Grassroots Outdoor Alliance’s Connect Show will not go on as planned this spring, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The show was scheduled to go down June 12-15 in Knoxville, Tennessee, one week ahead of Outdoor Retailer, which has not yet announced a cancellation.

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Instead, Grassroots has created a three-part "collaborative digital framework" to facilitate the spring buying process. “By announcing this change now, our hope is that we will give all of our members and partners as much time as possible to work toward this common goal,” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. “We are creating a transparent, easily accessible process that can be shared with all independent specialty retail stores [not just Grassroots members] to help everyone get through this challenging season.”

Grassroots, the organization dedicated to the health and growth of outdoor specialty retail, has 75 retail members and 66 vendor partners. The twice annual show is unique in the trade show landscape, as it’s all about order-writing. Booths are small, pipe and drape affairs. Grassroots manages the schedules of everyone who attends, matching up retailers and vendors for appointments, and incentivizing retailers who pack their schedules with meetings.

"As each day passes, we’re all becoming more aware of the challenges created by COVID-19. Part of that learning has been accepting the massive scope of it all, and part of it has been realizing the time we’re going to need to get back to ‘business as usual,’" reads a letter that went out to the Grassroots community last week.

What will the digital Connect Show look like?

Grassroots says they are building a collaborative digital framework to support the spring buying cycle throughout the month of June. Much like the live Connect Shows, the digital process is anticipated to include a central schedule that buyers and vendors follow and a community gathering point which will share best practices on digital workbooks, video line showings, available services, and other common needs.

Grassroots expects the digital Connect process to include three phases: an information and material gathering phase, an online meeting phase, and a follow up phase. For each of these three components, Grassroots anticipates facilitating key meetings, recommending best practices, and providing needed tools. For both retailers and vendors, Grassroots will be creating a “road map” that details key elements needed for a familiar, common structure. 

Grassroots was well-positioned to begin to transfer to a digital Connect Show: Just over a year ago, it began a push towards digital workbooks, not only as a way to eliminate a whole lot of paper, but to streamline the buying process. In November 2019, Grassroots continued to expand the digital program with more tools and how-to videos, which was well-received by members.

“By making the digital Connect process as consistent as possible for buyers, the focus of the conversation can be on great products and programs,” said Hill. “With a digital Connect, we’re not trying to recreate the wheel. We’re just hoping to assemble a bunch of new wheels so that everybody can keep moving forward.” 

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