One More Comment on Trade Shows, A Perspective On the “Outdoor” Industry, and Articles on Retail.

Trade Shows

Trade shows were created to bring buyers and sellers, that is brands and retailers, together to do business.  Everything else that goes on at trade shows, beneficial as it may be, has been secondary to that goal.

But there are fewer smaller retailers and fewer retailers overall.  The consensus is that the number will continue to drop (see the articles referenced at the end of this).  Larger retailers have less reason to attend, as their most important suppliers reach them outside of the trade show venue.  Meanwhile, changes in logistics, technology and the supply chain have introduced some chaos into the formerly more or less reliable buy sell cycle around which we scheduled shows.

To me, this means there’s less value in attending traditional shows.  The return on investment is harder to justify for buyers and sellers.  Meanwhile, brands and retailers are generally competitors at a greater or lesser level.  Are they perhaps a bit more cautious in how they work together and share?

What’s the result?  Neither buyers or sellers need to send as many people to trade show for as long.  Smaller booths, shorter shows, fewer attendees.  Consolidation of shows.  I haven’t had any retailer or brand tell me that putting OR together with SIA is a bad idea.  If you are one who thinks it is, I’d love to hear why.  Ultimately, I expect fewer shows though, as is always the case in consolidation, everybody will struggle to survive hoping it’s the other guy who goes away.

There will be more focus on consumers.  It’s the best way to cover overhead.  There will be some smaller, focused, curated shows.  Interestingly, it feels like there will be room for big shows and for small shows.  As usual, the ones caught in the middle will have the most trouble.  I wonder if there might somehow be some local, “popup” shows.

The fundamental reason trade shows were created has declined in importance.  A lot.  That’s the thought I want you to have top of mind as you consider the show landscape.  Given the change, how has what you get out of the shows changed?

The Outdoor Industry

Boardsport Source is a good magazine.  It’s generally thoughtful, and helps me know what’s going on in Europe.  I was looking at “The Great Outdoors SS18 Retail Buyer’s Guide” in the July issue.  I can’t find the picture on line, but in the Camping Gear section of the magazine, there was a picture of a campfire.  Nothing unusual about the fire.  But it was on some kind of curved metal grate or holder just for the fire.  Stuck into the ground next to it was a black metal pole with a couple of adjustable rods coming off it.

One of those rods held a large metal pot with a lid that was cooking something over the fire.  The other, higher up on the pole and not over the fire, held a tray with what appeared to be a coffee pot and mug as well as a plate with food on it.

So, I used to do some serious back packing.  A week to two weeks out in the back country over mountain passes carrying everything we needed on our backs.  Sometimes we caught some fish.  My “friends” let me clean them so I would be the one the bear was attracted to.

When you do that kind of camping, you are always concerned with the weight of your pack.  First, you are concerned that it is too heavy.  Later in the hike, as the food goes away and if the fish aren’t biting, you worry it’s too light.

I want you to know that none the equipment I described around the fire ever made it into any back-country camper’s pack.  Not for a minute did we consider trying, as the article says, to “bring your kitchen outdoors.”  Comfort was measured ounce by ounce, as you strove obsessively to minimize the weight of what you had to carry.  Or to put it in somebody else’s pack.

I’m not against drive up camping and having your comforts.  Certainly, rigorous backpacking isn’t for everybody.  But the picture and description of the gear made me think about the “outdoor” target market.  For the reasons I’ve described this kind of equipment specifically excludes serious backcountry campers.  Unless they have it flown in by helicopter I suppose.

The elite athletes in skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing always used more or less the same equipment the typical participant used, though of course they did things with it that most of us were never going to try.

Suddenly, in this particular case at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  I don’t quite know what to make of it.  Is the “outdoor” market defined as anybody who’s not “indoors?”  Is there a “core” to be connected to?  Does that matter?  Do the customers, whoever they are, care about the product or do they just take product for granted and focus on an associated experience?

What does it mean to be a brand in the “outdoor” market and how do you identify your customers?  If you think it’s everybody who’s not indoors, it’s nobody.  I guess it helps a little if you say, “active outdoors,” but it hardly solves the problem.

Perhaps, as we’ve become more and dependent on the public and private equity markets for financing, you have to define your brand’s potential in a way that at least appears to place it in a market where there’s enough growth opportunity- even if that’s destructive of the brand in the longer term.

Read These

This first article, “Over Storing America,” gives some insight into how retail got to be so overbuilt that perhaps you hadn’t thought about.

The second, called “Retail Shift,” was sent to me by a friend.  Thanks friend.  The article says:

“the market make-up has been shifting and continues to shift from a fairly homogeneous composition of primarily baby boomers into a significantly splintered compilation consisting of Gen X, milliennials, Gen Z and the boomers. Multiple sub-segments exist within each of these large segments that have their own defining characteristics. This complex segmentation is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of retail platforms today have erroneously been founded and built on the strategic premise that large homogeneous groups of people generally desire the same things.”

Both are worthy of a read.


