WHAT IS A TRADE SHOW’S PRIMARY PURPOSE? –
Choose the Best Answer –
1. Trade shows exist to facilitate the efficient writing of orders between buyers and sellers.
2. Trade Shows exist to gather the forces of the industry together to discover, innovate, motivate and celebrate.
Of course it’s not really an either/or choice (like so many things in business/life). But this dichotomy does represent the ‘old school’ versus ‘new school’ when it comes to event valuation. People love to remember the old days, when things were much simpler. We could ‘weigh the paper’, as it were, to conduct a simple ROI calculation. Other simple but creative calcs were ‘appointments per dollar’, or ‘leads generated/day’. Nowadays the valuation of trade show experience, for anyone exhibiting or attending, seems mired in multivariable calculus; how do we value the discovery experience of potentials, partnerships, competitors, categories, technologies, techniques, even future employees?
The upcoming trade show date shifts in the outdoor industry seem to be working toward remaining relevant in a static biannual production cycle that has crept earlier for a number of reasons. Between Friedrichshafen’s OutDoor Europe and Eurobike shows, Outdoor Retailer’s announced big shifts and co-location with Grassroots, and SIA’s announced move and reversal early last year, there is a LOT changing all at once in the market. Of all the OR Winter Market 2017 discoveries I made, I very much appreciate the pocket calendar for 2017 that OR made available at the winter show. If you didn’t get one and plug it into your calendar, you might want to write your rep… :-}
If you’re interested in my views on the deeper show situation, give me a call. Too many variables to cover in a newsy blog article, and the insights would take time to sort out depending very much on the angle of approach (your business interests). The changes are both welcome and disruptive, so hold onto your hats. Each change also affects the others, making it super-fantabulous fun to follow!
But here are some important considerations, with a healthy emphasis on ‘it’s complicated‘ and ‘don’t blink‘ (*staring at wristwatch)
- NON PROFIT VS FOR PROFIT – Let’s start with structure. Every trade association is funded somehow so they can do good work on behalf of the industry they are trying to create/save/grow/serve or otherwise support. In the end there is little difference in the models of for-profit shows vs. non-profit/association shows. A good for-profit show will both contribute generously to the association AND focus on producing excellent trade events, removing this time-consuming distraction from the association, thereby allowing them in turn to focus on delivering value to members and the industry via research, lobbying, services and participation advocacy.
- WHERE – Simple- Anywhere but in UT unless the Governor pulls a rabbit out of a hat. They’ve done it before… SLC is easily the most economically and geographically feasible; but politically not so anymore. CO is and has been the local favorite. LV has a strong gravitational pull, especially for Emerald, where they are among the strongest producers with multiple top 50 shows on the ground.
- WHEN – So tricky. Serving many markets, OR will attempt the ‘launch window’ timing for apparel (May/June), even though the show hasn’t served that purpose in a dominant way for over a decade. The decade where it grew and grew, by the way. Can the show go back to being what it once was, before complex supply chains and factory queues and custom challenges and owned retail and Amazon and the Consumer driving the ship? In general they are following a trend, but there are counter-movements to flank them on the backside, for example the new Paddlesports Retailer show and other industry-relevant b2b events looking to stage in September.
- WHY– The show has morphed into a ‘Discovery platform’ from ‘Buying platform’ as primary purpose. If it still launches 200 new brands each iteration, it’ll stay relevant regardless of buying activity or dates. Buyers who aren’t studying and delving into the pavilions and newby areas of all trade shows are missing the main point of attending. Wanna write orders and see line presentations? Do that when you aren’t sharpening your skills, studying trends, building out your network, discovering new products, categories and up-and-coming brands. Like at a regional show, or with your key reps.
- WHOM – Should be increasingly focused on the core; see ‘Patagonia’ in the rulebook on how to Drive Loyalty and Authenticity. It’s not very long, but that’s the point. Less is definitely more when it comes to curating events, including OR. This answer closely mirrors the paradox of the next question…
- WHAT– putting cultural preferences aside, why don’t SHOT and SIA and OR and ICAST and SURF and IBIKE all merge into one mega ISPO-like continental takeover? Find a ten day period when nothing is happening in Las Vegas (problem #1) and create ‘Outdoor Mega-Week’ for the world showcase of active outdoor pursuits and the innovations that make the business go, including experiential opportunities (problem #2, in LV). It’d rival CES in size and scope. But here’s the thing… cultural preferences will not be put aside. Community gatherings of all kinds (business, hobby, healings, politicos, etc…) exist precisely because they serve a specific kind of business or like-minded community. And according to ultra-physicist and futurist Dr. Michio Kaku, humans will continue to behave in this social gathering way for the next 10,000 years, as they have for the last.
- And therein lies the challenge. Many businesses are thriving due to increased focus on what they do, narrowing their messaging and storyline to hold the ADHD millenial attention span. Few are making it trying to leverage the middle ground and expand horizontally, while ‘department stores’ are becoming an endangered species of business in the U.S. How many brand stories have we all witnessed recently, walking the line of expansion into new markets and categories and channels only to recoil in horror/bankruptcy/downsizing? If you write the movie script, carve me off a piece, please… :-}
CONCLUSION – Many are chasing the ‘meaningful business event’ rainbow to it’s renewable pot o’ gold at the end (yours truly included, full disclosure). If one can create that ‘discovery’ experience, or help an industry achieve an overall mission objective (fight to protect public access on public lands, maybe?), then there is a fighting chance to remain relevant. Going back to the way the market once was is hopeful, at best, might buy a few years of relief… but momentum will continue, and All Shows Run On Momentum.
Either way, customers/consumers will continue to grip the wheel more tightly, drive trend more quickly, and create greater options for gear access, if not pristine land and water access; this is the Fight Of Our Times. It’s also why we can win, because we HAVE a fight, and if trade shows can help us in our fight, then they are serving a worthy purpose beyond the ROI calc.
and the key question, the one to rule the others…
‘What Will the Customer Do?‘ Making and Buying and Selling products only makes sense if it fits what the customer wants. Are you selling shorts in September? Ski gear in February? Because that is when the customer wants it. Your answer to this simple question won’t be simple, I know. Trade shows are also wrestling with the DTC phenomenon, believe me. How can we integrate the consumer? Should we have a consumer day? Will our retail attendees freak out if their customers are walking around the trade show floor (yes). This is happening in virtually all markets, as long as there is a consumer interest and a retail component to the distribution model.If trade shows are successful, much ‘business’ gets done (no, that doesn’t mean order-writing) and the industry they serve wins. It gets bigger, stronger, more effective, more accepted, more revered and/or more powerful. In the case of OR, one could argue that the show either happened along at just the right time, or else it contributed to some degree in growing the little industry that could.
But what is ‘business getting done’ look like? Is that happening more or less at OR? I’ll leave this question dangling for you all to answer as you see fit. But if I hear another ‘the business is done before the show’ comment, I’m going to lose it, people! Just realize when you say that, you are showing both your age, and your underwear.
KEY LINKS TO FOLLOW –
So far, this is my favorite writeup on the trade show conundrum in Outdoor, of the dozens I’ve read.
USA Today (this one is from today 4/25/17 and a bit more comprehensive, including the latest OIA numbers)
Obviously, this is an evolving situation, and I am more than an armchair observer in this… my events (like Outdoor PressCamp, FOJT Climb Smart, GearCoop Backcountry Session, and others I’m not talking about here) are lazer focused on the small-batch, cutting edge and high-touch expectations of attendees, whether consumer or business or some blend. Some very smart guy long ago told me ‘In the future, all shows will be Tech Shows’…
Welcome to The Future! More to come…