Over four sunny days in Madison, Wisconsin manufacturers and specialty shop owners from across the country gathered for the launch of the first annual Paddlesports Retailer (PSR) trade show. The warm September weather welcomed visitors to the Alliant Energy Center for a paddling demo along the shores of Willow Island right off the parking lot, followed by three days of brisk commerce across 100,000 square feet of meeting space. With 125 exhibitors in attendance the event was completely sold out.

In the hopes of creating a more effective marketplace for the exhibition of the latest in canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddled boards and related accessories, organizers of PSR sought to provide an exceptional venue to consolidate and strengthen the business of paddle-powered watercraft. The show reported that 278 unique retailers came through the doors by the last day of the show.

Timed to suit the schedules of shop owners toward the end of their busiest season, the new show promises to support the best interests of paddlesports buyers while giving the builders of boats and boards the undivided attention of new customers eager to meet the needs of the paddling public. Though just a week before Surf Expo in Florida, PSR offers paddlesports retailers a marketplace that addresses the distinct cultural interests of mostly freshwater boaters and boarders.

There was demand for this,” said Sutton Bacon CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina and co-founder of the new Paddlesports Trade Coalition. “They wanted a show that was affordable, that was paddlesports-centric, that had a sense of community and was at a time of year that worked for them.”

For years paddlesports professionals have demoed and displayed their merchandise at the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt City, Utah. But, according to several manufacturers and retailers who spoke to SNEWS the show’s priorities have begun to shift in favor of other product categories such as apparel, footwear and consumer electronics. “It just seemed that OR was all about apparel,” said Todd Caranto, co-founder and director of product development at Pau Hana Surf Supply.

Immediately following the announcement of June dates for the 2018 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, which will convene for the first time in Denver, Colorado, paddlesports professionals rallied together to come up with an alternative. With dates in September, Paddlesports Retailer hits a sweet spot in the sales season that makes it worthwhile for just about everyone.

“This event is at a better time for us,” Caranto said. “They made it later in the year. They made it cheaper. They made it closer to where everything is. So that’s why we’re here.”

Home to Canoecopia, a massive consumer event hosted by local retailer Rutabaga Paddlesports, Madison was the perfect venue for the new trade show. With five lakes, a thriving paddling community, plenty of hotel rooms, nearby restaurants and a track record of success, the decision was for most a no-brainer.

“The simple thing is we had a ground game here,” said Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga. “Everyone understood it was like at Canoecopia. They could visualize the space. So it was an easy sell to do it here for now. Having the Demo Day 1,500 feet from the hall isn't bad either.”

The Paddlesports Retailer trade show was a bustling market of manufacturers and shop owners doing the business of paddle-powered outdoor recreation.

The Paddlesports Retailer trade show was a bustling market of manufacturers and shop owners doing the business of paddle-powered outdoor recreation.

A paddlesports-centric trade show

The idea of a paddlesports-specific trade show had been floating around the industry for a while. Many in North America had watched with envy the progress of Germany’s Paddlesports Expo and figured it was only a matter of time before something similar appeared on our shores. When OR changed its dates to June, Bush made his move, but even he didn’t imagine that it would take shape so quickly. “We went from announcement to completion, booking booth space and taking registrations, in 60 days,” Bush said. “When you’re small and nimble and entrepreneurial you can do that. We said screw it, we’re gonna to do it!”

Sutton Bacon (left), CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center, and Darren Bush (right) owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports, were key figures in the creation of the Paddlesport Retailer show. Here they visit the booth of Confluence Outdoor with CEO Rich Krause.

Sutton Bacon (left), CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center, and Darren Bush (right) owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports, were key figures in the creation of the Paddlesport Retailer show. Here they visit the booth of Confluence Outdoor with CEO Rich Krause.

A group of about two dozen manufacturers and retailers formed the Paddlesports Trade Coalition. They provided the start-up capital and mustered the resources to make the show a reality. Participation of exhibitors was limited to endemic specialty brands with well- defined networks of distribution and established relationships with retailers. Motivated by the incentive of self-preservation, the companies assembled their peers into a united front to protect the integrity of their respective businesses.

“We all realized that the paddlesports buyer doesn’t want to see new products in June,” said Bill Kueper, vice president of Wenonah Canoe, Inc. and chair of the Paddlesports Trade Coalition. “If I show new product in June somebody is going to put it on Instagram. Instantly, as soon as it’s shared everything on the retailer’s shelves is obsolete. So now we have sell-in season and we have close-out season all in the same week. That’s not mature retailing. We as vendors can help stop that by participating in a trade show that’s timed better for the industry, timed better for everyone.”

Kokopelli Packraft co-founder Kelley Smith shares his product specs with curious retailers.

Kokopelli Packraft co-founder Kelley Smith shares his product specs with curious retailers.

