New Normal Consulting | Beware The Toes In The Trade Show Date Dance
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Beware The Toes In The Trade Show Date Dance

photo by John Evans

Beware The Toes In The Trade Show Date Dance

The outdoor industry in the United States is traditionally likened to a tribe with many who have long considered the national trade shows a must-attend annual or twice-annual tribal gathering and celebration. But tradition will be tested in 2018.

Outdoor Retailer has, for a number of years now, been subtly dancing around the calendar, shifting back and forth a week or two here and there, trying to find the seasonal sweet spots that balance shifting product development cycles, overlapping sales cycles, and the realities of an ever changing retail landscape spread broadly over multiple market categories – including many market categories (softgoods and hardgoods) that simply don’t share much common ground. But after a year of intense surveying and study, Outdoor Retailer decided it was time to stop tiptoeing around the issue of trade show dates and buying cycle incompatibilities. In short, it was time to tango.

As was announced in December of 2017, and more fully explained to the industry during Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in 2017, in January 2018, Outdoor Retailer Winter Market will continue as per normal in Salt Lake City (January 9 to 11). The SIA Snow Show will also be held in Denver, Colorado (January 25-28). Same as it ever was. However, in June, the date shifts becomes seismic with Outdoor Retailer Summer Market leaping forward five weeks to June 11 through 14 and directly following the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect event June 6 through 9 – both in the Salt Lake City region.

With that date shift, the toes of the paddlesports tribe just got stepped on. And, with the Summer Market date shift came a tacit acknowledgement from Outdoor Retailer that perhaps paddlesports and Summer Market are no longer going to be viable partners in a June timeframe by way of an announcement that Emerald Expo (owner of Outdoor Retailer trade shows) will launch a Paddle Life Expo concurrently with Surf Expo in September in Orlando, Florida.

This news introduced the first visible and significant fracture in the tribe as some in the industry begin to seek new dance partners. Darren Bush, owner of Canoecopia, the largest consumer-based paddlesports show in the U.S.A. and Sutton Bacon, CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center, regarded as one of the world’s premier paddlesports outfitters, have thrown their considerable combined weight and influence behind launching a new paddlesports-only trade show. This new show, Paddlesports Retailer, will be held September 12 to 14, 2018, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Outdoor Retailer continues its 2018 quickstep promenade as Winter Market moves into November and, as it did in June, positions its trade show directly following the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect show November 7 through 10.  And lest one think Outdoor Retailer is abandoning its January dates, it has announced it will continue with what it is calling Winter Expo in January 2019 to support ski shops and brands. And yes, SIA will remain, in January, in Denver.

So what does all this mean, really? It was certainly a question we were frequently asked at the recent Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. And our answer is simply this. There is no way to know at this time exactly what the impacts will be — good or bad or neutral — for retailers, reps, suppliers, brands, trades shows (both national and regional), media and the industry at large.

We do suspect that paddlesports retailers and vendors will experience more angst and uncertainty amid the push-pull of competing trade shows in 2018, but we have no doubt that this will quickly sort itself out with one show emerging as the go-to event by 2019 if not before.

New Normal Consulting believes there are a few additional questions though, worth keeping top of mind to ensure businesses and investments continue to dance in the right direction and with the right partners long after 2018.

  1. Will Outdoor Retailer step away from a Winter Expo eventually and cede the January winter ski trade show business to SIA? While emotionally, there appears to be a strong sentiment calling for increased collaboration and, eventually, finding a path for less shows and less travel and expense for retailers, brands, reps and the industry, the reality is, SIA and Outdoor Retailer live in two very different worlds. SIA serves its membership and is a non-profit association so the trade show operates differently and with a different organizational goal. Outdoor Retailer answers to a parent company, investors and must make a profit. The only way Outdoor Retailer will step away from the Winter Expo is if it makes financial sense.
  2. How do these show date changes affect Outdoor Industry Association? That is also unknown, but what we should never lose sight of is that for the time being, as a result of its contractual arrangement with Emerald Expo, Outdoor Industry Association receives a significant portion of its annual revenue from Outdoor Retailer show revenue. Meaning it is very invested in ensuring the Outdoor Retailer trade shows remain profitable and strong. Any drop in revenue for Outdoor Retailer means less revenue for Outdoor Industry Association.
  3. What does this mean for regional shows such as EORA, MSRA, and more? This is a harder question to answer. We suspect that most of the detailed line showing, significant order writing, and overall buying decisions will continue to be made at regional shows. They are simply more conducive to this type of business, and in many instances, while the date shifts by Outdoor Retailer and its now close partnership and association with Grassroots Outdoor Alliance and its show is meant to strengthen retailer engagement with both Summer and Winter Markets, the reality is that time commitments, travel expenses, and budget constraints will still make Outdoor Retailer shows less attractive to a significant number of East Coast, Southeast, and Midwest retailers. Whether or not the regional shows shift their dates forward, or backward, or even trim some shows from the calendar now also remains to be seen.

New Normal Consulting is well-connected with the brands, retailers, associations and other groups within the outdoor community and we will be watching these changes closely over the next several years.

A version of this story first appeared in the European Outdoor Group executive newsletter in December, 2016.

Many thanks to John Evans for the one-time use of his copyrighted image. Learn more about the photographers who graciously provide us with images to use on this website by going to Meet Our Photographers

Michael Hodgson

Michael Hodgson has worn many hats successfully over the last 30 years – store manager, retail general manager, content director for a dot-com startup, trade news organization co-founder and president, award-winning writer, business owner, guide service founder and director, non-profit board president, and speaking coach. He excels at working with individuals and teams to create new business entities or strategies that are profitable, meaningful, impactful and unique. He is a recognized influencer of the creative process and has a proven ability to build bridges between people and entities that become conduits of knowledge and collaboration — conduits that help to foster new business networks, new business development, inspire ideas, and lay the foundation for helping brands and people realize new ways of looking at challenges that before had appeared unsolvable. Michael lives with his wife, Therese Iknoian, in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Sacramento, California.

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