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.
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.