EORA Sturbridge show gives paddle market something to applaud

With troubled trade associations and flat sales, the paddlesports sector of the industry hasn't had much to applaud lately. But retailers and reps gave two thumbs-up to the new Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) regional show in Sturbridge, Mass. Held Sept. 17-19 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Resort on Cedar Lake, the event was designed to attract paddlesports retailers, who had requested that EORA hold a show later in the fall so they could remain in their stores during the busy summer selling period. This was the first EORA show designed specifically for the paddlesports market, and by all accounts, it was a success.

With troubled trade associations and flat sales, the paddlesports sector of the industry hasn't had much to applaud lately. But retailers and reps gave two thumbs-up to the new Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) regional show in Sturbridge, Mass. Held Sept. 17-19 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Resort on Cedar Lake, the event was designed to attract paddlesports retailers, who had requested that EORA hold a show later in the fall so they could remain in their stores during the busy summer selling period. This was the first EORA show designed specifically for the paddlesports market, and by all accounts, it was a success.

"It worked really well for us," said Craig Richardson, assistant manager of Umiak Outdoor Outfitters in Stowe, Vt. "It was convenient, focused and easy to work," Richardson told SNEWS®, noting that the show was held at a more ideal time than the EORA show in Hartford, Conn., and the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah, both of which occurred in early August. He said that during the summer months Umiak needs "all hands on deck" to work the sales floor.

Richardson said he really appreciated that it was easy to try out boats at the Sturbridge show, as exhibiting reps held demos on Cedar Lake, just a few hundred yards from the exhibit space in the hotel. "We could do an appointment indoors, and then easily go over and try out boats, and we did this all day," he said.

EORA Executive Director Debbie Motz told SNEWS that more than 300 buyers representing 149 retail stores attended the event. There were 40 exhibiting companies, including large players such as Confluence, Legacy Paddlesports and portions of Johnson Outdoors, as well as small, core companies like Immersion Research and Astral Buoyancy. Also on hand were several companies from the fishing market, such as Abel, Reddington and Sage, which are addressing the growing paddle-fishing market.

The show occupied 20,000 square feet of exhibit space, with companies set up in collections of booths measuring 8 feet by 10 feet. (For example, Confluence had eight booth spaces and Northwest River Supplies occupied six booth spaces.)

The hotel room cost for attendees was $129 a night. Most attendees drove to the show, and each day a drawing was held to give away a $50 gas card to an attendee who pre-registered. For manufacturers, there was a minimum fee of $1,200 to exhibit, which was broken down into an $800 show fee, plus a $400 charge for each 8x10 booth. As an added service for exhibitors, Motz said two months before the show EORA sends each exhibitor a list of pre-registered retail attendees, and that list is updated every two to three weeks until the show. At the end of the show, EORA sends them the entire attendee list.

Motz and the retailers and manufacturers who spoke with SNEWS indicated that the show was so successful that it will be repeated next year. The question is whether the reps and retailers who attend the Southeastern EORA show in Greenville, S.C., each August will want something similar. Its dates are also not especially convenient for paddle dealers, and there is no water near the Carolina First Center, where the show is held in Greenville. (The commute time to the nearest water is about 30 minutes one way.) Motz said she anticipates that folks in the Southeast will request a paddlesports-focused show, and said she is already investigating possible locations. "The real kicker is trying to find a facility that has the exhibit space and the water," said Motz.

The other question is what role these regional paddlesports shows will play as manufacturers and retailers consider whether or not to attend Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2009 and beyond. Many small paddle shops from the East Coast already do not go to Outdoor Retailer due to the summer show dates and travel costs. Dealers such as Richardson of Umiak rely on regional shows to do their business, and the paddlesports-centric Sturbridge show really caters to their needs. And, now, a few paddlesports manufacturers are seriously questioning the value of attending Outdoor Retailer.

After Outdoor Retailer moved its summer dates to July 29-24 for 2009 (the trade show is from July 21 to 24 with the Open Air Demo held July 19 and 20), Werner announced that it would no longer attend the show, citing that it was "bad timing for most of our Specialty Retailers operating cycle." Werner President Bruce Furrer told SNEWS, "With our customers dropping off from attending the show, and the show not being timed well for paddlesports in general, at some point it just doesn't make sense." In lieu of conducting business at Outdoor Retailer, Werner will communicate with its customers through regional shows, plus its reps will visit dealers.

John Weld, president of Immersion Research, breathed a sigh of relief when he heard of Werner's decision. "I've been dying to get out of that show," said Weld, adding that Werner bailing gives him the confidence to also stop attending Outdoor Retailer. "East Coast retailers stopped going to OR in recent years, and we were going as lean as we could there and were still spending $20,000," said Weld. He feels Immersion Research can turn to regional shows and other tools, such as digital media, to serve its dealers. Plus, he feels that the Outdoor Retailer show doesn't really enhance his business or benefit his retailers. "We know the retailers on a first-name basis, and what can they get from going to a huge booth in Salt Lake City?"

