SGMA Spring Market '07: A gracious "A" for effort; fitness mostly no-show

SGMA President Tom Cove can't be faulted for lack of presence. On the nail-biting opening morning of the first SGMA Spring Market, he was front-and-center at the entrance announcing, "Please come in and do lots of business." As attendees streamed past him, he continued to press the flesh, greeting, chatting and shaking hands. If there'd been a baby, we bet he would have kissed it.
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SGMA President Tom Cove can't be faulted for lack of presence. On the nail-biting opening morning of the first SGMA Spring Market, he was front-and-center at the entrance announcing, "Please come in and do lots of business." As attendees streamed past him, he continued to press the flesh, greeting, chatting and shaking hands. If there'd been a baby, we bet he would have kissed it.

The association had put its chips on this show -- SGMA's first large-scale effort since the official burial of The Super Show 18 months earlier -- touting it from Day One as a "sporting goods and fitness" show that would host "thousands of trendsetting retailers."

If nothing else, the SGMA earns an "A" for effort and an "A+" for enthusiasm, including keeping the face when traffic was merely moderate, the space didn't fill as expected or hoped, and the fitness segment mostly stayed away. Yes, traffic was slow and the space, well, spacious, but many exhibitors pointed out to SNEWS® even one or two conversations with a potential customer that could result in enough business to have made it worthwhile.

"We're looking at a good start. We weren't sure what to expect," Cove told SNEWS® a couple of days after the show. "It wasn't a slam-dunk and it wasn't a waste."

The show, held June 11-13 at The Super Show's old haunt, the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas, turned out to be more of a team buying show with a dash of running and performance shoes and apparel. Asics was the largest exhibitor with other front-row or larger spaces taken by Wilson, Mueller, Regent Sports, Franklin Sports, Rawlings, Under Armour and Sportline. It didn't hurt the strong team aspect that Team Athletic Goods Inc. (TAG) had co-located its buying show and meetings to the Las Vegas venue, bringing the associated retailers and dealers to support that.

Fitness exhibitors included Horizon, Lamar, Stamina, Everlast, Sportline, Spri, Ball Dynamics, debuting company Natural Fitness and a few other miscellaneous accessory companies. Licensed and collectible items weren't as predominant as at the last few Super Shows, but there was a still a large number of booths with NFL lamp shades, licensed Zippo lighters, Frisbee-like discs, collectible toy trucks and dart boards.

Exhibitor numbers weren't available as of deadline, but a count of the exhibitor list as of May 30 published by SGMA and the last minute additions in a show flier showed about 300 exhibitors, not counting any who may have only had a 10-x-10 in the invitation-only TAG area. A couple of SGMA sources mentioned 350 to 400 exhibitors. Past notes show the SGMA hoped for nearly 150,000 square feet of exhibit space but, based on calculations of gross space published by the Sands and accounting for aisles and concession areas, ended up with about 20 percent to 25 percent less than that. SNEWS® saw and heard about a number of companies that sent representatives to check it out to assess if they should commit in coming years.

"There were a lot of companies that stepped up and showed leadership" in exhibiting, Cove said, "and for that we applaud them.

As the association spends the next two to four weeks assessing, getting feedback and downloading what went right and what went wrong, Cove said he would prefer companies and retailers come because it's the right choice for their business, not because of some obligation to SGMA or desire to support a show just to support it.

"We want them to do it because it makes sense for their business," he added, saying that as of now the association has a three-year contract with the Sands.

Official attendee numbers also weren't available as of deadline. Still, it wasn't hard to see that traffic on the first morning was only moderate, while that afternoon took a nosedive (we hear TAG meetings started at 2 p.m.). The show's second day started less than moderate and trickled to nearly non-existent by afternoon. In a miscommunication that became a joke around the floor, the convention center turned off the lights on the second day at 5 p.m., an hour before the official 6 p.m. closing, leaving exhibitors chuckling about being given some kind of hint.

