Tucked between the SIA.05 Show in Vegas and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City is a largely ignored but potentially lucrative trade show for the outdoor industry -- the SHOT Show.
Owned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the 27th annual SHOT Show, Jan. 28-31 at the Las Vegas Convention Center outstripped SIA and Outdoor Retailer in terms of attendance and energy according to our eyes on the scene who experienced the vibe at all three shows.
While preliminary numbers show that SIA drew about 16,000 attendees and Outdoor Retailer approximately 14,545, SHOT reported raw numbers of 23,771 buyers with a total attendance reported at 37,671. SNEWS® counted 39 crossover exhibitors from Outdoor Retailer to SHOT. Companies like Benchmade, Woolrich, and Lafuma's Le Chameau were a given, but Jetboil and Watershed Dry Bags caught us by surprise.
Even while sales of hunting licenses are flat or declining (according to NSSF the volume of hunting license sales have trended down from 1993 through 2003, while revenue from licenses and tags have trended up 4.4 percent per year), attendance at SHOT was booming and the Las Vegas Convention Center could barely contain the energy -- even on the last day of the show. Why the huge turnout and energy at SHOT? Everyone knows that the hook and bullet world is controlled by a few key retailers who command most of the buying power. In fact, one source said that Cabela's had more than 100 staff members roaming the isles.
Why the draw?
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (released every five years with the most recent study in 2001 -- http://federalaid.fws.gov/surveys/surveys.html), the purchase of hunting licenses from 1997 to 2001 was actually down 7 percent. But the survey also pointed out that each hunter is actually spending far more dollars on their sport, which would account for a booming show despite actual sport participation being down. It's also interesting to note that hunters' license fees contribute $1.1 billion per year to state wildlife agencies and another $600 million through excise taxes on hunting-specific equipment.
The fact that participants are spending more may support their feeling of "immediacy." While most non-hunting outdoor enthusiasts can roam around in the wilderness and practice their chosen pastime close to 12 months of the year, hunting seasons are closely regulated and, in some cases, only open a few weeks or months each year. It appears that most consumers are willing to spend whatever is necessary to ensure that they have a great experience in the field for that season. With the two largest age categories of license purchasers being 12 to 17 and 35 to 44 (the average age being 35.6 years of age), many believe that hunters who were brought into the sport by their families laid low during the formative childrearing year. Now that their offspring are old enough to participate, both the children and parents have renewed their interest in hunting and budgeted a larger part of the family's discretionary income to that pastime.
The high attendance of SHOT Show could also be attributed to the creation of new, high traffic show areas. According to Frank Briganti, manager of industry research and analysis for the NSSF, both the Tactical and Law Enforcement areas, which are relatively new, have added considerably to the show. While some traditional Outdoor Retailer exhibitors have successfully tapped into that marketplace, it is a convoluted supply chain with its own set of rules. Another area that Briganti said is pulling people in is paintball. This was paintball's first year at SHOT with its own official area, so SNEWS® is taking a "wait and see" approach. Paintball may be to the shooting sports what in-line skates were to the core market -- or it may spawn its own show and culture.
It is also a known fact that a common enemy draws one's ranks together. Between the ski industry, core outdoor market and traditional outdoor market (i.e., the hook and bullet crowd), no one has a stronger enemy than the traditional outdoor market in the anti-gun lobby. Some time ago, the constituents in this market realized that to preserve their pastime and lifestyle, they would have to band together. With solidarity they are everything, without it they would topple.
Now before you snicker at a bunch of camo-clad good ol' boys backslapping each other and talking in Southern twangs, consider that the SHOT Show also attracts attendees in full-on business suits who sell fine shotguns and rifles that are worth more than most people's houses. These firearms are a canvas for world-class engravers' art, and your eyes easily get lost in the hypnotic swirls of fine English Walnut (known taxonomically as Juglans regina -- don't ask how we know that) stocks and fore-ends. Add to this eclectic mix the tactical and law enforcement area, which is stacked with a bunch of really big, really fit people and the subcultures are as diverse as any show that we can think of. The amazing thing is all of these subcultures have learned to play in the sandbox together and to respect each other. The SHOT crowd has learned the value of solidarity and it has reaped major benefits.
So why bother bringing your company and its products to SHOT? It's clear to SNEWS® that while the core outdoor market has enjoyed rampant advances in technology, fabrics and ways to marry the two, the traditional outdoor market is at least 15 years behind the curve. In many cases, hunting is nothing more than day hiking without the benefits of trails -- and the basic essentials that the core outdoor market takes for granted. Performance socks and underwear, hydration systems and highly abrasion-resistant Cordura panels in clothing are conspicuously absent. Hunters are still wearing tube socks, carrying bike water bottles and wearing waxed cotton or sweat pants.
As the bulk of the hunting population ages they will, not unlike the core outdoor market, be looking for more comfort in the field. The core market's lighter gear and mindset for more efficient ways of conducting our outdoor fun translates into a more comfortable day afield for hunters. And with a new crop coming along in the 12- to 17-year-old demographic, they may be looking for more street-inspired hunting wear and more technologically advanced fabrics.
Besides the obvious bottom-line benefit, there may be a second, less apparent benefit in melding these two worlds that seem so diverse. The vitality of the core world and the traditional world is dependent on access. SNEWS® believes that there is some synergy to be explored between various organizations -- much in the same way that Trout Unlimited and paddling clubs have worked so successfully on river conservation issues.
With the SHOT Show taking place Feb. 9-12 in the Las Vegas Convention Center next year, it will once again be appropriately positioned for members of the Outdoor Retailer tribe to explore a new culture and a new channel of distribution.
SNEWS® View: While the numbers are staggering, don't think for a minute that the SHOT crowd will just flock to your booth like a bunch of mallards dropping into a decoy spread. SNEWS® spoke to several past SHOT exhibitors who overwhelmingly agreed that it is a different culture. Don't assume that collateral, POP and websites geared toward backpackers and climbers will resonate with hunters -- regardless if they are hunting elk above timberline or wearing tweeds and shooting pheasant at an English estate. Those first time outdoor exhibitors told us they will be back in 2006 with tweaked presentations that speak the SHOT marketplace's language.