Last week, following NEMO CEO Cam Brensinger’s op-ed about what he calls “our industry’s trade show crisis” and just a few days before a new trade show, The Big Gear Show, was announced, we posted a survey about what our constituents want and need from our shows.

The survey was live and open for engagement for six days and 250 people weighed in. Here is a recap of the results.

Do we need an all industry trade show?

blue and purple pie chart

The majority of our readers indicated that we need an all-industry trade gathering.

The first question we asked was a simple yes/no: Do we need an all-industry trade show? In Brensinger’s op-ed, he praised certain aspects of Outdoor Retailer, which is the largest convergence our industry has. “It holds us together, defines us, and through OIA [Outdoor Industry Association], funds some of our most important large-scale initiatives,” Brensinger wrote. The majority of our respondents agreed that a united, communal gathering is necessary for the health of our industry.

What purpose should an all-industry trade show serve?

Back in the day, big trade shows were where order-writing happened. Now, not so much. Order writing most often happens outside of the trade show floor (as you’ll see in the next section). We asked our audience what an all-industry gathering should accomplish. Respondents could choose multiple answers. The big winners were “new product discovery” (83.6%), “networking/comradery” (80.8%), and “education” (71%). Only 32.7% percent voted for “order writing.”

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Networking and new product discovery are the top perceived benefits of an all-outdoor industry trade show.

Where do you write your orders?

Retailers order product in different ways and at different shows. Many, it seems (based on the proliferation of write-in answers to this section), don't write orders at shows at all. In some cases, they use show time to take deep looks at the lines and/or achieve other goals like product discovery and networking, then go home and make their orders from the office. 

Multi-colored table

This chart gives a sense of where orders are written and not written.

What is the ideal timing for an all-industry gathering?

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A slight majority of respondents indicated that twice a year is the right cadence for a big trade gathering.

Our overall trade show calendar has seen tons of movement in the last few years, begging this question. Different types of retailers have different timing needs, as do different brands. While there will never be one ideal time for everyone, 31.1% of respondents were satisfied with the current OR schedule of January and June, but having one big summer show was a close second (27.7%) Only three respondents felt the need for thrice annual shows in January, June, and November, which reflects the recent cancellation of OR’s November show. Worth noting: The majority of write-in answers reflected the desire for a winter show in late January or early February, and a later summer show in late July or August.

Should trade show booth size be capped?

We asked this question because it was one of the points that Brensinger brought up in his op-ed as one of the ways that Outdoor Retailer should evolve. He wrote that OR shouldLimit booth sizes to create room for new entrants and level the playing field.” This question generated no clear consensus.

Blue, purple, and green pie chart

Most respondents indicated that some trade show booths are too big.

Should our all-industry gathering be open to the public?

This has been a common refrain we’ve heard from many show participants and pundits: that in order to evolve, we have to let the consumers participate. Yet simply opening the show doors on the last day does not seem to be the solution (although this is one of the differentiating factors that the founders of The Big Gear Show are implementing). In part, the hesitance to invite in consumers likely relates to retailers needing to sell through their current inventory before getting customers excited about what’s coming next.

Blue, green, purple, and orange pie chart

Most respondents indicated that our trade shows should not be open to the public.

What shows are you planning on attending in 2020?

For this question, we asked respondents to check all that apply. Top write-in votes included ISPO and IFTD (American Fly Fishing Trade Association).

Note: This survey went out before The Big Gear Show launch announcement. We’ve created a separate poll to gauge attendance for that show. Once you click to vote, you’ll see the results immediately. At press time, 39 percent of respondents say they will be attending BGS.

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67 percent of respondents plan on attending regional rep shows in 2020.

What are the biggest factors in deciding whether you will attend a show or not?

With so many shows to choose from, this is a big question. We asked respondents to rate each criteria on scale of 1 to 10, with one indicating “not important,” 5 indicating “moderately important” and 10 indicating “very important.”

Multi-colored table chart

The biggest factors driving our readers to attend any given show are who will be there and how much it will cost.


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