SHOT Show: Humongous -- Worth an Eye From OR Exhibitors

Let's be clear from the start: The SHOT show is mammoth. We do mean huge. It dwarfs Outdoor Retailer in floor space, exhibitors, buyers, and overall attendance. And the 2002 show was the biggest ever, with 495,000 square feet of space sold-out for the first time, according to SHOT. There were 1,400 exhibitors, and a post-show report showed 18,549 buyers attended the show, just 200 shy of the record. Overall, 2002 attendance was 31,038, which included 11,184 exhibitors and 1,305 media representatives. With those kinds of numbers, it's no surprise SHOT is the 36th largest trade expo in the county.
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Let's be clear from the start: The SHOT show is mammoth. We do mean huge. It dwarfs Outdoor Retailer in floor space, exhibitors, buyers, and overall attendance.

And the 2002 show was the biggest ever, with 495,000 square feet of space sold-out for the first time, according to SHOT. There were 1,400 exhibitors, and a post-show report showed 18,549 buyers attended the show, just 200 shy of the record. Overall, 2002 attendance was 31,038, which included 11,184 exhibitors and 1,305 media representatives. With those kinds of numbers, it's no surprise SHOT is the 36th largest trade expo in the county.

The big firearms, ammunition and camouflage concerns occupy center stage at SHOT (which stands for Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade, in case you were wondering), often complete with NASCAR racecars and booths worthy of their stature. (Remington, for example, has one main booth for firearms and ammunitions, and satellite booths for game feeders, apparel, and several more -- the main booth is as nice as anything at Outdoor Retailer (OR). These folks know branding, perhaps to a fault.

Like OR, there are seemingly endless rows of small companies and obscure concerns, mainly accessory manufacturers. Many of them exhibit the same sort of excellent design and construction one would expect from modern climbing accessories. But instead of high-tech solutions to active outdoor pursuits such as wildlife photography or adventure racing, it's more likely to be a showplace for holsters for Dirty Harry-like activities.

Others at the show included: Columbia Sportswear, with a sizeable presence and a significant market share, which got its start when Gert "Ma" Boyle created the company's first product (a fishing vest for family members) on her home sewing machine; dog gear company Ruff Wear, at SHOT for the first time and wondering what universe it'd landed in but ready to learn the language; Georgia Boot, with a new line of fishing footwear that may be ready to be a Bass-buster but also has casual lifestyle looks and great crossover appeal; and Germany-based Leica, which debuted some new products, most notably the new Minox line of optics manufactured in Portugal but, despite the German heritage, still offers a sweet price and is ideal for outdoor pursuits.

Enlightenment -- In some ways

Take note: There's good potential in this market for enlightened companies, especially since crossover enlightenment is creeping into hunting circles too.

Well, enlightenment in some ways, not so enlightened in others -- With this year’s show in Las Vegas, exotic calendars could be found everywhere, usually being signed in a booth by the buxom centerfold. Instead of hawking bike parts or skis attired in skin-tight or low-cut garb, SHOT women are attired in -- you got it -- camo bikinis as they flash their -- ummmm -- automatic weapons and camo body paint. AT SHOT, nothing succeeds like excess.

Buzz not only on the floor but also around the city bear out the assertion of the show being one of the most successful ever. An informal survey of cab drivers, bus drivers, bellmen and bartenders revealed that Vegas was delighted to see SHOT there. Almost to a man, those polled said it was the best and most “back to normal” (whatever that means in Vegas) weekend in Vegas since the atrocities of Sept. 11.

The attacks on New York and Washington weren’t forgotten at SHOT, of course, and beneath the flag-waving and jingoism, a recurrent theme could be heard: America is re-arming and there appears to have been a shift in the public perception regarding firearms, particularly for self- and home-defense. We may all find ourselves looking back at the Clinton administration as the glory days of gun control. The retailers and manufacturers we spoke to at SHOT agreed that business went up after the tragic terrorist act when the Twin Towers went down.

SHOT is about more than home use of deadly force, though, with the majority of the show dedicated to hunting, still a huge pastime in the United States. For many of its adherents, hunting is a lifestyle choice, which has given rise to the camo empires that now license everything from home furnishings to boxer shorts. And if this hunting market seems alien to many in the OR camp, consider the tactical division of SHOT: A good part of the show is dedicated to law enforcement, and anyone looking to outfit a SWAT team or Third World paramilitary force need look no farther than this section to see the latest in sniper rifles, assault weapons, and body armor. For many, it’s the dark side of what may seem like an already weird world -- Even the SHOT organizers seem at some pains to keep it from taking center stage.

