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 event to Oklahoma City.
The location—initially met with some skepticism by potential attendees—proved to be a well-received choice. Show organizers reported that 650 buyers from 250 stores and 151 vendors representing more than 200 brands attended the 2018 event.
Over the four-day event, several themes emerged from conversations with vendors and paddlesport specialty retailers. Held the first day, the demo event kicked off the show with high energy and a sense of shared camaraderie and community.
Here are the top three takeaways from the paddlesports trade show.
1. Best demo event ever
Held at the Riversport Adventure Parks—an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site—attendees tested whitewater kayaks on Class III rapids. A few steps away, retailers paddled flatwater canoes and SUPs on the Oklahoma River. Although hot and windy, event-goers said the demo venue exceeded anything offered by Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City or Denver venues.
“Whitewater may be a very small percentage of industry sales, but it’s at least half of the ethos and culture of this industry,” said Sutton Bacon, co-founder of Paddlesports Retailer. “With a demo that combined flatwater, whitewater with live entertainment, and beer and food trucks, people had a fantastic time.”
Ruth Triglia, senior VP of sales at Hobie, said, “We put a lot of emphasis on the on-water demo for our retailers and the organizers knocked it out of the park. A lot of dealers came to experience our products on the water. That’s one of the strongest assets of the show this year.”
Todd King, VP of marketing at Confluence Outdoor, agreed. “The demo event was exceptional for us,” he said. “We had a lot of new boats that people wanted to try and our retailers had a great experience. As a portfolio of companies that has both flatwater and whitewater brands, we really liked the whitewater element. The feedback from our employees and retailers was very positive.”
Richard Orr, buyer at Alpine Shop in St. Charles, Missouri, added that having whitewater and flatwater adjacent to each other was "brilliant."
"I was able to go back and forth between disciplines easily," Orr said. "That’s a situation that’s never existed before.”
2. High-end canoes are back
Whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, and standup paddleboards capture most of the attention in consumer and trade coverage. According to The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service, year after year, sales of canoes are down 25 percent. Canoe brands at the show offered a much more positive take on the market.
“Our canoe sales have been growing 10 to 20 percent over the last three years," said Bill Swift, owner of Swift Canoe & Kayak. "People come in and tell us they bought the wrong boat. They can’t pick up an 80-pound canoe. They are looking for nice lightweight boats that are very easy to load on their car.”
Canoe sales haven’t been hampered by higher-priced models. Northstar Canoes' sales increased almost 30 percent over the last year. “Buyers who have purchased the cheap $300 boats have figured out they are too heavy and they don’t use them, said Ted Bell, founder of Northstar Canoes. "They have moved on to new products. Sales at the high end of our product is driving our sales."
Bear Paulsen, general manager of Northstar Canoes, added, “Retailers are telling us canoes are coming back. They aren’t supplanting kayaks or SUPs, but the pendulum has swung back to customers saying ‘we should look at a canoe.'”
Swift said price isn't an issue. “Consumers are not having any problem spending more money for high-end canoes,” he said.
3. A work in progress
Despite the consensus that it was the “best demo ever” and positive experiences with transportation, lodging, and the exhibit space, attendees think there’s still room for improvement.
One aspect of the show questioned by many is the length of the event. “The show is a day too long. I don’t expect to see many appointments on Thursday,” Bell said.
“If they expand the number of vendors, we may need that extra day, but It was possible for us to do our work in two days,” Orr said.
At the conclusion of the 2018 show organizers will address feedback from vendors, retailers and buyers. “We spend a lot of time talking to buyers to get feedback.
"Now that the retail buyers have experienced how welcoming this community is, we are set up well for growth,” Bacon said.
“I think the formula is still fluid and still has some room to be fine-tuned," said Triglia. "This is a step up from Madison because of the demo venue, but I’m not hearing that overwhelming statement, ‘Ok, this is now the show that has replaced Outdoor Retailer and this is the show we’re coming to every year.’ We’re not quite there yet."
Levi Sattler, account manager at OtterBox, said,“I would say it isn’t quite there yet, but as it continues to evolve into a more dynamic experience (demo days, more exhibitors in different related categories, etc.), I can see it quickly becoming a primary show for many buyers and retail owners in this industry.”
With the long-established Outdoor Retailer show and regional rep shows, vendors are constantly evaluating trade show investments. Paddlesports Retailer appears to have solidified a place in the mix.
“We have a deep history in paddlesports, and are willing to go where our retailers and the media are," said Joel Grabenstein, senior director of marketing at Yakima. "With that said, the utter fragmentation of trade shows for a multi-sport brand like ourselves is proving costly from a human and capital standpoint, and we are reaching a tipping point where will need to fully evaluate all shows for best ROI. I will say that the relatively low cost associated with PSR make it a very viable show for us to participate in long term, assuming retailers and media continue to participate.”
Jeff Turner, sales manager at Kokatat, anticipates continued success for Paddlesports Retailer’s relationship with Oklahoma City. “All the people who were in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode will hopefully understand that this will be where paddlesports business will be conducted.”