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."


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