Viva Las Vegas: Like Elvis, SIA has left the building

For the past 37 years, the SIA SnowSports Show was on a roll in Las Vegas. But in 2010, the show will cash in its chips and try its luck in Denver, Colo. Not surprisingly, the big question on everyone's mind -- right after the economy -- was whether SIA '09 would be a blowout farewell party or a sparsely attended funereal affair. As it turned out, the mood at the recently concluded show (held January 24-27 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center) was mostly upbeat.
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For the past 37 years, the SIA SnowSports Show was on a roll in Las Vegas. But in 2010, the show will cash in its chips and try its luck in Denver, Colo. Not surprisingly, the big question on everyone's mind -- right after the economy -- was whether SIA '09 would be a blowout farewell party or a sparsely attended funereal affair. As it turned out, the mood at the recently concluded show (held January 24-27 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center) was mostly upbeat.

SIA09_Triptych-Wall.jpg

SIA's management projected 20,000 attendees (up from 17,350 reported in 2008), with the show covering 348,000 net square feet (compared to 357,000 square feet in 2008) and 445 exhibitors representing an estimated 800-plus brands exhibiting in 3,479 booths (compared with 421 exhibitors representing 1,000 brands reported in 2008). SIA told SNEWS® it will have audited attendance and exhibitor numbers to report Feb. 13.

On the first day of SIA '09, Anthony DeRocco, vice president of global product development at K2 Sports, remarked, "The show energy is good. It's tough to get a read on attendance, but our goal is to do business."

When asked about the move to Denver, DeRocco echoed the sentiments of many vendors when he responded, "I'm looking forward to a new venue to shake things up a bit. Change is good. Frankly, I'm really excited. The question is the draw of Denver for retailers."

Charles Lozner, brand director of K2 Outdoor, which includes Tubbs, Karhu, Madshus and Atlas, was also enthusiastic. "SIA feels busier year-over-year than Outdoor Retailer. We're getting a lot of walk-in traffic." He added, "I'm ecstatic about Denver. You have to take the show to where it makes sense. Also, Denver is welcoming SIA with open arms."

While there is no question that the U.S. economy was (and still is) in the toilet, Mother Nature and Jack Frost joined forces to help the snowsports industry by providing plenty of cold, wet/snowy weather in most parts of the country during December and early January. As a result, product sell-through was fairly strong, particularly on the hardgoods side (albeit at closeout and discount prices). But now that retailers have cleared out much of their current inventory, will they be able to secure the funds needed to invest in product for next season? Therein lies the true gamble.

"In terms of open-to-buy, SIA is not a large writing show," explained K2's DeRocco. "There's a lot of caution in the market, but lots of good snow globally. We're snow farmers. Sell-through is off, but it's an opportunity to grow market share."

As is usually the case at SIA, each day offered a smidgeon of craziness in the aisles. The highlight occurred on day two, when rock icon Gene Simmons of KISS -- yes, he's the one with a tongue that is proportionally as long as that of a tube-lipped nectar bat -- was escorted around the show by a couple of burly security guys and a compact harem of scantily clad women. His mission was to help launch the MoneyBag snowboard and ski accessory line, a partnership with Dussault Apparel. Apparently, Simmons set a few tongues wagging at the New York Times (page B12 in the Jan. 31, 2009, edition) when a reporter there discovered that Swiss ski maker Faction Collective S.A. used an image of Simmons on a pair of skis without first obtaining permission. Much to the company's surprise and horror, the rock relic spotted the skis while en route to an interview. Faction is now trying to license said image.

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Key trends SNEWS identified during our time at SIA:

Consumer spending

By most accounts, snowsports consumers are still spending money, but they want value and are demanding full feature sets.

"People are still skiing," said Leslie Baker-Brown, Tecnica's director of marketing, ski division. "If it's in their DNA, they're not going to stop. Skiing makes people feel good, so we're cautiously optimistic." She added, "While consumers are cautiously shopping, and are looking for a good deal/value, we see that they are still willing to spend for a good product. And a good value does not necessarily mean low price."

Hardgoods

• Flat backcountry skis are strong sellers, and many vendors are expanding their offerings. For example, K2's new Adventure Series boasts gender-specific, flat-tailed skis with a slight bit of rocker on the tips, and all models are compatible with alpine, alpine touring and telemark bindings. This is part of a broader trend of greater consumer demand for adaptive skis that can be used in a variety of snow conditions. (This is also in keeping with the consumer trend at retail to spend on skis while trying to save on bindings.)

• Women's-specific skis and snowboards continue to be growth categories.

• Snowboard and ski topsheets boasting unique artwork, color and design remain extremely popular. The same is also true of snowboard boots, such as Nike Snowboarding's Zoom Force 1 DK-YS model that is part of an ongoing series.

• The use of eco-friendly materials -- as well as environmentally responsible manufacturing processes -- is spreading beyond the apparel and accessories markets. For instance, vendors including Rossignol, Salomon and K2 are making a concerted effort to use less material, and fewer inks and solvents, in skis and snowboards.

Apparel

• Wearable electronics are now de rigueur.

• In ski apparel, jackets and pants that can be zipped together to form one garment are becoming more prevalent. Kjus and Helly Hansen both offer such options.

• As in hardgoods, unique artwork incorporated onto apparel (think artist collaborations) is very popular, though pricey. In the snowboard realm, large plaid patterns -- particularly black-and-white and pink-and-white combinations -- are readily apparent on outerwear, hats, and even boots.

Rental market

For consumers who are just getting into Alpine skiing or snowboarding and are reluctant to invest in the gear, and for those who enjoy visiting resorts but hate having to schlep lots of equipment, the rental market now offers a wide range of solutions.

According to Tecnica's Baker-Brown, "(The market) is growing, but not as much for boots as it is for skis. We think that going forward, given airline baggage fees (and other travel expenses), people will still bring their own boots because of the fit issue, but they will rent skis."

Kelly Davis, SIA's director of research, concurred, adding, "The rental market is an important segment of the snowsports market -- in fact, about 20 percent of skis and 5 percent of snowboards were sold into the rental market last season."

--Judy Leand

SNEWS® View: All told, it appears as if overall attendance and exhibitor numbers were up for SIA, bucking the downward trend experienced by almost every other trade show globally. Of course, it is very hard to tell how many of those in attendance were there just for the "last show in Vegas" party and how many were actually there to do business. Once SIA releases buyer attendance numbers and its "buying power index" for the show, we will be able to more accurately determine how much was SIA party and how much real business.

--SNEWS® Editors

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