If paddle companies and retailers continue to turn away from Outdoor Retailer, regional shows will gain some momentum, but they will not rob Outdoor Retailer of all its paddlesports business. "The paddlesports guys as a whole will stay with Outdoor Retailer," said Motz. "There's a lot of other work that goes on at Outdoor Retailer other than just buying product. And those bigger shops have got to go to Outdoor Retailer to talk with upper management of a company for a number of reasons."

Also, regional shows are simply organized very differently from national shows such as Outdoor Retailer. They are stripped-down affairs with booths staffed only by reps who focus on working with buyers to write orders. Rarely will company executives or marketing personnel attend regional shows, and no major media representatives attend.

This structure does have advantages. "OR is a little bit of a circus. You have to look good. At Sturbridge, the focus is on spending a good time with the retailer," said Andy Zimmerman, president and CEO of Legacy Paddlesports. "At OR, I don't get quality time with the dealer because I have five appointments going on at once."

If there is a disadvantage to regional shows it is that they lack the excitement and energy produced when an entire industry puts itself on full display.

"We will definitely be at OR in summer," said Yonton Mehler of Astral Buoyancy. "It would be sad for us if paddlesports moved away from that show." Mehler said that Astral benefits by being surrounded by a collection of likeminded, energetic outdoors enthusiasts, and a regional show makes him feel disconnected from the rest of the industry.

Outdoor Retailer Trade Show Director Kenji Haroutunian said a main advantage of Outdoor Retailer is that it gives exhibitors and attendees a sense of being connected, and people get inspiration from being in a collective soup of information and ideas. Still, there is a rising chorus of voices within the paddlesports industry calling for some type of event that would better serve paddle dealers, especially those on the East Coast. So, Haroutunian will be talking with EORA about the possibility of doing a demo-oriented event that would piggyback on the eastern regional shows. However, he said it would be a stretch to get anything up and running in 2009.

Zimmerman said the combination of regional shows and some type of other paddlesports trade event would serve the industry well. "We don't need to show ourselves to death with too many shows," he said. "But we can hit a good batting average (of seeing all the necessary dealers) with two shows." In the meantime, Legacy is still considering whether or not it will attend Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2009. As Zimmerman told SNEWS, the bottom line is that manufacturers and trade show producers have to keep in mind what's most important -- serving the retailers.

—Marcus Woolf

SNEWS® View: Having established an excellent reputation with its flagship Greenville show, EORA has once again proved that it understands its constituents and puts their needs first. Two big thumbs-up to EORA for being willing to experiment with the Sturbridge show and for pulling it off in such a good fashion. Still, it's not realistic to think that regional shows can or even should replace a national show, such as Outdoor Retailer, as some in the paddlesports industry appear to be suggesting. Dealers who forego national shows miss out on discovering new products and exploring peripheral trends that can benefit a business in addition to the obvious benefits of a national show pointed out in the article above -- media presence, company executive attendance, and unmatched networking opportunities. Sure, Outdoor Retailer Summer Market can seem like mayhem, but there are tangible benefits to exploring beyond your traditional borders to see what may be on the horizon and what new product that isn't in the store now, but should be and could pave the way to increased sales and a successful year.

Does the paddlesports market need its own show timed better to serve the dealers as an increasing number of paddlesports industry members assert? There are good arguments that can be made for continuing to support Outdoor Retailer Summer Market or opting for a separate paddlesports show later in the year. But an equally important question that needs to be asked is whether the constituents within the paddlesports market can even reach consensus to support a separate show. And who will provide the leadership to make it happen? When you consider the failure of the most recent attempt to merge PIA and TAPS (Click here to read the Oct. 29, 2008, SNEWS story, "Proposed merger between PIA and TAPS appears dead in the water -- what next?"), it's difficult to imagine lining up all the divergent interests to support a unified plan of action that would be successful.

As of now, in lieu of a unified paddlesports trade association representing them, many paddlesports folks we spoke to appear to be looking primarily to Nielsen Business Media (parent company of Outdoor Retailer) and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to come up with a national solution, and EORA to provide a venue for East Coast dealers. It remains to be seen whether there is a national solution to the current questions regarding show timing. It is hard to imagine that either Outdoor Retailer or OIA (which benefits financially from show revenues) would want to endorse or provide an opportunity to entirely separate the paddlesports market from Summer Market, and as a result, risk lower attendance at a national show.

--SNEWS Editors


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