There's no question we're all eager to get back to in-person trade shows. Virtual events have come a long way this year, but as we've seen after multiple valiant attempts at replacing the real thing, people are still desperately hungry to meet and do business face to face.
Despite that reality, a solid majority of industry professionals say they won't travel back to in-person trade shows until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available. In a recent SNEWS poll, 60 percent of respondents said they'll wait for a vaccine before attending a live show, while just 17 percent said they currently have plans to attend one in the next year or beyond.
That's not stopping organizers of the SHOT Show—the industry-adjacent gun and hunting trade show that reliably attracts crossover brands like Mystery Ranch and CamelBak—from holding their annual event in Las Vegas this January. The show is set to run from January 19 to 22, and organizers are confident they can pull it off safely.
How the show will manage safety
SHOT Show organizers declined to comment on specifics for this story, but a representative for the show told SNEWS Monday, "The SHOT Show’s top priority is the health and safety of its attendees and exhibitors. We continue to monitor Nevada state guidelines, share updates in a timely manner and will make adjustments to the show as new information and guidance are released."
The show's website, however, does lay out a detailed plan for keeping exhibitors and attendees safe—provided state guidelines allow the show to happen as scheduled in three months. Participants and staff will be required to wear masks. Temperature checks will be conducted on everyone who enters the Sands Expo Center and Caesars Forum, the two venues hosting the show. Last-minute, on-site show registration will be suspended.
Currently, the state of Nevada prohibits gatherings of more than 250 people. However, under those protocols, gatherings of up to 1,000 people can be authorized if certain safety requirements are met. SHOT Show organizers declined to confirm whether the show had secured permission to host 1,000 attendees, though the allowance wouldn't make much difference to the show's overall viability. Last year, more than 60,000 people attended the event. Unless the state's restrictions change drastically, it's unlikely the show will happen.
Some outdoor brand plan to attend—for now
Despite the possible health risks and logistical challenges, several outdoor industry brands are currently planning to attend the show, including Mystery Ranch, CamelBak, HydraPak, and Arc'teryx. All have a strong presence in the hunting and tactical space and depend upon sales in those categories for a significant portion of core revenue.
In that sense, the soft commitment from these brands to attend the show seems to be more of a safeguard than anything. If the show does happen, it will be an advantage for these brands to have a booth reserved, even if their participation is far different than in years past.
"If we go, we’re looking at sending one or two people—that's it," said HydraPak CEO Matt Lyon. "We're going to focus on handing out printed info as opposed to having people come into the booth. It’s been suggested by the SHOT Show that we have plexiglass up to protect employees. The people attending the show are going to be required to wear masks, but it will probably be difficult to enforce, so we're trying to minimize risk."
Asked why he thinks this show is still happening when so many others have been cancelled or postponed, Lyon said he assumes the difference comes down to the consumer base.
"You probably have to look at the people attending to understand it," he said. "The typical attendees at Outdoor Retailer would much rather cancel. The consumer base here would prefer to have it go on."
That fact is enough, he said, for brands like his to keep the option of attendance on the table for now. But it doesn't mean anything is set in stone.
"There is a chance that we don’t exhibit," Lyon said. "If the virus outbreaks are still high, we would just pay for booth space and not exhibit. The last thing we want is to get anyone sick."
At Mystery Ranch, vice president Alex Kutches expressed a similar feeling.
"Mystery Ranch usually counts on going," Kutches said, noting that consumers are hungry for interaction with brands. "However, I'm hearing that, while customers are eager to reconnect, their travel isn't always approved. I can only imagine what this is going to mean for military professionals attending a 60,000-plus-person trade show. Probably pretty unlikely."
It's the same from the brand side, Lyon said; everyone is eager to reconnect, but the best companies can do for planning purposes without more information from SHOT Show organizers is hope for the best.
"We’re always interested in interacting with customers, but if it’s a choice between interacting with customers and keeping our employees safe, we choose to keep our people safe," Lyon said.