The selection of exhibitors at Paddlesports Retailer also aims to protect the intellectual property rights of manufacturers. Setting up product displays early in the season gives competitors, both foreign and domestic, the opportunity to “knock-off” new advancements in paddling technology and flood the market with cheaply made goods overseas.

“We have turned down a substantial amount of space to international companies that did not have an existing distribution footprint or retail base in the United States, because we want to protect and maintain the integrity of the people who have already made the investments into the North American market," said Sutton Bacon. “We turned down thousands of square feet of space for exhibitors that we did not feel represented the paddlesport industry.”

“These guys have put their heart and souls into this business for their whole lives, us included,” Darren Bush added. “And when someone says ‘hey something’s hot, let’s go make a crap load of them and try to sell a container full’, they’re not investing anything in our community. We want to keep it tight. Not exclusive, but tight.”

The vibe from the floor

On the whole, most retailers seemed very pleased with show. One shop owner who asked not to be named said he only wished that the demo area were bigger. “If I’m going to be where there’s all this water, I want to paddle it!” he said.

Interest in new products was matched by everyone’s enthusiasm to be at a show that was focused exclusively on paddlesports. “If you’re a paddle shop you have to be where the paddlesports vendors are,” said Scott Marble, owner of Canfield’s in Omaha, Nebraska. Despite the apparent success of Paddlesports Retailer in Madison, the show will make its permanent home in 2018 at the Riversport Adventures Park in Oklahoma City Oklahoma. With state-of-the-art paddling facilities and a new convention site under construction the new venue offers PSR room to grow and grow.

"Year one has been a huge success," said PSR Show Manager Marcus Shoffner. "Retailer and exhibitor numbers surpassed our initial expectations and the energy on the show floor was high. We've got exciting plans for the future of Paddlesports Retailer and we can't wait to carry them forward with this community."

Related

View of Utah mountains from the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City

A new summer trade event is born: The Big Gear Show

Come summer 2020, the outdoor industry will have yet another trade show to choose from. The Big Gear Show, a concept by longtime retailers Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, the team behind Paddlesports Retailer, is slated for July 22 to 25, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The hardgoods-only ...read more

Oklahoma City Riversport rapids

Paddlesports Retailer moves to Oklahoma City

Organizers of Paddlesport Retailer have announced plans to host their next industry trade show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 2018.  Members of the Paddlesports Trade Coalition told SNEWS at their first event, ongoing this week in Madison, Wisconsin, that Oklahoma City's new ...read more

A birds-eye-view of the Paddlesports Retailer show floor

The outdoor industry is split on The Big Gear Show concept

Following The Big Gear Show announcement on Monday, the outdoor industry has voiced mixed response to the new hardgoods-only event with a consumer day and reduced footprint in Salt Lake City in July 2020. Some say that another show further splinters an already-fractured industry, ...read more

man in blue shirt on a stand up paddle board on a pond with kayakers and greenery and buildings in background

The Big Gear Show unveils plans for summer 2021 calling it "America's first open-air trade show"

When we announced the launch of The Big Gear Show (BGS) in December 2019, we had an inkling that it signaled a shift in the greater outdoor trade show landscape by offering a hardgoods-centric show that directly competes with what is widely accepted as the Goliath: Outdoor ...read more

Paddlesports Retailer 2018 in Oklahoma City

By paddlers, for paddlers

When Emerald Expositions and Outdoor Retailer announced shifted show dates in 2016, some industry veterans responded by launching a new trade show specifically designed for paddlesports. First held in 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin, Paddlesports Retailer organizers moved this year’s ...read more

Slide featuring two white men with text: episode 117, Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush

Podcast: Founders of The Big Gear Show talk about why their show is different

Back in early December, we broke the news of a new trade show in town: The Big Gear Show is scheduled to stage in Salt Lake City next summer, just a few weeks following Outdoor Retailer. The founders, Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, call it a show "for retailers, by retailers" and ...read more

Family playing on beach with kids prodigy kayak | family paddlesports

How to make your paddlesports department a family adventure hub

Truth: Canoes, kayaks, and standup paddleboards are perfectly suited to family fun. A day paddling on a mirror flat lake, fishing from a kayak, or splashing in the waves on a SUP for the first time can build vivid lifelong memories for kids and parents. And great specialty ...read more

Kenji Haroutunian

The Big Gear Show taps Kenji Haroutunian as show director

Outdoor industry longtimer Kenji Haroutunian was just appointed show director of The Big Gear Show (BGS), a new paddling, cycling, climbing, and camping gear hardgoods-only buying event staging in Salt Lake City from July 22 to 25. The appointment makes for a trifecta of former ...read more

Darren Bush Rutabaga Paddlesports holding two paddles in X standing in front of canoes

Hot/Not: Real-time retail trends according to Darren Bush

Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports, shares what’s moving at his store this week. What’s hot? We're seeing early interest in hard goods for holiday gifts. We usually do well with hard goods for holidays. Our customers love giving non-tchotchke gifts, like paddles, axes ...read more