I’m back from the first combined Outdoor Retailer/Snow Show trade show in Denver. The most impactful thing I brought back from the show was the flu. You guys who had dinner with me Thursday night- let me know if you got it.
You know, last year I came home from Denver with what turned out to be pneumonia. Two years before that I was hospitalized in Denver with a staph infection in my knee. I don’t know- maybe I’d like to see us back in Vegas. I never got sick there.
With what were probably inevitable glitches and inconveniences resulting from combining two shows in a new location (took me 15 minutes to find the new coat check location and they now charge $3.00), the show got off to a great start. It was busy, positive, and high energy. It reminded me of the SIA show in 1995 or 1996, when exhibitors spilled out of the main hall and filled every nook and cranny they could be shoehorned into. There’s no doubt these two shows belong together, and I’ll spare you my opinion as to what took so long.
The previous week, I went up to the KnowShow in Vancouver to make a speech and walk the show. That was very valuable. Sometimes I forget about, or take for granted, regional shows. Denver was upbeat, loud, crowded and positive. The KnowShow was positive too. But it was focused, disciplined, and structured. What you had was reps and distributors meeting with retailers to do business. Sure, there was some beer and dinners. It wasn’t loud or crowded but you felt and saw the business getting done.
Perhaps as we think about the future of trade shows, we need to remind ourselves how cost effective and business focused the regional shows are and how well they fit industry needs in the days of the functionality offered by the internet.
There were no scooters at Agenda, the Know Show or, as far as I could tell, OR/SIA. I wrote about scooters back in November. It garnered surprisingly little attention, but Nick Adcock, currently the CEO of Spyder Active Sports and a former executive and consultant with many industry brands we all know, made an insightful comment. It might be useful to follow the link and read his at the bottom of the article.
Here’s how I interpret, or maybe add to, Nick’s comment.
When I pull my phone out of my pocket, or sit down at my computer, or pick up a tablet, it’s because I’ve chosen one of those three tools for some task. There may be other tools I could choose for the same task, and sometimes I use them. For example, I often take notes with a pencil on an actual piece of paper. I find it helps my thinking.
My suspicion is that the scooter kids don’t think of digital devices as tools to be selected. It’s not a considered choice. It’s just what they do. They’ve never known anything else. It is the environment they operate in. Not by choice, but by inevitable cultural bias. It’s the way they think, but they don’t actually think about it.
I’m I grave danger here of representing that I actually know what a 10-year-old kid with a scooter thinks. I don’t. Call it a hypothesis. But I haven’t seen any scooter brands at trade shows. I haven’t seen them running ads. Yet I have this troubling sense that there’s a market out there we, or somebody, is missing. Here- if you haven’t seen it- is an article on scooters that was in Rolling Stone. Oh god, if it’s in Rolling Stone maybe it’s reached its peak and is down trending.
There’s apparently some ongoing competition (if that’s the right word) among scooter kids and skaters at parks. Sounds a bit like the competition between skiers and snowboarders in the early 90s. That ultimately turned out to be positive for snowboarding.
Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, skate brands don’t seem interested in scooters. They either don’t believe in it as a category or fear damaging their existing brand due to the tension between skate and scoot. Feels a little like the decisions the skate brands made when longboards first appeared on the scene motivated by the same factors.
I guess they’re right- there is some risk. But risk seems inherent in our existing environment (or any business environment- business is a risk). And an opportunity in a new category (if it still exists) is inevitably full of risk. Want to avoid risk? Be like all the brands that waited to get into longboarding once it was firmly established and “lower risk.” They looked lame and defensive.
If I were a skate brand I might find one of these scooter brands, buy it, and set it up miles from my headquarters to do what I could to avoid contamination and damage to my skate brand. I’d give them a little working capital, support them with my back office, and see what happened. Oh- and apparently all the kids with scooters wear skate clothing. Might be some opportunity there, but I haven’t quite worked that one out.
Meanwhile back at the Denver show, I saw a few interesting things. There was a booth selling bongs. I suppose that was inevitable. Somebody was selling a product for plantar fasciitis relief a nod, I suppose, to the fact that some of us are getting older.
I didn’t spot the usual handful of new, small, typically regional, snowboard brands. Maybe that somehow represents an industry inflection point.
I liked 686’s Hydro Stash apparel with build in hydration in the jacket and SPY’s new snow goggles with electrically variable intensity for different conditions without changing lenses. Hope I’m explaining it right. Here’s the link for the SPY product. Can’t find one for 686.
Burton wasn’t listed in the directory, but they had a room though no booth. Wonder if there’s a backstory there.
I talked to a few people at Sanuk. It seems like 18 months after a badly needed management change, there’s a lot of progress being made. Deckers has written off its huge investment in Sanuk and Martinez, the CEO who presided over the acquisition is gone. I don’t think it’s too late for the brand to recover from earlier missteps. The key is that Deckers not again place unrealistic growth expectations on Sanuk. If they can clean up their inventory, revalidate the brand, grow sales some and make a profit I’d expect it to be a candidate for sale to a private equity firm.
Being public or owned by a public company seems to have been the kiss of death for too many of our industry’s brands. On the other hand, who can blame the owners for taking the big pay day.
Not sure why SOLE, a maker of foot beds, wanted to sponsor all the restrooms. Can’t quite decide if it’s brilliant or brand limiting. I mean, I guess I’ll never forget SOLE, but is that the association they were hoping for?
I’m wondering if, as a result of consolidating two shows, brands saw new customer they might not have seen if they had previously only attended one of the two. Results were mixed among the brands I asked. I suppose that in the days of the internet and fewer small retailers, trade shows have lost some of their importance as places to find new customers. And perhaps that’s why I was a bit surprised to see that November 8-11, 2018 Denver will host the OR Winter Market show followed by the OR/SIA Snow Show January 8-11, 2019. This must be what their constituents wanted or Emerald Exhibitions wouldn’t be doing it. Yet one of the reasons most of us applauded the consolidation of the two shows was for efficiency and to save a few bucks. Now, for at least some attendees, that’s out the window.
I went to SIA’s intelligence day on January 24 and came away feeling more intelligent as usual. I did miss former SIA Director of Research Kelly Davis’ dissection of the data. That’s always been a highlight for me. If you also miss that, you can find Kelly at the consulting firm of Davis + Kaplan. Here’s the link.
I particularly enjoyed Vail CEO Rob Katz’s lunch time presentation that day. I thought the most important thing he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, is that everybody gets excited when you say “innovation” but terrified when you say “change.”
He’s right, but we’re well and truly in a big fur ball of change and whether it’s in how you utilize trade shows or how you react to a bunch of kids on scooters operating in a way you aren’t completely clear on, being terrified isn’t likely to yield a successful approach.