SIA’s show in Denver last week was the third trade show I’ve been to this year (the only three I’ve been to, and that’s quite enough) where the millennial generation was discussed and analyzed and their importance acknowledged.
You should know I was one of the people discussing them at a speech I made in Denver. In my defense, I acknowledged that while I was willing to offer some conjecture as to their circumstances, motivations, importance and impact, I really didn’t have much of a clue about what a group of 18 to 34 years olds wanted or thought.
This was driven home too me when I had lunch with a client. He’s 32, and described reading about how some 18 year olds were using certain apps and/or social media. He said he had no idea what they were talking about. What, then, is my chance of “getting it.” Or yours if you’re even within a decade or two of my age.
This was further highlighted when I attended The Assembly the day before the show opened. Put on by the winter resort community, the purpose of the daylong conference was to discuss the issues and opportunities that winter resorts face. One panel included four older white gentlemen (I’m one of them, though I wasn’t on this panel) talking, in part, about millennials. They had the same problem I have for exactly the same reason.
So my question to them, and to all of you, is “Where were the millennials? Why aren’t they the ones on the stage?” It seems an obvious thing to do. I would love to run a panel with one millennial from an ad agency, one responsible for marketing at a company, maybe the web/mobile designer from another, and perhaps some random hipster from off the street. I think I know what a hipster is. And if some of these panelists weren’t white and weren’t male, I’d be fine with that too. In fact, we need a bigger panel and more time than is usually allocated to these things if the topic is as important as I think it is.
My first question would be, “Is there any chance I’m likely to ask you a relevant questions?” No idea what I’d do if they say, “no.”
Meanwhile, the show itself was busy, but subdued. That’s my word, but I got a similar characterization from enough other people to think it’s a valid characterization. That doesn’t necessarily bother me. The role of trade shows in getting orders has changed.
In the first place, I’m told and have seen that the quality and value of the regional shows has increased. Then there’s the fact that there are simply fewer independent specialty winter sports retailers to show up. We all know about the extent of the fallout there. I also know that much of the business between brands and larger chains is done before the show or in other venues.
That doesn’t make SIA less important. It’s the only national winter sports show where you can see the whole industry represented, and it’s critical and cost effective for new and smaller brands. I understood there was something north of 150 new brands at the show.
Speaking of cost effective, we all noticed that Burton, Mervin Manufacturing and Billabong chose not to exhibit at the show. Mervin, I’m told, rented a couple of hotel rooms at the Hyatt to do what business they had to do and Burton took over a club called City Hall that’s a 15 or 20 minutes’ walk from the convention center and basically set up their booth there. I went to the party they threw Wednesday night, and it was quite an impressive space. But not, I’d have to say, convenient for retailers. Anon did have a booth at the show as did Burton’s Learn to Ride program.
Given the changing role of trade shows, I’d have to believe there was a financial component to the decision. We don’t have any public numbers for Burton, but we have some for Mervin which Quiksilver released when the company was sold to Altamont. Here’s the article I wrote about those numbers at that time.
We don’t get to see how much they spent on trade shows, but we do see they had a gross margin of 52.7%. Just to pick a number- and this is my wing and prayer, off the cuff, wild guess number based on some experience with trade show costs- let’s say Mervin spends $220,000 all in to go to the show. They need sales of $417,000 to generate that much gross profit.
Given their customer base, the regional shows, current buy/sell cycle, the utility of the internet, the decline in independent specialty retailers, and the market position and perception Mervin has built up over 25 or so years, how much do you think Mervin’s sales will decline by not being at the show?
It’s not quite that simple of course. They had people walking the show, spent some money on the hotel rooms, and even if there’s no impact on sales this year, is there a longer term importance to attending? On the other hand, aside from the hard dollar costs of attending the show, the process of getting ready for it requires many, many hours of employee effort.
I see the hand of Mervin’s new owner Altamont in this decision. They might tend to be a bit more financially focused and require more convincing to see the trade show value proposition if my numbers are at all reasonable.
Back at The Assembly, Bill Jensen, former Intrawest CEO, presented some troubling numbers on the 470 U.S. winter resorts. He’d classified them into five classes based on certain financial and operational characteristics. At the bottom of his list were 150 resorts he classified as “Sunset,” by which he meant they weren’t likely to make it in their current configurations. No, he didn’t say which ones they were.
Obviously this is troubling as I suspect these 150 include a lot of resorts where people initially learn to board and ski. But it was refreshing that somebody of Bill’s stature in the industry was willing to put something that ugly front and center. As you know, I’m also in the group who believes in speaking unpleasant truths. You can’t deal until you acknowledge.
Finally, the show brought the announcement that David Ingemie was stepping down as President of SIA next year after, uh, well, a whole lot of years in that position. 39 I think. He says it’s not retiring, and that’s fine with me. David cannot retire.
I’m not sure when I first met David, but I first became aware of him in 1991 about a day and half after I’d started working for Nitro. The marketing guy came in and told me I had to sign the check to secure our space at the trade show next February. This was in May I think.
I was new to the industry, but one thing I had quickly figured out was that it was spring in the snowboard industry and we were broke. And some guy named Ingemie from some group called SIA wanted the egregious sum of $3,750 for something that wasn’t going to happen until next year.
After they talked me down, I signed the check. I think I managed the cash flow issue by not paying Transworld for some ads for a while- an honorable industry practice at the time.
Anyway David turned out not to be trying to bankrupts us and to have the best interests of the industry at heart and be available to help however he could. I know David won’t disappear, and I will look forward to what he has to say once he’s no longer President. David, I’m available to help you edit your book.