8 replies
  1. PITA fella
    PITA fella says:

    Jeff, great questions. Since I’m not sure if anyone will play devil’s advocate on the SIA/OR combo, I thought it’d be fun to imagine if the show didn’t go well what could have happened. Let’s call it a Pre-Mortem. Play along please.

    1) That comfortable snow show and that HUGE outdoor show are now one. Maneuvering around the show becomes a bigger challenge. Being at the show for one day is a real strain to see your key vendors and some of the smaller new companies. SO, somebody says, “hey, lets make the show days longer.” The show becomes a drag vs a great pick me up.

    2) There’s limited space for this new mega show. So the biggest folks take up space and squeeze out the little guy with the tiny 8×10 booth. The little guy never gets to show his brilliant idea. The little guy never hits minimums. The little guys brilliant idea never makes it to market.

    3) Oh wait, the little guy doesn’t have to go away. There’s the Venture Out area at OR for lots of little guys to utilize that will now be shared with snow brands too. It’s the coolest part of the show. It’s where all the energy and retail silver bullets are. The little guy still can’t get in, because Venture Out has repeat brands and even bigg(er) (aka medium) brands that want to be where all the cool kids are. Venture Out is cool, but it’s now either too big or still not showing the little guy.

    4) Dang, that sweet idea from that new brand I found in the corner of the show at one of the individual shows that most people don’t take time to go to both, well now it’s got a ton of exposure. Everybody’s buzzing about it. Traffic is through the roof. Somehow they figure out how to meet all retail demand. The market is flooded. That retail competitive advantage is crushed by oversupply. My cool little nugget is just like everyone else’s. I’m different, just like everybody else.

    5) Last one, I’m running out of debbie-downer thoughts. The snow comes to Denver. The airport is shut down. Downtown Denver is burried in snow. No one can make it to the show. Everyone loses a bunch of money – manufacturers and retailers. I knew we shoulda had this new show in Florida.

    OK, I figure if we all think through every possible scenario in our crystal ball we can help overcome every possible downside of a combined show. Then maybe we can do the same with the potential decrease in show interest. Then maybe we can do the same to attack the fragmentation of consumer sub-segments (you know, sorta like what specialty stores do now, but in a narrower scope). And hey, while we’re at it, lets do the same for competing with Amazon or the shifting consumer behavior on how they spend money (retail is for suckers) or their time (I don’t wanna waste time at the Mall).

    Your turn, what do you have?

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Pita,
      Somehow, I just saw this. Sorry for the late response.

      Everything you are saying could turn out to be a factor. When you do something new, there are unforeseen consequences. It’s just the way it is. But I’d call most of what you’re talking about tactical, as opposed to strategic. I choose to think that the consolidation of the two shows is strategically a good thing and certainly makes financial sense for all the people who no longer have to attend or exhibit at two shows. I expect more small, focused shows as I’ve written. The functionality of this new, larger show will depend partly on how it’s laid out.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. PITA
    PITA says:

    OK, you say, “The functionality of this new, larger show will depend partly on how it’s laid out.”

    Sounds like implementation and execution…?

    Strategy is nothing without implementation and execution. Semantics aside on tactical, the strategy is no good if it doesn’t overcome potential executional challenges. Just like GOALS if the objective is not achievable, it’s not much of a strategy (or a Goal).

    Circling back around – the idea is to ID what COULD go wrong so that the implementation and execution of the combined show isn’t less valuable than the two independent shows.

    The logic of it’s a good strategy because it costs less money/takes less time away may mean nothing.

    If you build it, will they come?

    Suppose all the fewer retailers being predicted say, “hell with the show, you manufacturers get off your butts and come see me in my home town instead?”

    You might say, “sure, that could happen.” But that starts to sound like anything could happen and we have no control of what we don’t know. I’m saying, we do have control over what we know. So let’s know as much about this combined show as we can.

    Anybody seen booth rates for the new show? Attendee increases? Buying cycle relevance to booking deadlines?

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      I think we’re in violent agreement. I see the role of trade shows changing. I expect them to be more consumer focused, and perhaps shorter. I think there will be fewer retailers attending (there are going to be fewer retailers and larger ones have less reason to attend). All the stuff I’ve written before. However, for any individual trade show, it will be all about implementation and execution. That’s true for every individual business isn’t it? Some will get it right, some won’t. Which get it right and which don’t depends on how they look at the “strategic” environment. What do their customers want/need?

      Thanks for questioning my thinking. I never learn anything unless somebody does that.

  3. PITA
    PITA says:

    1) What do consumers want/need?
    2) Then, can we do something better than rivals, meeting these different and unique customer needs and desires, by performing different activities in our value chain?

    Uncertainty and limited resources always exist. But you know from your leadership days, your added value is turning $1 of investment into more than $1 of revenue. You take calculated risks to do that.

    I’ve essentially been borrowing from your value statement of “Beginning with the End in Mind.” I hope SIA and OR (and every other business) have looked past a few tactical advantages of a combined show and have a clear picture of the end they want and a unique and valuable way to get there. And they’ve calculated the risks.

    Violently yours, Pita

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Yup, that’s about it. Let me know if you’re going to be at Agenda or SIA/OR. Love to find out who you are and meet you. Or send me an email.

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