The outdoor industry trade show calendar just got a little bit more complicated: Two industry veterans announced Tuesday that they're starting their own, paddlesports-specific trade show in 2017.
It should be a given that the timing of an event with tens of thousands of attendees will never be exactly be perfect to everyone.
Outdoor Retailer and the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance (in partnership with Outdoor Industry Association) have announced a new schedule that puts the two trade shows back-to-back in November and June starting in 2018. While there has been consistently positive feedback from GOA members and partner brands (who can now consolidate their travel schedules into two trips rather than four), not everyone else in the industry is pleased.
Paddlesports starts its own trade show in the Midwest
Take paddlesports, for example. June is the busiest time of year, and far too early for most paddlesports manufacturers and dealers. Even if they were able to staff up and make it work, it would render everything in retailers’ shops obsolete by the time the show started, said Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports in Madison, Wisconsin.
Bush and Sutton Bacon, chairman of Natanhala Outdoor Center, announced Tuesday that they're starting Paddlesports Retailer in September, 2017, in Madison. They've booked the Alliant Energy Center through 2020, and the show will take place Sept. 12-14.
"We're really excited to have a home," Bush said Wednesday. "We've never really had one."
Bush is experienced at running such events: he leads Canoecopia, the world's largest consumer paddlesports expo. He and Sutton have talked about starting a paddlesports trade show for quite a few years, but the timing was never right, he said. It was rumored earlier this year that Outdoor Retailer would move its summer show dates to June, and that's when Paddlesports Retailer started to look like it could be a reality. Sutton and Bush decided on this iteration a couple of weeks ago, after Outdoor Retailer announced its new dates, and finalized plans a few days ago.
The cost to exhibit will be less than half what it costs to show at Outdoor Retailer, which Bush said was an intentional choice.
"This isn't something I need to do to make a living," Bush said. "It's something I'm doing to serve my industry. ... We're not a publicly held company, so we can do whatever we want."
Emerald Expositions, which owns Outdoor Retailer, holds a Surf Expo in January and September in Orlando, Florida. It had planned to make room for paddlesports at Surf Expo, but it's not a good cultural fit for paddlesports, Bush said. Outdoor Retailer did not immediately return an email requesting comment about the new paddlesports show.
SIA responds to Outdoor Retailer shift
The SIA Snow Show penned a response to the changes recently, saying that it fears the shift to earlier shows will be taxing on an industry that already struggles to keep up with trade shows.
“Any time you put four trade shows in one fiscal year, that’s a ton of pressure,” said SIA President Nick Sargent. “With climate change, poor winters and retailers going out of business, it really creates a situation where, you know, our industry just can’t afford four trade shows in one year.”
The four shows are OR Winter Market and Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect in November 2018, and OR Winter Expo and the SIA Snow Show in January 2019.
Manufacturers and dealers alike will have to choose what works best for them, Sargent said, but most in the industry feel like they have to attend trade shows in order to get their jobs done. “To feel like you have to attend four is a huge ask, and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for brands,” he said.
Take SCARPA, for example. SCARPA North America is a relatively small operation, based in Boulder, Colo., and regularly attends Outdoor Retailer and the SIA Snow Show. The dates were announced less than two weeks ago, and it’s still not really enough time for the brand to adjust, said Sam Killgore, marketing director.
SCARPA is an Italian company that has to consider European trade shows like Outdoor Show—which is also shifting its dates—in addition to those in the United States. The brand typically doesn’t have samples ready by mid-November, which means it would have to move its product and marketing timelines up considerably in order to prepare. SCARPA is currently planning to go to both Outdoor Retailer winter shows (January and November) in 2018.
“Everything that Outdoor Retailer is proposing to do is going to be very hard for us,” Killgore said, adding that she thinks it will be challenging for most brands. Finding enough money in the budget to go to a third trade show in 2018 will be tough, too, she said.
But it all comes down to what’s good for retailers. If SCARPA dealers approve of the new timeline and say that a November trade show is what they need, then the brand will make it work.
“We understand the importance that dealers play in our business and we don’t want to minimize that at all,” Killgore said. “If dealers say they need [these dates], we’ll facilitate that. We’re waiting to hear.”
Competing trade shows
Outdoor Retailer conducted surveys and had long talks with stakeholders before making any decisions, said Marisa Nicholson, vice president and group show director for Outdoor Retailer. What they discovered was that the vast majority of Outdoor Retailer attendees, vendors included, choose between OR and the SIA Snow Show—far from everyone attends both shows.
“When looking at the research we did and advisory meetings we had, what we’re doing is making sure that we’re meeting the needs of the companies that we’ve been serving as part of the outdoor industry,” Nicholson said. “From our perspective, SIA is a very seasonal show. They’re very niche in the category that they’re serving, while we’re catering to the whole outdoor industry.”
Sargent has been involved in conversations with Outdoor Retailer attempting to make sense of buy/sell cycles and establish a schedule of trade shows that makes sense for most stakeholders. No one is angry or upset about the dates, he said, but everyone is trying to figure out how to work better together.
“In essence, what Outdoor Retailer has done is move their dates to accommodate the buy/sell cycle, particularly for softgoods,” Sargent said. “We don’t have any issue with that; we think it’s great. We applaud them for having the courage to move their show to an earlier time frame. What we don’t agree with is continuing to have another winter show [Winter Expo], creating a new winter show in the month of January, which competes not only with SIA but rep group shows that are already on the calendar.”
Product coverage could be unintended victim
Two unintentional victims of the changes might be media coverage and small businesses, said Drew Simmons, president of Vermont-based Pale Morning Media, who handles PR for brands like SOG Knives & Tools, Orotovox, Stormy Kromer, Deuter and Farm to Feet, among others.
Retailers are already stocking their shelves with winter goods by the time November rolls around, which means that brands may feel like they need to keep any innovative breakthroughs under wraps at the show, Simmons said. If word got out that the next year’s skis, for example, were far more technologically advanced than the current season’s, consumers may choose to hold off for the next year’s product.
We might see more embargoing, Simmons said, which likely won’t affect consumer media but may be a hindrance to trade media, and therefore those who rely on it, too.
Large brands will likely benefit from the shift, but small businesses may struggle to catch up, he said, and it could take several cycles for them to dial it in.
“They’re the true risk takers, the creatives, the passionate ones and the ones living in their vans just to get a shot at making an OK living in the outdoor world,” he said. “Sometimes they strike gold, but most of the time they’re just prospecting. And without them, the outdoor industry is just a small club of big brands that continues to get smaller every year.”
It would be great, Sargent said, if there was just one winter show, in Denver: The SIA Snow Show. Outdoor Retailer has heard the calls from some industry stakeholders to move its shows to Denver, too, but the city does not currently have a space large enough to house the trade show, Nicholson said.
Working to improve the outdoor industry trade show cycle
OIA is open to working with both SIA and OR to improve the trade show cycle, OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts wrote in an email.
“The positive response we have received to the announced partnership between Grassroots, Outdoor Retailer and OIA reinforces for me the importance of working toward solutions that place an emphasis on collaboration, create efficiencies for retailers and vendors and provide the highest return for show attendees,” Roberts said.
She added that she appreciates Sargent’s invitation to work together to improve the trade show cycle.
“Bringing ski and outdoor closer together would benefit vendors and retailers by providing opportunities for new brands and retailers to work together, mitigate seasonal business exposure, and open new opportunities to explore year-round business partnerships,” Roberts wrote in an email. “Working together would also allow SIA and OIA to partner to use the industry’s advocacy dollars in a reinforcing way to address issues like climate change, increasing recreational amenities and funding, and increasing participation in all outdoor and snow activities.”