On May 23, the SnowSports Industries America (SIA) Board executed a less-than-perfect jump-turn in the deep crud of trade show and date-indecision controversy, and returned the association's show to a late February or early March time frame as of 2004. At the same time, the Board formally approved the Jan. 27-30 dates for what is beginning to look more and more like lame-duck 2003 show at Mandalay Bay.
SIA's president, David Ingemie, was out of the country on a long-overdue vacation in Italy, and therefore unreachable for comment.
In the official release issued by SIA, Hugh Harley, chairman of the board and president of Rossignol, stated: "We heard our members and retail partners loud and clear. This is a compromise decision that reflects a great deal of discussion and thought. The new dates better accommodate the reality of our industry. Now everyone needs to support our national show and move forward."
Harley told SNEWS® that while the majority of SIA members might not have been in favor of the change of dates, the overwhelming majority of voting members (and that is a key difference, he said, since the board is responsible to the voting membership) wanted later dates.
Does this kill any hope of future trade show co-location discussions?
"It's a real predicament, to be certain," Harley said. "We need a later time frame, Outdoor Retailer says they need an earlier one. It is regrettable that we find ourselves in this situation because it would be so much better for all our businesses if we could find a workable solution that would lessen expense and make the use of time more efficient."
If you're somewhat bewildered by the board's decision, join a very large and non-exclusive club. SNEWS® has, as you know, been closely following the trials and tribulations of SIA's trade show dance for sometime now, so we'll do our best to blow the smoke away so you can understand what this decision implies.
- Outside of the voting membership, what the board also heard was a very loud and vocal group that represented a very powerful contingent of accessory companies and alpine shop owners. The petition signed by 400 or so members, that was sent to the board, was leaked to SNEWS®, and amid the somewhat forceful commentary, one theme became abundantly clear -- this group did not want early dates and had a miserable selling/buying show at the most recent SIA event. For all of those pro-early-dates retailers and manufacturers who contacted SNEWS® expressing shock and frustration after the SIA board vote, we suggest that your timing is poor. The majority of board members told us they would have loved to hear a vocal outpouring of support from pro-early folks, but that input barely trickled in and was buried under an avalanche of anti-early tradeshow vocalists. For better of for worse, this is a membership-driven organization.
- Both the SIA board and Outdoor Retailer trade show management conducted surveys of show attendees to gauge the mood for co-location. What both found is that there was no consensus at all. What was clear from an SIA survey of retailers though is that most wanted later dates. And, as both OR and SIA learned painfully this year, without retailers attending, it's hard to wave any banners at all.
- Don't for a minute believe there was consensus on moving the show back to late February or early March, even in the boardroom. For that matter, there never has been consensus at any time over the last 12 years, nor will there ever be consensus among SIA non-retail members. Why? Simply because SIA's membership is so diverse, and each of the major constituencies represented -- hardgoods, softgoods, accessories, snowshoe, alpine, Nordic, snowboard, etc. -- have conflicting agendas. Alpine, snowboard and Nordic would all love earlier dates. Accessory companies would love even later dates.
- Whither goes snowboard now? By moving the dates to late February or early March (firm dates have yet to be established with Mandalay Bay -- hmmmm, sound familiar?), SIA has effectively created a situation that could encourage many independent snowboard companies to explore other options, including leaving the show and opting for VNU-owned Action Sports Retailer (ASR) in January. That's because the majority of these companies have told SNEWS® they preferred the earlier dates due to the nature of their business model. The one thing SIA has going for it is that it represents a membership-owned and membership-directed tradeshow, and that resonates with the snowboard and ski community. Few find pleasure in opting for a for-profit venture such as VNU-owned ASR or Outdoor Retailer, even though those shows are highly professional and highly successful. Only time will tell on this one.
- One might think that Nordic will now jump back to OR, but not so fast. It appears that many leaders of this group now feel that OR Winter Market in Salt Lake City is nothing more than a very expensive Western Regional show they can do without and that the Nordic businesses would be better served supporting the industry's best regional shows and then attending SIA at the later dates as the place for retailers to actually write orders for the items they've seen and tested. No decision is final yet, and one can imagine that OR and SIA will be doing some very heavy lobbying in the months to come. One message from the Nordic businesses remaining abundantly clear: Two shows are too expensive for too many Nordic companies and that won't fly anymore.
- It is likely that with this decision, any hope of a co-located show reducing the amount of travel and expense for some companies and retailers is now history. Sure, anything is still possible, but not with the later SIA dates which are absolutely too late for most companies and retailers in the outdoor industry. In essence, by moving the dates, SIA has once again managed to alienate outdoor during a time when, despite the many hurdles still to be overcome, it appeared as if the two had some hope of future reconciliation.
- As for Harley's statement that everyone now needs to support the SIA national show and move forward: Bravo. However, it will be easier said than done. Next year's show in 2003 is following the same disastrous path just walked by OR Winter Market 2002 -- a show that is admittedly at the wrong time with show organizers saying it is the only time they can manage right now. Not exactly a way to promote attendance. Combine that with less than stellar pre-season ordering following a challenged winter and you set the table for retailers less than eager to buy new stuff, manufacturers closely watching the bottom line, and a trade show wondering where everyone went. We'll go out on a limb here and predict that retail attendance at SIA 2003 will be abysmal as a combined result of all the organizational waffling, market conditions, and the actual timing.
- What about 2004 and beyond? The outward appearance of the message carried by the board's decision to revert to later dates is that the SIA trade show is a trade show event catering first and foremost to alpine retailers who continue to exhibit bunker-mentality in an industry that has been struggling for years. That may or may not be true, but SIA has its work really cut out for it now. The association and trade show committee has to convince snowboard that it needs SIA as much or more than SIA needs snowboard. Without snowboard, SIA's tradeshow will act and feel like a mortuary. It must also convince Nordic that it should remain. Nordic just came off its best SIA show in nearly a decade so they're more likely to want to stay around, even with the date change. More importantly, though, if SIA wishes to retain its position as a significant player in the winter tradeshow market, it must convince large numbers of retailers outside of the alpine traditionalists that they should attend -- and that might be the hardest task of all.
- Bottom line? If one can overlook all the shifting and shuffling by SIA to be this or that, and now focus on the new 2004 dates as the future -- assuming SIA can actually hold its course -- the picture isn't so ugly. Alpine, Nordic and snowboard manufacturers should be able to make the slightly later dates work and -- gasp -- actually have a show where retailers are writing orders. Accessory and softgoods companies will use the same show to preview items with the idea that, for most retailers, paper will be dropped later. Oh, and one more thing -- vive les regionals!