies such as Mountain Hardwear and Gregory, said the regional shows allow him to book more time with buyers. "In Greenville people are booking up to two, three or four hours with you, and it keeps them focused," something he's not able to do at a national show, he said.
However, Motz said the regional shows aren't competitors with Outdoor Retailer. "It's complementary," she said. "We don't see some of the retailers that go to the larger venues. The larger retailers need to go to the larger shows because they have an entirely different purpose. They're not just seeing product, but meeting with corporate personnel and working out all kinds of arrangements, whether it's marketing, advertising or credit lines."
Still, EORA continues to improve its regional shows to make them more attractive. To generate excitement and increase orders, EORA introduced raffles to the regional shows. "For every order written, raffle tickets were given out, and these were non-industry items like TVs, palm pilots and DVDs," said Motz.
"For the big guy it probably didn't make a lot of difference, but for those who represent smaller accessory companies, it made a big difference," she said, noting that 600 raffle tickets were turned in at the Southeast show.
Some shows included a presentation of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, while the show in Lake Placid held a "very successful boat demo," she said.
In addition to these trimmings, Wilson said the quality of regional shows has grown as "reps improve the aesthetics of their booths, improve their presentations and are better organized."
SNEWS® View: While retailers aren't predicting doom and gloom for the coming year, they don't expect an up-tick in the economy or much improvement in sales. Meanwhile, travel costs will only increase as airlines cut back on flights, discontinue services and raise costs. (Soon you'll pay extra for stand-by flights, assigned seating and probably even a bag of peanuts.) As travel becomes a major pain, we expect that regional shows will only become more attractive to smaller dealers. However, specialty retailers must keep their eyes on new lines to identify trends and give their shops a unique flavor. For this reason, they're not about to abandon national shows such as Outdoor Retailer -- as long as the timing and logistics of those shows remains reasonable.