SHOT also does a very good job of highlighting new products, and this part is a journalist’s dream. Unlike OR, SHOT does attract well-established manufacturers that have been in business for, yes, centuries and epitomize the button-down division of outdoor sports. Like OR, however, there’s always room at SHOT for the guy with a good idea and a commitment to a quality product.

Trends in shooting and hunting

Consider that at last year’s SHOT, the camouflage phenomenon was such that it attracted national media attention. These are no longer cottage industries, but marketing giants whose far-reaching licensing arms reach into nearly every aspect of American life. From camo baby blankets to camo coffins, it’s a cradle-to-grave marketing success story. And it shows no sign of abating. This year’s SHOT show was again a monument to camouflage. Credit is perhaps owed still to Desert Storm or perhaps to Operation Afghanistan, if you like, but patterns for the desert are now appearing.

Another trend is NASCAR: SHOT is nothing if not mass market, and what could have broader mass market appeal in this day and age than NASCAR, the former moonshine runners circuit that’s surpassed even pro wrestling in capturing the attention of attention-deficit-disorder Americans. Stock cars and driver endorsements are still de rigueur at SHOT. We found the best way to strike up a conversation in almost any booth was to lament the "Dale Earnhardt Tragedy." Really, it works. Just ask DuPont or any of the other big-name NASCAR sponsors, including many who were showing at SHOT. Remington, for example, is using Earhhardt’s son, who is following in his father's tire tracks, to promote a new line of shotgun shells (which feature, by the way, an eco-friendly alternative to lead pellets).

Strange, however, is still the trend scene of what we'll call the "Men in Costumes" category: At New Orleans last year, it was easy to pick out the SHOT retailers around the city. They all looked as though they’d just returned from the worst TV characterization of a safari. Not that OR doesn’t have its resident posers decked out in the latest “adventure travel” wear while they’re waiting for a latte in Salt Lake City. SHOT, however, has another breed of Men in Costumes: Cowboy Action Shooters. And it’s not limited to men. Perhaps drawn from the same well that sustains Civil War re-enactors, the Cowboy Action Shooters were easy to spot at SHOT. They were the ones dressed like cowboys (or saloon girls or cowgirls) swaggering about in period costumes.

Whole competitions have been created so that these folks can compete with period-style weapons. And no, they don’t get to shoot each other, just at targets of all sorts. Don't be fooled by the costumes. These Cowboy Action Shooters know how to shoot fast and accurately. The guns are real, even if they are period, and it’s led to a resurgence of interest in arms and apparel of the Old West. It’s been good news for firearms manufacturers such as Ruger and Winchester, who have continued to produce historical throwbacks such as Ruger’s excellent Single Six revolver and Winchester’s Model 94 lever-action rifle, available in everything from 30-30 to .22 caliber. Whole new ventures have sprung up to supply this niche, producing everything from clothing and holsters to reproduction firearms, ammunition and powder since everything used in the competitions have to look the era. It’s also been good for pawnshop operators and those who sell antique arms or old double-barrel and pump shotguns, although it’s driven up the price on these pieces, which have long been favored by hunters on a budget.

The 25th Annual SHOT Show is scheduled for February 13-16, 2003, in Orlando, Florida. For details about the show, go to www.shotshow.org

SNEWS® View: Sept. 11 proved a boon for the show, and the show provides a SHOT (sic) in the arm for Vegas. It may sound weird, but from a media perspective, SHOT show, the country’s largest trade exhibition of shooting, hunting and outdoor sports, could stand to learn a trick or two from outdoor shows such as Outdoor Retailer. Perhaps there are a few things OR exhibitors could learn from SHOT too.

Media members, who often are left feeling as if they should slink around in dark corners at many events, generally feel downright popular after a trip to OR. There, savvy manufacturers and nonprofits are ready and waiting for media members, with everything from press packets to pina coladas. Overall, the media is received with open arms as a potential source of exposure.

Not so at SHOT show, where the media "welcome" at many booths is skepticism and distrust, if not sometimes outright hostility. Although the folks assigned by the show to deal with the media are helpful and thoroughly professional, the registration process itself has not been arranged with the convenience of the fourth estate in mind. Organizers seem much more concerned about infiltrators out to give the industry a black name.

Given the depths to which journalism standards have plummeted, such cynicism may be justified. However, it's also clear that the level of paranoia one experiences at SHOT goes far beyond simple distrust of the media, regardless of whether it's well-founded or not.

Say SHOT Show to those who haven't experienced the trade exposition, and the majority response tends toward visions of survivalist paranoia and of para-military excess. There’s much more, of course, and -- regardless of how odd this market may seem to devotees of OR -- it might behoove them to be a bit more open to the hunting and shooting sports because there is a huge market with huge dollars to spend that could use your expertise. Conversely, it might behoove the shooting and hunting sports to be a bit less, well, strange.

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