Realizing that the glitzy Super Show of yore can be no more, show management has moved to restructure the event to add more reasons for retailers to attend and manufacturers to exhibit -- other than trade show booths.
"This is part of a long-term effort to make The Super Show more than just a trade show," Peter Haines, show director, told SNEWSÂ®. "Those were glory days because of all the action off the show floor."
The umbrella name of the gathering as of 2005 will be the International Sports Product Experience with events to include The Super Show itself with its traditional booths and products; a new workshop series with 40, one-hour talks; two all-comer luncheon panels, one with manufacturers and one with retailers; and two nights of networking parties in the convention center lobby with free drinks and snacks. In addition, the former "World of Sports Innovation" will become the "World of New Product Innovation."
"We are re-inventing the show to speak to the sports product industry," he said. "We realize that it needs a rallying point and we believe The Super Show is the best rallying point we have."
The reason of course is to drive more people to come -- the next show is Jan. 17-19 -- by offering more reasons for them to want to be there, from product to networking to parties. That's because the show's first year in Orlando in January 2004 -- after several years in Las Vegas -- was not what management expected in terms of attendance or energy (observers and attendees called it everything from dismal, depressing and tragic, to things we can't print).
"We're trying to give people a reason to come to do business and to learn business," said Haines, who says the switch wouldn't be possible without the support of incoming SGMA President Tom Cove.
"This is an important time of change and evaluation for us," Cove told SNEWSÂ®, "and we're happy the SGMA and the show management are working together on these new initiatives.
"We need to listen better," he added.
It so happens the new format also happens on what could be called Cove's inaugural weekend as president -- and the show's 20th anniversary. On the night before the show, President John Riddle will be given a retirement party, and on the first day of the show, both Riddle and Cove will present a state-of-the-industry talk, first with Riddle presenting the past and present and then with Cove looking toward the future. Exhibitors will all be given numerous tickets to the event to hand out so no one, Haines said, should have to pay the $20 fee.
Cove said he's looking forward to eyeing the future and seeing if the association can make a stamp on it with this new structure.
"Everybody says they need a place to get together, but it's hard to make it work, and the traditional trade show push-pull isn't there anymore," Cove said. The show is still valuable, he said, but it needs to take on a life of its own; attendees need to walk away and say it was a valuable experience for any number of reasons, including education, networking, meetings, products or excitement -- not just product.
"The show floor is not the end-all, be-all," Cove said.
If you build it, will they come?
But will more retailers come? One Florida specialty fitness retailer president, Busy Body/Gyms To Go's Carlos Vazquez, said he came for two days and one night in January with several others from his business and saw everything and did everything he needed to in a half-day -- and wished he hadn't pre-paid for a hotel room. Previously, he went to Las Vegas because of the attraction Las Vegas added to the show. Would he send more staff this year for the education? Likely not, he said, but if his area managers wanted to go for the day, he'd let them go and pay for it.
He recalls The Super Show of yore with celebrities, huge multi-million-dollar booths, parties and glitz -- all of which kept him coming for the fun and excitement, even to categories that didn't interest him as a retailer.
Anther merchandise manager for a large sporting goods chain who wished to remain anonymous said he finds differing opinions about shows in general -- some love them, some hate them.
"The Super Show isn't what it used to be, but it's evolved and it's still a great show," he said, calling this switch a "valiant effort" to get more people and the excitement back. "I'm glad they're trying something new.
He and others said that any kind of networking opportunity is good since you can always talk to people about product on the phone or in one-on-one meetings, which many larger retailers now do pre-show.
Another big-box buyer, Dave Stockmeyer of Dunham's, said the show has remained productive.
"Whether a buyer or a merchandise manager, you get out of a trade show what you put into it," Stockmeyer said. "It's still more productive than sitting at your desk."
When it comes to fitness manufacturers, opinion remains mixed.
"I think the concept has merit, but I think the quality of the workshops and seminars along with how they are executed will determine if they add value to the show," said Mike Olson of Horizon Fitness, a show exhibitor. "We've all seen seminars at shows in the past that add little to the show's overall atmosphere and quality."
Bob Lochner of Universal Gym said the changes won't drive retailers to the show. And it won't encourage the fitness suppliers to bring new products since the January timing is poor for fitness.
"It's very interesting, but we would not attend because of this or stay away because of this," Lochner said. "
Dates, location, categories
With the show's slow migration over the last few years from late February to mid-January, some categories like fitness have found it more and more difficult to attend, we've been told. Cove said he sees fitness as one segment that should and could be stronger at the show. The date is one factor that is "on the table" with many others.
Another factor that will be discussed is the location. Management has agreed to remain in Orlando through 2006, but the location could change as of 2007 -- with a return to Las Vegas not being out of the picture.
The show (www.thesupershow.com) has also had less emphasis of late on specialty markets and some -- like outdoor -- likely wouldn't become an emphasis again with the exception of categories like family camping, Cove said. Fitness is one area that is more attainable, he said.
"No, we're not giving up on specialty," he said, "and we still believe The Super Show is relevant to a lot -- not all -- but a lot of specialty.
"The Super Show was so great for so long and so visible, and nobody can help but compare it to that," Cove added. "But there's a new breeze blowingâ€¦ We didn't want to go back to the past. We want to make something great for the future."
SNEWSÂ® View: It's nice to see management stop flailing to try to stay afloat and indeed simply ride the current, which could take the show to a place that will allow it to become more alive again. Why simply lament the by-gone days instead of looking to become something new? Finally. Now, we don't know if this will help the show do a 360, but it's a first step. We bet there will be a lot of wait-and-see this January -- a big test indeed. But if there is even a glimmer of hope, 2006 could be the start of a turnaround. And, if the show moves out of Orlando as we suspect it may, 2007 could be a new day. Of course, show management also must realize that some segments will never ever in their dreams be what they used to be at the show. If management can focus on being a good sporting goods show -- the best around -- and one that supplements the other specialty shows that abound, it could indeed find a new home in today's show world.