The 28th annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show set records in terms of attendance and exhibition size during its Las Vegas run, Feb. 9-12, and all indications are that its Jan. 11-14, 2007, show at the Orlando Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., will be even larger.
The Vegas show featured 616,300 square feet of exhibit space, up from 569,030 in 2005, and before SHOT ended, exhibitors had already booked 620,000 square feet for next year's show in Orlando, according to a report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which owns and sponsors the show.
The 2006 SHOT Show, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center -- overlapping with the WSA footwear show also in the convention center -- attracted more than 1,846 exhibiting companies, surpassing last year's 1,725. Final figures indicate that the show attracted 23,740 buyers, 1,385 members of the press and 14,753 exhibiting personnel for a total attendance of 40,892. Of course, it is important to note that in the world of SHOT, a buyer may also be an exhibitor, a manufacturer and even media since some folks we run into every year claim to wear all these hats.
We are also noticing a few more, though not more than a handful, of outdoor specialty store owners and buyers wandering the aisles of SHOT. Why you might ask?
"I go to SHOT to see what is happening and what is new," Norm Cavallaro, owner of North Cove Outfitters, told us when we ran into him at one of the booths. "I go to shows other than Outdoor Retailer not to see what it is I sell, but to see the stuff that my buyers and I will see before everyone else sees it.
"I always tell my team to come back with just one thing that will pay for your plane ticket. Specialty retail is a business. If I am not finding out what is going on in business before everyone else does, I am not doing my job," Cavallaro said.
There were also more traditional outdoor industry companies exhibiting than we have seen at past shows, underscoring the fact that the hunting and tactical markets are more open to products that have been tested and proven on summits and in wild spaces than ever before. That doesn't mean that as a successful outdoor manufacturer, you should simply expect to take your Outdoor Retailer booth and slap it up at SHOT and expect hundreds of buyers to flock in. No, no, no! Still, for those that learn to subtly tweak the product mix and booth design, SHOT is proving to be a natural and potentially very profitable expansion of current business opportunities.
The show bills itself as the world's largest showcase of firearms, hunting and outdoor products. This year, SHOT proved to SNEWS® that once again the show provides a forum like no other for the hunting industry to show off its newest products that will soon adorn the shelves of gun and sporting goods shops. What follows are a few musings and observations from the show. We'll be including additional products seen at SHOT in general product trend roundups in the coming weeks that will include products from SIA, Outdoor Retailer and WSA.
>> Hats off to the New Product section at SHOT -- always a great place to start a visit to the show, but better than ever this year. The SNEWS® team took advantage of a new feature that allowed attendees to check out a digital scanner for scanning new product UPC codes while wandering the tables and cases in the New Product section. Once we returned the scanner, we waited just a few minutes for a handful of information sheets with details of the new products that interested us, along with exhibitor information. Nifty! Cuts the exploration time to find key new stuff in half. Outdoor Retailer needs to take a page from SHOT's New Product section book of tricks and get with the program, especially with the continued expansion of the show floor.
>> Can't quite handle actually buying a Sig 226 (the handgun favored by the Navy Seals) or a tactical rifle? Soft air guns may be the answer for you. They have long been used by shooting instructors as a way for students to become familiar with lethal weapons before actually going live. We saw a number of manufacturers sporting soft air guns at SHOT. From semi-auto handguns to full-on automatic assault rifles, many of them look, feel, weigh and operate like their deadly kin, but these shoot 6 mm plastic BBs at approximately 350 feet per second. In an exclusive SNEWS® test, the BB imparts a refreshing sting to one's buttocks when fired at tightly stretched denim jeans at 30 feet -- yes, we do take testing very seriously indeed. Now you can sit in front of the TV, watching "24" or "The Shield" and shoot at paper targets, beverage in hand, while Jack or Mackie bust bad guys. For folks interested in becoming familiar with handguns, soft air pistols and proper training are a good first step.
>> If you are not quite ready for plastic pellets, $2,000 will get you into any number of wall projection games that come with a rifle, handgun, software and other necessary accoutrements. You provide the computer and projector. We found ourselves wandering back to any number of these suppliers and frankly, found it a blast. The software comes with standard target games that build speed, accuracy or target acquisition, or hunting games such as pheasant shoots. Our favorite turned out to be the prairie dog hunt. While we wish our small, furry friends no harm, a handgun, laser sight, sound effects and the visual of those little doggies buying the farm (remember, it is virtual reality) could keep us entertained for hours during dark winter nights.
>> Bridging the gap between the world of backcountry and bird country is Mother. Mother came onto the scene last year to replace hunting vests, which are more garment than pack, with an actual technical pack. Mother's owners Lynn Beck and Marty Grabijas looked as at home in shooting shirts as they do on a multi-day river trip in baggie shorts and PFDs. Interest was obviously strong when we were by the booth, and according to Grabijas, the spring production run of the company's turkey-hunting-specific packs have sold out. We view the melding of core outdoor technology into the relatively affluent hunting market as an emerging trend as the hunting population ages and seeks more functionality and comfort in the field.
>> Brunton had a large presence with its booth that was part product showcase and part corral, complete with a straw floor, stacked straw bales, saddles, seating and tables. Having something under your feet besides convention center carpeting was a welcome treat. The overall atmosphere provided a little bit more of the outdoor flavor in the Las Vegas Convention Center than in years past.
>> High-end gun manufacturer Caesar Guerini USA specializes in fine double shotguns from Italy -- some of which cost as much as your average dirtbag climber's yearly income. The company has partnered with Highdefspex Performance Optics. Its Colortrast technology amplifies and enhances color. From our inside test (by no means exhaustive, though we were certainly exhausted at the time), we could see where Highdefspex would be the ideal choice of optics when pheasant were flushing or during a sketchy late evening run on boilerplate in flat light.
>> You have to admire the Realtree team. The company doesn't actually make a thing. It takes pictures of twigs, dirt and leaves, puts them into a pattern, and markets those patterns to hunters as THE way to achieve concealment. Manufacturers then purchase the rights to buy the fabric, which is produced by fabric suppliers who also pay a royalty to Realtree. Like it or not, you have to marvel at the business model and the scope of Realtree's timber-frame booth with multiple, multiple meeting rooms featuring high back leather chairs and full beverage service.
>> When camo gets weird is when you see, as we did, a booth boasting a Valentine's Day special for camouflage lingerie, staffed with gentlemen all over 50 wearing dark suits --creepy! The company even had its own mini catalog under the brand name Wilderness Dreams. Yep, we had Camo Baby Dolls, Camo Camisoles, Camo Thongs and Camo Boy Shorts. Which begs the question -- if your underwear is camouflage, how do you know it's on? Just asking.
>> And that brings us to one final word on the world of camo. We think the designer camo pattern has gone too far with camo GPS units and knives. If you drop a camo knife while getting into your tree stand, you will just never get it back. And who is going to help you find your camo GPS once you, and it, are lost? In the entrepreneurial spirit of SNEWS®, we smell an opportunity. Those military guys who used to hang out at the airports post 9/11 are way too conspicuous in green camo. They need to be dressed as ATM machines, concrete pillars or plastic chairs to really fool anyone. Realtree might do very well to establish a new division -- Realurban.