Trade Shows in General, Denver, SIA, ShopTalk, and Other Random Musings

There is a certain level of irony in my having left the Outdoor Retailer/Snow Show in Denver last Friday as the temperature was approaching 60 degrees and come home to Seattle where, today- so far (still coming down hard)- there’s three plus inches of snow on the ground and the temperature isn’t projected to get over freezing.  Hope it continues in the mountains as it slacks off here.

Trade shows- whatever shall we do with them.  It’s not just our industry that’s wondering.  Emerald Expositions, the owner of Outdoor Retailer, Surf Expo, Interbike, and the Snow Show as well as shows in multiple other industries has to be wondering.

Emerald went public (symbol EEX) on April 28, 2017 and closed the day at a price of $19.50.  As I write this on February 7, the price is $14.25.  Emerald’s strategy, as described in their SEC filings, is to consolidate the highly fragmented tradeshow industry.  It’s a good strategy as long as they can find trade shows worthy of being consolidated in an industry experiencing high uncertainty and change.

What do we go to the show for now?  One successful retailer said to me, “Jeff, where else will I find new brands?”  As long as the small, really new brands are actually at the show, he’s right.  From that point of view, I suppose bigger is better and more efficient.  Wonder where the bike show will land.

Face time with people you don’t see that often to solve problems and build relationships is the other reason I can think of.  I also like seeing friends I don’t see often enough.

As I’ve said before, SIA’s timing of the sale of the trade show to Emerald Expositions was absolutely prescient.  They would never get now the price they got then.  But now what do they do?

I guess SIA has north of $17 million in the bank and have to figure out how to use it to the benefit of the industry.  They’ve cut membership fees since they are no longer subsidizing a trade show.  We certainly need an advocate that represents the brands and retailers in the winter sports business.  SIA members who exhibit are getting a $2.00 per square foot discount off standard show rates.   I haven’t been to the on snow in years but think it’s valuable. Reliable research (I stress reliable) is valuable and necessary as well.  There might be a role for SIA teaching it’s members how to make good use of it.  My experience, as well as what I’ve heard, is that many member companies are resistant to using it.  Once that might have been okay, if kind of hard to understand.  Now, I don’t really think you have a choice.

Getting value from SIA no longer means the kind of cost-effective trade show we had when SIA ran the show for the benefit of its members.  How does that old song go?  “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.”  Not to carry the analogy too far, but we’ve kind of “paved paradise, put up a parking lot,” trade show wise.

Consolidating SIA with OR was long overdue.  We save money going to one show instead of two and we all figured out long ago that snow sports are part of the outdoor industry.  Maybe that makes up for the fact that it’s getting more expensive to go to the show.  Emerald Expositions, remember, is a for profit public company so what did we expect would happen since we don’t really have an alternative?

Last spring, I didn’t even get the usual invoice from SIA.  But I’m so well trained after so many years that not getting that invoice caused me anxiety.  I renewed on the web site, then found out that free entry to the show was over.

What will I do this spring?  Not quite sure.  Neither are some other people given the conversations I had at the show.  SIA is supposed to be working on some new initiatives and I will look forward to seeing what those are.

SIA and its members are figuring out what the mutually beneficial value proposition is.  That wasn’t necessary when you had to join to exhibit at a show you really didn’t have a choice but to be at.

Meanwhile, at the show:

Burton wasn’t exhibiting, but this isn’t the first year that’s happened.  Wonder if they had a show room/place for a party like in past years.

Mervin (Gnu/Libtech) wasn’t there either.  Years ago, I made the argument that their competitive positioning and distribution didn’t require them to be there as long as they announced it in advance and made it clear it was a positive, marketing strategy, step.  They didn’t do that.

I might argue that Never Summer could do the same, but as a Denver company, the cost is way lower for them to attend the show.  I love brands who’ve been careful to maintain the same strategy and distribution philosophy forever.  As long as it’s one that working.

Speaking of companies that have had the same (in my judgment correct) positioning strategy forever, Arbor won REI’s brand of the year award.  It was announced at the show and founder Bob Carlson made an excellent speech.  Wasn’t there- I read it.  I thought the most important thing he said (besides “thank you”) was that Arbor had always considered itself as part of the outdoor industry.  That ethos has always guided the brand and continues to allow it to move beyond its action sports roots.  Also makes it a hell of a fit with REI.

Bob was my first consulting client back in 1995.  I must have done a great job.

Hey- was I the only one who thought the show was full of dogs?  Just curious.  Retailers with emotional support animals maybe?

The Ride Snowboard booth was really small, where it historically hasn’t been.  Good for them.  I imagine they gave up nothing except the opportunity to waste some money.

Sector 9 longboards were there in a booth labeled “reconstruction.”  The exceptionally good news was that co-founder Steve Lake is back running the brand.  Some fool gave Steve, and everybody else in the booth, hammers.  They were all wearing red highway construction vests and hard hats as an acknowledgement that the brand had some rebuilding to do.

As long as Lake is careful with the hammer, I think they can pull it off.

Igloo, the cooler company, was showing the soon to be introduced Recool cooler.  It’s “…comprised of 100% biodegradable materials and is made in the USA from molded pulp.  The product was created to provide consumers an economical and environmentally conscious alternative to single-use Styrofoam coolers.”

You’d recognize the material if you saw it, though of course it’s reinforced with a binder to make it hold up.  It won’t last for centuries like Styrofoam (mostly in a landfill), but it will get you through your trip and at $9.99 seems like a great idea.

Finally, back on the subject of the future of trade shows, how many of you have heard of ShopTalk?  It’s not active outdoor focused but appears to have something to offer retailers in any industry.  “ShopTalk,” the web site says, “is where the entire retail ecosystem comes together to create the future of retail based on the latest trends, technologies and business models, including changes in consumer expectations.  You’ll learn in both small groups and large, including sessions, roundtables, dinners and one-to-one meetings. We’ll ensure that your voice is heard and that you get to hear other important perspectives. You’ll connect with your peers as well as potential new partners and engage with a large and diverse audience. We enable much of this with an industry-leading agenda and speaker lineup as well as with networking and collaboration programs powered by technology that brings thousands of you together for tens of thousands of personalized interactions.”

Many retailer issues are not industry specific.  In any event, there can be a lot of value in talking with people who don’t share your perspective.  Take a look at the web site.  Perhaps this is part of the answer to how trade shows should evolve.

Okay, I assume that’s enough random musings.  See you at the next trade show, wherever that is and whatever it looks like.













2 replies
  1. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with tradeshows. But getting a few minutes with my favorite industry analyst is always a highlight. Good to see you, Jeff.

    Also – would you be so kind as to link up Bob’s speech? Love that guy.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Always good to see you too. With regards to Bob’s speech, I’m not sure he made it public, so I’m reluctant to send it on. I think you need to ask him.

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