"We did a lot of things well," Cove said, noting the well-attended clinics as a part of an educational conference. "But we're disappointed with the buyer attendance. We can say there were quality folks there, but the numbers weren't what we hoped for."

Despite a few grumbles and yawns from larger or established companies, small and new companies seemed exuberant about interest they had seen and a market for their products. Many of these have no other venue to introduce a product, seek distributors or show off to the media, and most have little or no experience as comparison. Scott Estrem, president of brand-new sunglass company Lej, had a clean and professional-looking booth, brochure and displays: "I've been very happy with the flow and the interest," he said. Uriel Rosen, founder and general manager of Uriel FootCare products, was looking to enter the North American market to top off its presence in 35 countries -- and thought he'd found a match.

As to SGMA's attempt to make this a show that focused on specialty retailers rather than big box, one has to look again at the exhibitor categories to fully understand the independents who would have showed -- and that did not include fitness or outdoor, but team, running and, of course, sporting goods. In addition, although the association spoke strongly until the last few weeks about the fitness element of the show, Cove admitted he didn't know why so few showed up other than poor timing.

What the next two years will focus on or become is yet to be determined.

"We're trying to find what makes sense for the business and for the industry," Cove said. "We know our challenge. We need to deliver."

Next year's Spring Market is now scheduled for June 9-11, 2008, also at the Sands, while the second year of the SGMA's ground-breaking and thought-provoking Sports+Technology Convergence will be Oct. 23-25, 2007, again in La Jolla, Calif., near San Diego.

Meanwhile, we did see a few new products and companies we'll talk about next week.

SNEWS® View: Over and over, we heard this was not going to be The Super Show and, in fact, it was going to be different, much different than regular trade shows. But, well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be… yeah, you get it. There's only so different a group can get, especially when one show that replaces another is in the same place. There's also only so much one can do with a hall full of 10-x-10s and 30-x-40s showing product. To its credit, the SGMA rolled out a pretty full schedule of talks on legal issues, marketing questions and brand management; although they were quite full and even, in some cases, standing room only, the conference area was buried in a dark corner in the back of the hall. Frankly, it should have been somewhere closer to the front so passers-by would stop, listen in and, one would hope, decide the topic was worth sitting down for a listen-in. Just that type of buzz and crowd would have added some energy to a floor that was -- to put it nicely -- as quiet as a law library the day before the bar exam. Yes, SNEWS® missed the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- not sure how we did that. Oh darn. But we did catch the non-stop batting demos in a cage -- thwack, thwack, thwack… -- but not exactly conducive to any interaction or communication. Even someone on a microphone explaining the bat or equipment being used would have helped. The team buying area in the back was a walled-off fortress just a little bit bigger than the Asics booth, but it was off-limits to anyone without a TAG badge. The SGMA party was off-site and didn't start until 9 p.m., leaving a number of attendees scratching their heads and wondering aloud if they'd even bother.

All those complaints aside, the event is certainly something to build on since it already has good intentions and a segment (team, running, licensed) obviously ready to support it. We think the SGMA either needs to try to focus strictly on those areas that already are there if it wants to do a separate show, or it should attempt to co-locate with another show, such as IHRSA, Health & Fitness Business or Interbike, if it wants to attract other segments. Of course, in some cases, possible show partners would likely have no interest in sharing. Too, there is the issue of timing -- would those existing shows be willing to move dates, or vice versa. If the SGMA can't partner or can't narrow its beam to those segments that really need it, then one has to ask the question: Do we really and truly need another sporting goods show? The SGMA came screaming out of the gate with its first Sports+Technology Convergence last October, so perhaps the real area begging to be filled is in smaller, educational events covering a niche area. In fact, maybe just being a supplier of the education offered at a couple of other shows is what the SGMA could do really right. We know other shows desperately need it and that their attendees are asking for it.

We will await final numbers in the next few weeks, as well as what the SGMA decides its focus will be when it comes to shows.

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